The Tourism Department would like to thank Jennifer Lazarz (NW Region), Carrie Moritomo (C Region), Kimberly Smith (NE Region), and Caleb Martinez (City of Roswell) for their participation on the 2017 NM True Heroes judging panel.
Governor Susana Martinez announced the 2017 New Mexico True Heroes, five New Mexicans devoted to making New Mexico a better place to live, work and raise a family.
“Our 2017 New Mexico True Heroes are leaders in their communities and work hard day in and day out to make our state a wonderful place to call home,” Governor Martinez said. “Today we’re recognizing New Mexicans who lead by example to help people and make their communities better. Each of them, through their commitment, compassion, and service, exemplify daily what it means to be New Mexico True.”
Donovan Smith of Albuquerque, age 14, helps the homeless of his city by creating and making homemade soaps. He has made and donated more than 12,000 soaps to homeless shelters. Donovan himself was homeless six years ago and this year he opened a physical store in downtown Albuquerque to not only sell his soaps but to hire and train local homeless.
Gwendolyn “Winnie” Keller of Carlsbad, age 14, began helping others at a very young age. Winnie’s first charitable endeavor was to turn her 5th birthday party into a fundraiser for a friend with leukemia, which was the beginning of her nonprofit, “It’s My Party.” Winnie’s nonprofit helps other children turn their parties into fundraisers. Now a freshman at Carlsbad High School, Winnie continues to help others by raising thousands of dollars for sick families in Carlsbad. Winnie fights her own chronic illness while she raises money for families in need.
Mike and Debbie Torres of Rio Rancho have helped special needs children in their community as coordinators for the Special Olympics for nearly 20 years. Mike and Debbie founded the Rio Rancho Rockets Special Olympics in 1998, initially to help their son meet other special needs children. They coordinate dozens of aspects of the organization and events for hundreds of athletes and volunteers. They are the primary volunteers and have continued to give back while they raised a family and worked full-time jobs.
Jamar Cotton of Las Cruces is a Deputy for the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department but spends countless hours volunteering his time and resources while he is off duty. He has awarded scholarships to students, helped local homeless veterans, spent time with youth who are bullied or struggling with substance abuse, created a community fitness program, organized toy drives, and so much more. He mentors within his community and is very active in the quest to be the best role model and leader by example.
“The New Mexico True Heroes program gives us an opportunity to highlight our state’s greatest treasure: our people,” Tourism Department Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Latham said. “This year’s class of New Mexico True Heroes are truly exemplary, and show that New Mexico is home to resilient, hardworking people who care about their state and their communities.”
The New Mexico True Heroes Awards were developed by the New Mexico Tourism Department in partnership with the Gildan New Mexico Bowl in 2014. Dozens of nominations were submitted from friends, family members, students and coworkers. A panel of community leaders representing areas from all over the state determined the finalists. This year’s honorees will be recognized at the 2017 Gildan New Mexico Bowl both during the player’s luncheon on December 15 and on the field during the game on December 16.
“New Mexico is full of amazing stories and amazing people and we are thrilled to be able to honor this group of New Mexico True Heroes at New Mexico's premier sports event,” Gildan New Mexico Bowl Executive Director Jeff Siembieda said. “ESPN and the Gildan New Mexico Bowl say ‘thank you’ to these heroes who make our state better each and every day.”