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Award winners exemplify the ‘Spirit of New Mexico’

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

They fight hunger, offer opportunities for children with developmental disabilities, protect kids from abuse, promote voter awareness and accomplish extraordinary feats bringing New Mexico to the national stage.

They are the Albuquerque Journal’s 2018 Spirit of New Mexico award winners.

Established in 2009, the awards are presented to recipients selected from the pages of the Albuquerque Journal.

“While it’s important to address the challenges facing our community, the Journal is proud to host this event to remind us all of the good news that surrounds us daily,” said Journal publisher William Lang. “Congratulations to this year’s Spirit winners who have brightened the lives of so many New Mexicans.”

The winners will be hosted during a luncheon and awards ceremony on Jan. 28 at the Sandia Casino Golf Event Center ballroom. For information on how to attend, call Lynn Marie Rusaw at 823-3353.

This year’s recipients are:

Leigh Caswell

Leigh Caswell, director of the Presbyterian Center for Community Health, and the Food Pharmacy.

The Food Pharmacy, sponsored by Presbyterian Healthcare Services, is centered around the idea that food is medicine.

Patients at Presbyterian’s Kaseman Hospital campus are screened for food insecurity, and those who meet the requirements can get a prescription for the Food Pharmacy that allows them to receive fresh produce and several low-sodium, low-sugar, shelf-stable foods.

Caswell said the hope is to develop relationships that help Presbyterian identify the underlying issues behind their food insecurity and help them find a sustainable source of healthy food.

Holly Slade

Holly Slade, Feed New Mexico Kids

Between her job as a real estate agent and her involvement with Calvary Church on Osuna NE, Slade has a very busy schedule. It was while working on a church project that Slade heard a statistic that troubled her: New Mexico leads the nation in childhood hunger.

“How is it that we live in an industrialized, civilized country, in a metropolitan area with vast resources, and still have hungry children all around us?” she wondered. “I just thought it was shameful, because we can do something about it.”

So she did just that.

Slade started the non-profit Feed New Mexico Kids, which collects nonperishable food items for distribution to Albuquerque Public Schools kids each Friday to help them get through the weekend, so that by the time school starts on Mondays hunger won’t distract from their readiness to learn.

The organization has thus far sent 34 tons of food home with students.

Anthony Trujillo

Holmans president Anthony Trujillo and Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman

Holmans, a company that sells measurement technology tools, such as GPS, launched the Holmans Foundation for Autism in 2013. It has since donated more than 160 iPads to schools for use by children who are living with autism, and has held several annual fundraisers and events to benefit the children.

About a thousand kids with autism are enrolled in APS schools, according to district administrators.

Alex Bregman

Trujillo’s teenage daughter, Sophia, has severe autism and requires many educational supports.

Bregman is a member of the Holmans Foundation board of directors. An Albuquerque native, he also finished a stellar baseball season during which baseball writers declared him the Astros’ most valuable player.

President Jasmyn Madison and the Albuquerque Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority

The predominantly black sorority is dedicated to public service through a five-pronged program of economic development, educational development, international awareness and involvement, physical and mental health, and political awareness and involvement.

This year the organization engaged in a “push to the polls,” registering voters, educating voters, making them aware of early and absentee-voting opportunities and urging them to vote.

Also during the past year, the chapter distributed several $1,000 scholarships to area young people, worked with health organizations to inform the community about access to health care resources, participated in forums discussing paths to education and financial literacy tools, and supported the local refugee community, Habitat for Humanity, the Roadrunner Food Bank and Socks for Tots.

Jennifer Riordan

Michael Riordan and the Jennifer Riordan Foundation

In the wake of the tragic April jet engine explosion accident that took the life of banking executive Jennifer Riordan, her family, led by husband Michael Riordan, established the Jennifer Riordan Memorial Trust.

Michael Riordan said hundreds of donations poured in from around the world in the days after the death of his wife. “I wanted to make sure every dollar of that ended up back in the community,” he said.

Thus far, the trust has awarded $50,000 in grants to seven nonprofits in support of education, to assist formerly incarcerated women, help with housing for women with children, teach skills to women survivors of abuse and promote sustainable water sources.

During the recent New Mexico Bowl, the organization, now called the Jennifer Riordan Foundation, introduced the Spark Kindness campaign and an app, challenging Albuquerque residents to commit to a goal of 1 million acts of kindness.

Teacher Sandra Torres and school nurse Carrie L. Pérez

These two Albuquerque Public Schools employees were key to changing the life of a young student in a high-profile case that shined a light on cracks in the system regarding the reporting and handling of child abuse reports.

They repeatedly reported their concerns regarding their 7-year-old student to various agencies, and refusing to give up, finally reached out to the state Attorney General’s Office. The AG took action.

The student and her siblings are now safe, and two adults have been arrested on charges that included trafficking.

Torres and Pérez, who were working at Lew Wallace Elementary School, are being honored for their perseverance and determination to overcome barriers to help a child. They are both strong advocates for children day in and day out.

Torres is now teaching at Lavaland Elementary School and Pérez remains at Lew Wallace.

Mike Smith

Mike Smith, Triple Crown-winning jockey

New Mexico is big on horses and horse racing, and no one has put the state more prominently in the national equestrian limelight than Smith.

Born in Roswell, Smith grew up in Dexter but now lives in Southern California. He began racing horses on tracks in southeast New Mexico when he was 11 and won his first race as a licensed jockey at the Downs at Santa Fe when he was 16.

Since then, Smith has won more than 5,400 races and tallied more than $306 million in all-time winnings, garnering him the nickname Big Money Mike.

Earlier this year, at age 52, Smith became the oldest jockey to win the coveted Triple Crown in horse racing: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

And in national interviews Smith is almost certain to tout New Mexico as his home.

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