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Volunteers Storm Albuquerque

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Maria Tafoya grew up in San Rafael, a little village near Grants, so pulling weeds in the hot sun didn’t bother her a bit, and if you believed her younger cohort, Lisa Marie Hahn and Tyler Jimenez, it didn’t bug them, either.

“Speaking of bugs, would you like some lunch?” Hahn said, offering Jimenez a caterpillar she found while weeding the grounds outside La Academia de Esperanza Charter School in southwest Albuquerque.

The weeding trio were part of an army of about 1,000 volunteers who fanned out into the city, going to nonprofit organizations to help them with projects during the annual “Spring Storm” day of service on Saturday.

“I’m not really a bug person, but I do enjoy pulling weeds in the hot sun, because at the end of the day, this place is going to look a lot better, and people are going to drive by and have some new respect,” Hahn said.

“Pulling weeds is my forte,” she deadpanned.

“Myself, I’m here to find caterpillars; this offers a very good opportunity to do that,” Jimenez said. “I, too, enjoy working in 150 to 200 degrees, and I plan to destroy all of these weeds, strangle them.”

“I’ve been preparing my whole life for this moment,” Jimenez said.

Asked how he felt upon reaching that moment, he said, “It’s about time.”

This impromptu roadside comedy act was brought to you by University College at the University of New Mexico, where they all work, and where Hahn and Jimenez are also students.

Among the horde taking part in the Spring Storm were 800-plus university students from more than 50 student organizations, working alongside volunteers from Fidelity Investments.

They worked at nonprofits including Ronald McDonald House, where they cleaned the playground and inside of the residence center for families dealing with child cancer, and cleaned, painted, sorted, organized and did yard work at other sites like homeless services provider Joy Junction, Mandy’s Special Farm and at the historic Gutierrez-Hubbell House.

At the assembly area – the University Stadium football field – early Saturday, the volunteers got off to a rousing start by setting a world’s record for the longest handshake chain – about 800 students linked hands and shook them for two minutes after forming a continuous line around the edge of the field.

As stunt originator Clement Peter Jose of Omega Delta Phi fraternity counted down to the end of two minutes, “three, two, one …,” the snaking line of handshakers erupted into clapping and cheers.

Jose, a UNM junior, said he had contacted Guinness World Records beforehand and got the supporting written and video documentation necessary to certify the world’s record, which he said bests a previous record of about 270 people maintaining a continuous handshake for one minute. He added that it will be about six months before the record is officially certified and accepted.

“I just thought it would be fun to accomplish something unique,” Jose said.

As a member of Omega Delta Phi fraternity, Jose said he’s constantly hit by “Animal House” references that he said are not only stereotypical, but unfair and untrue.

He added that Greek student service organizations around the country will never fully escape the stereotypes.

“It’s up to us to show the community that we do care, and that we can go out with this many people in one day and make such a huge difference to so many people who need the help,” he said.

“They are really helping us out,” said April Elwell of La Academia de Esperanza Charter School, noting that the school got the services of 15 volunteers for the day.

“We’ve had a really good experience with them, ” Elwell said. “Very well-behaved, and very, very helpful.”