By Mary Alice Murphy

At the monthly Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce meeting, Board member Bruce Ashburn presented the area PNM grant recipient checks.

"Five organizations from southwest New Mexico received $15,000 awards," Ashburn said. "In the thirty years of the PNM Foundation, more than $12 million has been reinvested in New Mexico. We serve 500,000 people, but it takes only one person to move a project forward."

The first award was accepted by Denise Smith of the Office of Sustainability in Silver City to create a meaningful space at the office, which is housed in a former gas station. The project will create a parklet, using the remaining shade canopy over the pumps. The project will collect rainwater to irrigate native plants, and signs and kiosks will be created.

Spirit of Hidalgo, represented by Kristy Ortiz, the new director of The Wellness Coalition, has plans for a vacant lot in Lordsburg. The project will create a town square next to City Hall.

Gila (Silver City) Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico President Keller Suberkropp accepted the ward on behalf of the chapter and the local Audubon Society chapter. The project will create a small amphitheater for education and artists and will add visual impact to a 1906 railroad water tank at the Silva Creek Botanical Garden.

Two recipients were not in attendance. One was the Southwest Regional Housing Authority, represented by Veronika Molina. The agency plans to repair the fountain in Lordsburg. The second was to The Volunteer Center of which Alicia Edwards is the director. The group plans to create a community group to sustain a trail over a bridge, with benches, trash receptacles, and native plants to reclaim a trashy area. Painted tracks will lead along the trail to the Power Up outdoor classroom at The Commons.

"I thank the chamber for allowing us to announce the winners," Ashburn said. "Without all of you, none of this is possible."

Dan Cook, chamber board chairman, recognized the board members and Chamber President Scott Terry for a successful Fourth of July activity.

The parade awards, handed out by Cook, were, for motorized vehicles, third place to Stardancers; second place to the Silver City Red Hat Roadrunners; and first place to the Silver City-Grant County TEA Party Patriots.

In the equestrian/pedestrian category, third place went to Silver Spirit Gallery and San Vicente Artists; second to PFLAG and LGBT of Grant County; and first to Healing Hands Equine Services.

In the float category, third went to Habitat for Humanity and Restore; second to the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society and first to American Legion Post 18.

The featured presenter for the meeting was Michael Zaragoza, the chief executive officer of the United Way in Las Cruces, which serves five counties—Doña Ana, Luna, Sierra, Grant and Hidalgo.

He said he began in United Way as a work/study student at New Mexico State University running the college's campaign. "I took over the Las Cruces office in 2013. United Way is not the same one you know about. I want to dispel the myths. My main goal is transparency. United Way is about having fun and giving to the community. Over $100,000 came from Grant County last year and goes back into Grant County. We are also creating a $70,000 Tech Fund to upgrade non-profits' technology with new computers and software."

"We want to be a complete resource for all," Zaragoza said. "Our building blocks are education, income and health. We want to create opportunities that focus on these three and their subcategories."

He said community impact is working with governmental entities, non-profits, businesses and individuals to tackle the important issues in the community. "We want to tailor the program to meet your needs. We want to help people learn ways to meet their issues, so we don't have to give away a can of food."

Zaragoza said the three steps under income are building income, saving and building assets. "No one anymore saves for tomorrow. They are living day-to-day. We are launching Passports to Success to teach people how to budget."

The three prongs of the United Way campaign are: Give, by investing in the community; Advocacy, for champions and building partnerships; and Volunteer, giving of one's time. "If you give, you can designate to any non-profit or give to a community impact fund. The Get Connected Zone is web-based and houses non-profits, with match support for United Way."

"We are excited about our process of developing partnerships and creating a Grant County resource database," Zaragoza said. "We want to develop partnerships to bring in non-profit workshops. We want to work locally to develop community building, with a community calendar and a community blog."

This reporter pointed out that the Grant County Community Health Council already has a resource database and directory of non-profits and manages a community calendar.

"If it's already in place, make sure people know about it," Zaragoza said. "The Community Impact Fund—100 percent stays in your county. Non-profits submit applications, have to meet compliance and receive funds. We want to make an impact here for you. We want to do fun, exciting things. If you grow your non-profit community, you grow your business community.

"It costs me 15 cents to 18 cents per dollar to run my organization," Zaragoza said. "But a business can sponsor events, so they become fee-free. United Way will come out here at a bare minimum every other month."

Lori Ford, Community Access Television of Silver City and KOOT FM director, asked Zaragoza who pays him.

"The donors," he replied.

Smith asked what percentage. "100 percent of the money raised in the community stays in the community. 15 percent goes to administration, based on the donations. We also have an emergency fund.

Tim Eastep of Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc. local operations asked if the percentage includes national fees.

"We are like a franchise," Zaragoza said. "We only work in the area. The money stays locally. None goes to national or international."

Joel Schram of AmBank said he once served on a United Way Board and "grant money helps offset administration costs."

"I want to improve services here and turn your dreams into reality," Zaragoza concluded.

Live from Silver City

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