By Mary Alice Murphy

Steve Charvira, Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce executive director, began with: "We're still dealing with 2020, but getting ready to breathe a sigh of relief."

He noted the chamber was working on the Independence Day weekend. "We have a dynamic committee, including Romeo Cruz and Cari Lemon. We are excited that we will have a parade this year."

Chavira said the parade route will begin at 12th and Pope, travel southward on Pope, turn left on College, right on Hudson, and right on Broadway up the hill to the courthouse, where the parade will end.

Chavira said the parade would feature four marshals. The Grand Marshal is World War II member of the 101st Airborne, Silver City resident Dan McBride. The other marshals will represent the education sector, first responders and the health care sector. Chavira noted that without the work of the latter three sectors, "we wouldn't have gotten through 2020."

On Friday, July 2, at the Western New Mexico University Fine Arts Center Theatre, a documentary, "A Rendezvous with Destiny," which features Dan McBride as one of the three remaining "Screaming Eagles" D-Day survivors, will air at 7 p.m.

Chavira said, after many discussions with town leaders, a decision was made to have activities at Gough Park on a more limited basis. Kiwanis will hold its traditional pancake breakfast and then segue to the traditional barbecue lunch.

The schedule of events can be seen at: https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/65811-july-3-calendar-of-activities-in-silver-city

Chavira said the committee and chamber members are considering the events the "grand reopening of Silver City."

He said the smaller than usual rodeo on June 11 and 12 was "jam packed with people."

"Over the past 15-16 months, a lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes," Chavira said. "The chamber worked with the Covid task force and the Grant County Community Health Council. I have so many people to thank, I'll probably forget some. They included Marilyn Alcorn, Priscilla Lucero, Curtis Clough, Kelly Clemens, Jeff Fell, Renee Despres. and a whole lot more. I want to thank Curtis for being our board chairman-elect."

Chavira said behind-the-scenes work is more effective when someone is totally dedicated to the work, especially if it's someone who knows all the right people and is able to speak to anyone and come in and do it at every level.

"Priscilla Lucero is our go-to person," Chavira introduced the guest speaker.

"I think you would have to compare me to Sabrina Pack (current chamber board president)," Lucero said. "Nothing gets done without others. I'm thankful for the dedicated team that worked on the task force. I'm thankful for all my connections across the state and with federal folks. Every week or two we get a list of federal resources and philanthropic resources. The county got several grants from the first phase of the Affordable Care Act, including $2.5 million for Gila Regional Medical Center for HVAC and roof repairs. We are a distressed economic district, and we should be seeing economic development funding coming soon. One funding opportunity is around tourism and outdoor recreation. Another funding opportunity from the state includes the planning and research initiatives around a regional cluster. Workforce projects, we are a recipient of. We are in the process of hiring someone to spearhead that effort. And the state added one more category for tribal governments. We are seeing a number of rural initiatives. State Sen. (Siah) Hemphill was instrumental in getting SB 193 passed, which provides for a rural ombudsman. We know how to be resourceful and creative. We see it in the county. We continue to survive. I'm also seeing funding around agriculture and food sources. All of these initiatives have guidelines that we follow. How do we apply for them? We're all juggling three times as much from last year. We are resilient and we continue to fight. Kitty Clemens is our new economic development specialist. We're also seeing challenges in childcare with having an adequate number of spaces. People don't see it as economic development, but people can't work without childcare. On the topic of community service, AmeriCorps has a lot of funding around public safety, fire and criminal justice."

She noted that everyone presumes that rural areas are as equipped as cities, but "we know that's not true."

"I see potential for increased Colonias funding at the federal level," Lucero continued. "We have all been impacted by the effects of Covid. Now we're in an adjustment period. Other money is coming to local governments directly. They are close to sending out the first allocation once the state receives it, it will send out 50 percent to the local levels. We need advocacy for understanding our needs. The supply chain and construction have been challenged. One other thing is funding for enhancing culture, arts and tourism. Oh, and another thought, the town has been working on a housing subdivision for workforce housing. That project is starting to ramp up again. Everything you share with me I use to advocate for you."

Lemon, chamber member, task force member, and community member talked about funding for mental health. "Can you touch a bit more on that? We have a new perception of mental health. It's different from PTSD."

Lucero said she hasn't seen funding for self-care specifically. "It ties into behavioral health and there will be specific training funding for those treating first responders. As well as how to treat those with drug issues and thinking of suicide. There are some state dollars for mortgage help that people are not tapping into. They don't know how to apply online. I've tried to convince the state we need helpers at the local level to help people apply for the funding. It's also available for renters. The documentation and requirements can be difficult. I've been trying to advocate for local governments to apply for it, instead of individuals. I think we can be creative."

Lemon asked how to get the information out on the idea of local government getting involved.

"Even if they allocate one helper to my office, they can travel to the four counties," Lucero said. "There is also funding for rehabilitation of houses, but not making it be up to code. It can help with heating and cooling. The rural ombudsman will also help with rural broadband, which will be available on July 1. We will have a local person advocating for us at the state level. The state Legislature now has a rural caucus and a rural committee, who can advocate with the Legislature, so some funds are allocated to rural areas. Our rural areas are always competing with the larger areas for funding."

Chavira said the state has made a commitment to develop broadband in rural areas.

Lucero said the money is there, but nobody in the areas has the capacity to know how to apply for the dollars. "Although it has been initiated at the state level, they are having a hard time getting it started. Kitty is our advocate. Maybe we should be putting pipes in the ground. We've done the regional broadband study, but how do we get there? We need to know what is the urgent need, and what's not. I'm having constant meetings about higher costs, so we know there are needs in the area."

Alcorn asked a question about government agencies applying for funding if they don't have the capacity or ability to do so. "I would argue it as equity. I think it's great that local governments are being pushed to the top. We are starting to see more equity at the state and federal levels. We have to keep advocating for it all the time, although we are the most creative and resilient."

Kelsey of Revel Restaurant asked how the supply chain grants work.

Lucero said she had been in conversation with Frontier Communities on how local folks can connect with local producers. "It's a huge challenge. We will be seeing some issues at stores. We also have to support disadvantaged farmers."

Chavira noted that "Priscilla is also good at getting conversations started at the right desk."

He said the state has announced a redistricting committee of citizens. "As it sits right now, there is no one from below Belen represented. That is an issue that needs to be talked about. What do we need to do to get our areas as part of the conversation? How did we fare 10 years ago?"

Lucero said that Hemphill would be serving on the legislative committee looking at redistricting. "The challenges we face go back to what are the real needs in our area. We should go to the areas with highest poverty to be better represented."

Chavira said the disparities come out of the poor representatives the state comes up with. "It is important how the districts are laid out, but they will have panel meetings leading up to the Legislature. Let them know we need to be represented."

Lucero said that was one of her early experiences in the job. "No one wants to volunteer."

Alcorn said she volunteered to be on the committee studying patient centered care. "I've pounded on rural areas not being the same as Albuquerque."

Chavira said the Ethics Committee chose mostly state representatives and senators for the redistricting committee, but they are centered in the northern part of the state. "We need to make sure they know how we are thinking. We thank people like you, Marilyn, for tilting at the windmills."

He said he was excited to announce that the July membership meeting would be in person at the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center on July 8, the second Thursday of the month. "It's at 11 or 11:30. We'll be announcing it."