Grant County Foundation awards $20,000 at a unique one-day workshop sponsored by the United Way of Southwest New Mexico, Freeport-McMoRan and the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments.

December 5, 2017
Silver City Daily Press

Last month, the Grant County Community Foundation offered nonprofits in the region the opportunity to reap a big reward — a $20,000 grant to address a need that is near and dear to their heart.

In a unique one-day event, the Foundation partnered with United Way of Southwest New Mexico, Freeport-McMoRan and the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments to put on a workshop and invited all of the nonprofits in the four-county region of Grant, Catron, Luna and Hidalgo. The goal was to get each person and organization to think out-of-their-own-box and truly collaborate and come up with a proposal to address a need in one of five areas: the arts, childcare, nonprofit leadership, workforce training and youth development. These focus areas were identified through surveys from those who registered for the workshop and data from the Southwest Council of Governments.

On the day, 102 people from 55 different nonprofits from the four-county region gathered at Western New Mexico University’s Global Resource Center Auditorium along with representatives from 11 different funders of nonprofits in New Mexico.

Participants naturally gravitated toward their areas of interest, with some groups ending up larger than others.

Jessica Etcheverry, community projects director for Luna County, said her background running programs, like Keep Luna County Beautiful, led her to gravitate to the workforce development group.

“The public has said there is a need to concentrate on workforce development,” she said.

As part of her role in Luna County, she developed Hump Day training to help businesses and organizations train their employees. The trainings were also open to college students and those who were unemployed or looking to expand their skills.

“St. Clair Winery sent quite a few of their employees,” she said. “We had school employees, funeral homes, and more. We offered leadership training, customer service, computer programs. One of the reasons we offered the trainings is because when you are running a small business, you can’t always afford to take the time to offer trainings. So we took the cost burden off them so that they can use those funds to hire more employees or retain those employees.”

The trainings have been hugely successful in Luna County, Etcheverry said, and she saw both the demand and the impact they had.

“We had packed houses,” she said. “It was amazing to see the turnout and the need for people to enhance these skills. The employers loved it. They are knocking on our door to [have us] offer more.”

It was that knowledge that led Etcheverry to go where she knew there was a need.

“When we started breaking into groups, I noticed that there were hardly any people in the workforce development group,” she said.

But that might have worked to their advantage, because it was that group of eight who came up with the winning proposal, and Etcheverry with the winning pitch.

“We had to come up with a sentence really quick,” she said.

She thought about the success of the program in Luna County, and another problem in the region — losing young people and talented workers to bigger communities.

“While everyone was talking I came up with something, then we added maybe one or two more words to it.”

It would be a mentoring training program for businesses that would have a twofold impact: “Address the workforce needs of nonprofits and small businesses by developing a meaningful workforce mentorship program that will grant the participants access to training and resources to develop their careers.”

In other words, “Get them excited about career opportunities in our rural communities,” said Etcheverry.

“We can look at the soft and hard skills training and look at the positions that are open in each of our counties and get people excited about the jobs available here and in the future so we can keep people here,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a really good project for everyone in giving the community some skills to expand their career opportunities. It’s made a great impact in our community in offering those trainings.”

Barrett Brewer, chair of the Grant County Community Foundation, said she was impressed with all of the proposals and wished they all could have been funded.

Funding for the grant was provided by the Grant County Community Foundation, United Way, and Freeport-McMoRan.

Another great benefit to the day was the networking opportunity it provided, said Kendra Milligan, of the Southwest Center for Health Innovations, who was also in the winning group.

“I have been working in nonprofits for 16 years in Grant County and I met people I hadn’t met before,” she said. “I got to meet funders that I have been sending proposals to for seven years. It was an incredible time to network to meet and learn what they want from us and for them to hear what we needed from them as nonprofits in rural New Mexico.”

She said at times big funders don’t understand the needs of rural communities.

“We need to better make that connection,” she said. “I felt like it was invaluable. I was able to talk to people on the Luna County government and people with small family foundations in New Mexico who are looking to fund projects that are meaningful to them. It had a large impact on me as a professional, and I’m very grateful for the Grant County Community Foundation for putting it on.”

She said adding the possibility of a grant made people more engaged in collaboration and was a great way to have an outcome.

“We had such a great mix of nonprofits, I think that helped us have a larger perspective and that made us successful,” she said of her group.

Other members of the winning group included Ron Troy of the New Mexico Land Conservancy, Charmeine Wait of the MainStreet Project, and Lucy Whitmarsh of the MainStreet Project, with input from Kevin Cook of Freeport-McMoRan, Elizabeth Grinnel of the Enchanted Life Foundation and Priscilla Lucero of the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments.

As an event, Milligan said, the workshop, billed “A Community Conversation,” helped launch the Grant County Community Foundation as a powerhouse in the region.

Organizers are hoping it will show funders the willingness and ability of southwestern New Mexico nonprofits to collaborate across spectrums for the betterment of the region.

“We want to go to funders and say look at what we are doing here,” said Stacey Cox, vice president of the Grant County Community Foundation and a nonprofit consultant. “We want Silver City and all of the counties in our region to be on the forefront of those kinds of things. We wanted to shake things up enough to get people to think differently than we normally do to help solve some local problems, but also be able to access some money we haven’t in the past,” she said. “For instance, the Kellogg Foundation funds in New Mexico in very specific areas. We want them to fund here and they don’t, and I want us to come together in a way that makes it impossible for them to say no.”

She said as a native New Mexican herself, she too sometimes fell into the trap of thinking that as a poor state, we don’t have a lot of resources and are behind the curve on things.

“Working at a national nonprofit, I realized New Mexico is actually far ahead in some ways,” she said.

The state is small enough population-wise that people often do know what is going on and work together to get things done, and we have a Legislature that people can access.

“People are super-excited about what we have done here, and not just in Grant County,” she said.

The seed for “A Community Conversation” was initially planted by ex officio founding Grant County Community Foundation board member, Alicia Edwards, and brought to fruition through a grant from the Lineberry Foundation and a steering committee comprised of the Grant County Community Foundation, United Way of Southwest New Mexico, Freeport-McMoRan’s Community Development Program and the Southwest Council of Governments.

Other support was provided by the McCune Charitable Foundation, Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico, and Con Alma Health Foundation.

For more information, visit grantcountycommuni tyfoundation.org or email gccfliaision@gmail.com.

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