Last summer, the rough, knowing hands of tribal elders guided young Diné women through planting, harvesting, and grinding blue corn into meal for muffins and chackewe (porridge). The knowledge of how to cultivate and prepare the slate kernels has nearly vanished from Pine Hill, a Ramah Navajo Reservation community 50 miles southwest of Grants. The Oso Vista Ranch Project hopes to expand this year’s pilot field into an entrepreneurial enterprise, complete with a processing plant will that provide vital jobs and a source of healthy Native foods, and preserve this element of culture for local residents.
“The funding from the New Mexico Community Foundation has given wings to all of this,” says Margaret Merrill, executive director of the Oso Vista Ranch Project.
The Blue Corn Path to Empowerment is just one venture the foundation has grown from tender shoots to hearty stalks during its three decades, which it will celebrate this month at the New Mexico Community Foundation 30th Anniversary and 2013 Luminaria Gala.
The story of the organization’s origin, in 1983, illuminates much about its character: It began when Susan Herter, Bruce Rolstad, and Peggy Driscoll set out to pool resources to serve the state’s most vulnerable rural and Native communities. Shortly thereafter, Driscoll, an heiress of the Weyerhaeuser family and one of the foundation’s intended benefactors, died in a car crash, leaving the fledgling organization to make its own way. It did so wholeheartedly. One of its first grants was awarded to Symbols of the Southwest, which the NMCF began and has since spun off to become Cornerstones, the organization behind historic reconstructions of buildings such as San Miguel Mission, in Santa Fe.
President and CEO Jenny Parks takes pride in the foundation’s scrappiness. The NMCF manages $25 million in assets—a moderate amount in foundation terms, but, through tenacious networking and grant writing, it leverages the funds of foundations five times its size. From 1995 to 2012, it gave $52 million in community grants, more than $7.5 million in the past two years alone.
Giving to rural and Native communities remains at the top of the foundation’s agenda. “I love that it really serves all of New Mexico, especially in the rural communities all of us living in New Mexico love,” says Parks. “We’re helping to make things happen and change the social sector. That’s always been part of the DNAof the organization.”
The NMCF also supports initiatives for women and girls, and solidified this priority in 2011 with NewMexicoWomen.org. This initiative gives to programs such as Brave Girls, a subset of the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, led by founder Dalene Coriz. “I was raised by a single mother, an aunt, and older cousins—a good group of women. I realized that our families were changing and saw a need for that kind of mentorship and guidance,” says Coriz. Brave Girls encourages self-confidence and healthy lifestyles among high school girls, giving them a forum to discuss and overcome the challenges they face as tribal women. As this article went to press, the NMCF was set to give $70,000 in chispa (“spark”) grants before the end of the year. Organizations can’t apply for these grants—they must be nominated by a committee of anonymous members—so the bonus funds are a surprise with no strings attached. “They’re our way of saying ‘Keep up the good work’,” says Parks.
Although strategic giving is ideal, the NMCF is also a philanthropic first responder in emergency situations, helping with needs such as housing animals that fled the 2011 Las Conchas Fire in the Española Valley Animal Shelter, and replanting a Santa Clara Pueblo canyon with seedlings after it was devastated by the same wildfire.
Snapshots of the foundation’s history such as these will be celebrated at this month’s gala, which will groove to the traditional African and Latin American rhythms of Albuquerque all-female ensemble Mala Maña. Guests are encouraged to dress “Santa Fe festive” for the dinner; there will be a live auction to support NMCF. The evening will also include the presentation of the Luminaria Awards, given to New Mexicans making a profound difference in their communities. The 10 recipients reside in communities from Embudo to Zuni, and range from animal-rights advocates to authors. Among them are Don Usner, a writer and photographer (he took the photos that accompany this article); Dr. Frances Levine, director of the New Mexico History Museum since 2002, who oversaw the development of the newest museum in the state system; and Jill Cooper Udall, wife of Senator Tom Udall, and an educator and lawyer whom President Obama appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. ✜
More Ways to Play Santa
During the Festival of Trees and Wreaths, Taos businesses and individuals decorate Christmas trees, designating a local charity to benefit from the sale of the trees at a community party. Last year’s event raised more than $35,000 for such groups as DreamTree Project, whose services include wilderness therapy for youth. The community party will be on December 6, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa. Tickets are available at the door for $20. (575) 751-8800; taoschamber.com
At Holiday Pie Mania, in Albuquerque, dessert fans can have their pie and eat it, too. At the event, attendees can watch top chefs demonstrate how to make their signature pies, and try to win them. A raffle and a lively auction, emceed by chef and food writer John Vollertsen, will benefit Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico, the state’s largest food pantry for those in need. The prize pies will be freshly baked in time for holiday parties, family meals, or to be given as gifts. Admission is free. December 7, 1–5 p.m., at Builders Source Appliance Gallery. (505) 847-3333; holidaypiemania.com
DECEMBER 7, 8
Play Santa to your family and to those in need at La Casa Holiday Bazaar, featuring more than 115 arts and crafts vendors, at the Las CrucesConvention Center. The $6 entrance fee supports La Casa, Doña Ana County’s domestic-violence shelter, as does a raffle featuring original works of art and the proceeds from The Cupboard, a stand featuring homemade baked goods. December 7, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., and December 8, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. (575) 526-2819; lacasainc.org
At the Elephant Butte Luminaria Beachwalk, participants follow paths aglow with more than 4,000 luminarias along the shores of Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Bonfires dot the path, and visitors stop to warm themselves with hot chocolate and to give to Make-a-Wish New Mexico, a statewide nonprofit that helps fulfill the fondest desires of children with life-threatening illnesses. Tickets to access the park are $5 per vehicle; donations are suggested. (575) 740-1777; elephantbuttechamberofcommerce.com
Make the season merry and bright for locals in need via the Empty Stocking Fund, a holiday tradition for more than three decades spearheaded by the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Santa Fe Community Foundation. Donations are accepted year-round at santafecf.org, but gifts are granted from Thanksgiving to Christmas to residents of Santa Fe, Río Arriba, San Miguel, and Los Alamos counties who face significant financial challenges. The fund provides housing assistance, help with home heating and utility bills, and other such needs. Donations can also be made via mail sent to: The New Mexican’s Empty Stocking Fund c/o The Santa Fe Community Foundation, P.O. Box 1827, Santa Fe, NM 87504-1827