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New Mexicans honored for making a difference

Carrie L. Pérez, left, school nurse at Lew Wallace Elementary, and Sandra Torres, a teacher who had worked at Lew Wallace, are credited for their persistence in reporting to authorities that a 7-year-old student was at risk. Both women are among the winners of the Albuquerque Journal’s Spirit of New Mexico award. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Teacher Sandra Torres and school nurse Carrie L. Pérez had an important message for the 270 people gathered at the 10th annual Spirit of New Mexico award ceremony on Monday: kids are worth it; never give up on them.

Those were among the powerful messages given by recipients of this year’s Spirit Awards, sponsored by the Albuquerque Journal.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised each of the recipients and noted that New Mexico is full of people working hard to make a difference.

People like Torres and Pérez, two Albuquerque Public Schools employees who intervened when they saw that a 7-year-old girl at their school was in trouble, and in the process they shined a light on cracks in the system regarding the reporting and handling of child abuse reports. They credited the state Attorney General’s Office for finally saving the child.


Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks at the 10th Annual Spirit of New Mexico awards at the Sandia Casino Golf Event Center on Monday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Torres and Pérez urged the crowd to step up if they see a child in need, even when it’s difficult. The eyes and demeanor of a child can show their distress, Torres said.

“Our children are worth the persistence,” she said. “Our children are worth the time it takes. They are worth all of it.”

Lujan Grisham, in remarks before the awards presentation, said what she loved most about the Spirit awards “is that it’s recognition of all of the good news (occurring in the state).

“The reality is that if we provided recognition – and we should – of every single New Mexican that goes above and beyond to make a difference in their neighborhood, in their community, in their village, town, city, county, we could in fact, give awards all day, 365 days a year.”

“It’s very easy to get caught in the rush of everyday life,” she said, “and then you often fail to recognize all the good around us and all the good among us.”

Besides Torres and Pérez, others recognized were:

• Leigh Caswell, director of the Presbyterian Center for Community Health, and the Food Pharmacy. The Food Pharmacy helps people in need receive fresh produce and healthy foods.

• Holly Slade, founder of the nonprofit Feed New Mexico Kids, which collects nonperishable food items for APS students.

• Anthony Trujillo and Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman. Trujillo launched the Holmans Foundation for Autism in 2013, which has since donated more than 160 iPads to schools for use by children who are living with autism. Bregman sits on the board of the foundation and has started his own foundation.

• President Jasmyn Madison and the Albuquerque Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority for registering and educating voters, among many other actions they’ve undertaken for our community.

• 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. So far, the trust has awarded $50,000 in grants.

• Mike Smith, a native New Mexican and Triple Crown-winning jockey.

The recipients were introduced by a member of the Journal news staff, and they then addressed the crowd. Each received a standing ovation after being handed their award by the governor.

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