Doing the right thing - Albuquerque Journal

Doing the right thing

Making Albuquerque a better place – whether through compassion, legal assistance, philanthropy or good food – is the common thread among those who won this year’s Ethics in Business awards.

The annual awards honor individuals, businesses and nonprofits that show a devotion to ethical principles.

“It may seem a little basic, but we’re looking for ethical practices that are put in place … and a commitment to those ethical practices,” said Eric Weinstein, chairman of the committee that made the selections. “We also looked for commitment to the community and having demonstrated that over time.”

The 20th annual award presentations will be the focus of a banquet on April 25 at the Hyatt Regency Albuquerque. The program is hosted by Central New Mexico Community College.

Those who were nominated for the awards went through extensive review by students from the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management and the committee headed by Weinstein.

This year’s winners are: Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless in the nonprofit category; Mike Silva, individual excellence; Adriel Orozco, emerging leader; HB Construction, for-profit medium-sized business; Silver Leaf Farms, for-profit small business.

Proceeds from the awards banquet benefit student scholarships at CNM, programs at the Anderson School and CNM Ingenuity, Inc.

Weinstein, an executive vice president at Aon Risk Solutions, said the theme of ethics in business won’t end after the awards ceremony. It will continue to be a topic in classes and curriculum at CNM, he said.

Sponsors are the Albuquerque Journal, CliftonLarsonAllen, French Funerals and Cremations, Kirtland Federal Credit Union, PNM, Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch, Admiral Beverage Corp. and New Mexico Gas Co.


Jenny Metzler, CEO of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, says the 30-year-old organization is “trying to change the world.” (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Getting health care to homeless people on the streets, in shelters, at meal sites and elsewhere is the main mission of Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, but it doesn’t stop there.

“The circumstances of homelessness are not acceptable,” said CEO Jenny Metzler. “That’s the premise of our work.

“We really are trying to change the world.”

The 30-year-old organization, which serves about 7,000 clients a year in a variety of ways, has won a Hopkins Award for Excellence in Ethical Practice by a Nonprofit Organization.

The group “is on the forefront of innovation and is a leading partner in the discussion about collaboration, better services and a social net that allows for people to find hope and healing,” said the letter nominating the group for an award.

Internally, the organization stays consistent with its beliefs by paying a starting wage of $15 an hour, considered the amount workers need in Albuquerque to avoid the risk of losing their homes, Metzler said. That’s above the city’s minimum wage of $8.20.

“If we’re about ending homelessness, we have to make sure employees are not homeless,” she said.

It’s one of the priorities in the nonprofit’s budget – $9.5 million this year. In deciding how to spend money, Metzler said, the organization has become “very good at strategic planning and real-time strategizing.”

Some years are budgeted for “quantitative growth,” with new programming or additional staff, while other years the focus is “backstopping” to make sure any gaps are filled, Metzler said.

“We make sure we’re doing things well and doing the right things,” she said. “We can’t afford to mess up because we’re serving a very, very vulnerable population.”

The organization provides high-intensity services as well as “lighter touches” that might involve buying someone a cup of coffee or giving information about available services. “We use health care to connect with them, but we also help people get to housing,” Metzler said. “Ultimately, we want to end homelessness.”


Mike Silva, owner of Rude Boy Cookies and several other Albuquerque businesses, holds fundraisers amd gives away cookies to help local nonprofit organizations. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Mike Silva, owner of several Albuquerque businesses, is passionate about his adopted city and tries his best to show it through generosity and philanthropy.

Silva says he and his family fled Los Angeles when he was 8 because his mom “didn’t feel safe and wanted us to have a fresh start.”

“Albuquerque is more than just a place to live for me,” said Silva, 50. “I view Albuquerque as a place that, in essence, changed our lives. So I’m motivated to try to help the city in any way I can.”

Silva is the winner of the PNM Award for Individual Excellence in Ethical Business Practice.

He started his first business, ABQ Trolley Co., in 2009 with co-founder Jesse Herron. The business expanded to other ventures, including Albucreepy Ghost Walk, Duke City Pedaler and LUX. Silva also owns Rude Boy Cookies, and recently he and Herron purchased ABQ in a Box.

He says all of his businesses “have a tremendous amount of community equity.”

Silva has a practice of giving free tours or cookies to help nonprofits. He holds fundraisers at his businesses, with a percentage of profits going to his favorite causes, especially those involving children.

Done through Rude Boy Cookies, he calls these efforts “Cookies for a Cause.”

One such event he is especially proud of was held in honor of Victoria Martens, the 10-year-old girl who was brutally raped and murdered in 2016. Silva sold purple ribbon cookies because, he says, purple was her favorite color.

Half of the proceeds went to All-Faiths Receiving Home because “I wanted to give to an organization that maybe helps kids in her situation,” Silva said. The other half went to an organization for first responders, because they had to suffer the trauma of handling the case, he said.

“Michael has as a foundation in all things business a commitment to make a difference in the world,” said the nomination form submitted on Silva’s behalf. “He is in business to grow his ability to make an impact on the Albuquerque community in which he lives and which he loves.”


Adriel Orozco, associate director of the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, works to represent undocumented immigrants who might not be able to afford an attorney while also helping disadvantaged students get into law school. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Adriel Orozco knew he wanted to get involved in the legal profession, but the only image he had of a lawyer was “someone in an office always dealing with paperwork.”

That’s not the kind of career Orozco has shaped for himself, though.

The 31-year-old Albuquerque native, associate director of the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, has won an Emerging Leader in Ethical Excellence award.

Orozco developed a clearer vision of his legal future after working as a paralegal for a private firm in Boston specializing in personal injury, criminal defense and immigration law.

He saw that some clients had deep problems going beyond their immediate legal situation – they were poor and could not afford legal services, or they were “criminalized for simple acts like driving without a driver’s license, but weren’t legally able to attain a license.”

He also worked part time as an English as a Second Language teacher at a nonprofit in Boston, where he gave his students not only language lessons but information about their rights as immigrants.

“What came out of that experience was I wanted to work for my community if I was going to be doing this kind of work,” Orozco said. “So I came back to New Mexico.”

He graduated from the University of New Mexico law school in 2016 and got a fellowship working at the Immigrant Law Center.

A goal of his two-year Equal Justice Works fellowship was to create “more public interest opportunities in New Mexico” and to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds get into law school, Orozco said.

“The issue in the legal profession was that it wasn’t representative of the communities we were serving,” he said.

The fellowship ended last summer, but Orozco has stayed on, continuing his work.

He also represents undocumented immigrants who might not be able to afford an attorney.

As for his award, he said, “I think it’s wonderful to recognize folks who are trying to do work in a different way, focusing on building power and changing systems that are oppressive, especially to immigrant communities.”


Jason Harrington, CEO of HB Construction, says he is proud of his company’s decision to create an endowment fund that donates to causes chosen by employees. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

HB Construction, which now has 235 employees, has won a Rust Award for Excellence in Ethical Business Practice by a For-Profit Business (medium). Its revenues have increased by nearly 1,000 percent since the dark days of the recession.

The company stepped back, Harrington said, and decided in 2011 that its mission was going to be helping families and communities. It started hiring people and business partners “based on their commitment to a higher purpose.” For example, employees might come from other industries or nontraditional career paths. The company is “constantly exploring new technologies” to increase service to customers, Harrington said.

He said he is most proud of the decision in 2011 to create the HB Endowment fund. Each year, the company sets aside a percentage of profits for the endowment, which gives to causes chosen by employees.

… We’ve had a lot of success and growth as an organization,” Harrington said. “I think the main reason is that in 2011 we found our ‘why.’


Aaron Silverblatt-Buser, left, and brother Elan, have built their Silver Leaf Farms into a 12-acre operation that produces dozens of crops. Their bounty can be found at farmer’s markets, local restaurants, grocery stores and schools. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Silver Leaf Farms in Corrales had its roots a decade ago in Aaron Silverblatt-Buser’s backyard vegetable patch.

Now, he and brother Elan farm on 12 acres with eight full-time employees, producing dozens of crops most of the year. Their bounty can be found at farmer’s markets, local restaurants, grocery stores and schools.

Aaron and Elan Silverblatt-Buser have been given the Rust Award for Excellence in Ethical Business Practice by a For-Profit Business (small business).

But Elan said they didn’t set out to win any awards.

“It’s not like we have to scratch our heads, ‘Are we doing the ethical thing?” he said. “It’s just being good stewards of the community. Our markets are all local, so we’re deep within the community. Food is the most common language, and so we’re just interconnected in so many ways.”

For example, the farm works with local chefs to develop and grow crops they want for restaurant menus, avoiding shipping costs and making sure the vegetables are fresh.

“The only way to get them before was to order them special from California, or they had to come off a big-service delivery truck,” he said.

Schools are getting some of the bounty, too – last fall, the farm’s “Silver Leaf snackers” mini-cucumbers were a big hit among Bernalillo public school kids.

“The kids tried them and then came back for more,” Elan said.

The brothers rely heavily on research in their business, including “detailed soil analysis” so they know what kind of amendments are needed and how best to take care of the farm land they lease. Elan studied molecular plant genetics at Swarthmore College, while Aaron got a master’s in business at the University of New Mexico.

“The goal was not to make a million dollars the first year,” Elan said. “The goal is to build Silver Leaf Farms into something more than a paycheck. We want to build it to become an integral part of New Mexico – not only just as a grower and supplier of high-quality produce, but pushing the boundaries of what people think is possible in New Mexico and really embracing what we have here.”

For HB Construction, the Great Recession brought its share of misery, but it also “gave us an opportunity,” said CEO Jason Harrington.

The Albuquerque firm, founded in 1991, was down to fewer than 10 employees in 2011, and the workload consisted of a single project.

“It was a challenging time, but it also gave us an opportunity,” Harrington said in written remarks to the Journal. “We were able to step back and ask ourselves, ‘Why does this company exist? Who do we want to be?'”

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