Matt Loehman says his job finding work opportunities for people with disabilities is his perfect fit.
“There’s not a lot of times where your professional background, your educational background and your life story kind of all seem to fit with the job that you have,” says Loehman, executive director of Horizons of New Mexico, the nonprofit agency that helps state and local governments fill jobs with qualified disabled workers.
Loehman discovered a passion for business while he was in college and a love for nonprofit work after he graduated. His introduction to that world was the two years he spent with the AmeriCorps VISTA program, followed by seven years at the Loan Fund, helping underserved small businesses and nonprofits.
The life story he refers to also includes his ability to overcome a spinal cord injury that caused temporary quadriplegia and interrupted his college career. The injury, he says, was related to his condition of achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism.
Outside of his professional achievements, Loehman has another deep and long-held love: baseball.
He played at his private Albuquerque high school and fondly recalls his first job hauling ice and filling soda machines at the old Dukes stadium. It was the ballpark’s final year before renovation.
“It was a little bit of a bittersweet job, because it was the last summer, and I had such fond memories of going to Dukes games with friends, and my mom and dad in that old stadium,” Loehman says. “It was sad because I knew there was a time limit on it.”
Why do you think your work at Horizons is important?
“There are folks with disabilities who can work 40 hours a week, but not necessarily work 8 to 5, for whatever reason. It’s pretty neat to be able to work with them and maximize their talents to get their best life. I think people are, generally speaking, born to have a purpose and usually that purpose is family, friends and then doing something productive. This gives an opportunity for people with disabilities to work.” (Editor’s note: Under Loehman’s watch, Horizons last year saw 282 jobs go to New Mexicans with disabilities, through contracts that provided over $2.95 million in wages.)
What are the most common types of jobs provided?
“Custodial services is the biggest. Printing is another and document destruction. There’s some IT (information technology). We subcontract with an array of nonprofits and small businesses that perform the services … for state and local governments. All the rest areas in New Mexico are cleaned and maintained under our program. The city of Albuquerque’s janitorial services contract is under our program.”
What’s something you’re proud of?
“I think I’ve had a pretty good arc in my career. Probably the thing I’ve been proudest of is being able to take, maintain, grow and advance in jobs and careers that I feel like make some sort of positive contribution to Albuquerque.”
Who has made a difference in your life?
“Certainly, my parents … They’ve supported me even when my personal priorities differed from theirs, but they’ve also largely shaped my values. My parents kept me safe from physical danger, but they never tried to dissuade me from doing things where my height might limit me, like playing basketball. And I had a baseball coach in high school (Sandia Prep coach Paul Huitt) who gave me a lot of life lessons. Probably one of the best was when we were playing a team that wasn’t very good. I was on second base, and the ball came to me. I should have caught it and thrown the runner out, but I let the ball go. Afterward, I smacked my glove on the ground. My coach yelled at me, not because I missed the ball but … because of how I acted afterward. And that was probably the single greatest lesson in professionalism that I’ve ever had: Have a good attitude and, if something doesn’t go your way, process it, learn from it and move forward. We did go on to win the game.”
What’s a memorable compliment you’ve received?
“I appreciate compliments, but I don’t necessarily focus on the words in them. I probably am more focused on critiques or constructive criticism and probably think about those more, because there are more opportunities for improvement. One of the things I’ve looked forward to the most whenever I’ve had performance evaluations is, ‘What am I not doing well? What can I do better?'”
How did you overcome the spinal injury?
“First of all, I overcame it just by having a family with good health insurance and the ability to have basically unlimited occupational and physical therapy. But it changed me a lot emotionally and changed my personality. I had lived in a house at school (University of Arizona) with four other people. I was pretty extroverted. But when I came back to school (after the injury) … I would go to physical therapy for two hours. I had one close friend … and we’d go out for a beer. Other than that, I didn’t see a lot of people. So when I came back (to Albuquerque) from college, I needed down time. I needed that solitude. You know what’s interesting is I think a lot of people experienced that during the pandemic. I recognize the personality changes from that (injury) happening 15 years ago. It forced me to be a homebody.”
Do you have any regrets?
“No. There are things I would do differently. There are things I would have done if I could do them again, but I wouldn’t call them regrets. Every bad experience is probably a life lesson that helps you figure out something. For example, would I love to have not had my spinal cord injury, to reverse that right now or say it never happened? Sure, but at the same time, I think (it helped) my ability to problem solve. One of my strengths is when something doesn’t go my way and I feel like I’m in a tough spot or down, I think I usually come out for the better.”