She has a quiet nature and is a self-described introvert, but neither stopped Rebecca Sanford from dressing up in Diet Coke cans before a large audience as part of a recycle fashion show.
The occasion was sponsored by Adelante Development Center, Inc., which Sanford has headed for nearly two years.
The longtime nonprofit provides help with job training and coaching, housing and a variety of other services for people with disabilities and to seniors. It also operates a thrift store in Belen and senior transportation and meal assistance in the Las Cruces area.
Landing her first job at Adelante as human resources vice president in 2012 was a vision come true for Sanford. She was interested in making a difference through non-profit work after positions with the city of Rio Rancho and the private sector.
“I had always wanted to work in a nonprofit space,” Sanford says. “If someone had asked me years ago what my dream job was, I would have said, ‘I’d really like to oversee a large nonprofit.’ I’m grateful that I found a mission that I’m passionate about and with an amazing group of people. This is a pretty phenomenal organization.”
She cites as a success story a client with an intellectual disability who went through Adelante’s EmployAbility program and got a job at a local grocery store. With Adelante’s continued help, the woman is now an assistant deli department manager “who trains everyone how to do their jobs.”
“She’s amazing with the customers, too,” Sanford says. “It’s really cool to watch her in action.”
Among the many programs overseen by Adelante, which are closest to your heart?
“Adelante has such a broad, expansive mission with … so many different programs, so it’s hard to pick out one that’s my favorite. But I think the work we do that helps folks be as independent as possible and employed in the community is really important. A couple of our programs that focus on that are EmployAbility, which is helping connect people with disabilities to jobs, and Ticket to Work, which helps people receiving (Social Security disability benefits) with interview skills, resumes and job searches.”
Why do you think connecting disadvantaged people with jobs is so important?
“It makes such a positive difference in their lives, being able to work in the community. I think it contributes to an individual’s worth and purpose to have a job. And for organizations to be inclusive and include people with disabilities is so important. We find out what the individual would like to do, where they would like to do it and what their interests are. We try to match the employer and the individual.”
What prompted your interest in nonprofit work?
“The opportunity to make a difference. Adelante — our name means ‘forward’ and our goal is to do whatever we can, in whatever capacity, to … help people move their lives forward. So the opportunity to have that impact was incredibly appealing to me. It’s something I’ve never had in the past. I had a great career in the for-profit sector, but I think, like many other people, you get to a point in life where you’d really like to make a difference.”
What do you do in your free time?
“I do enjoy riding my horse. It gives me a real opportunity to be present with her, just she and I riding. I’m a runner. When I have time, although my garden doesn’t look like it, I like to work in the yard. Mainly roses. My dad always grew roses when I was growing up and passed that on to me.”
You also volunteer with Cloud Dancers Therapeutic Horsemanship Program. How did that come about?
“I just happened to get connected through different friends that were involved or knew of the organization and thought it blended two of the things I’m involved with, so horses and then supporting people with disabilities through therapeutic riding.”
What has made you successful in your life?
“The help and support I’ve had from many different people throughout my life and throughout my career: mentors, colleagues, people who I get to work with every day, professors I’ve had. For me, it’s to be a good listener, be thoughtful, good at problem-solving. A sense of humor comes in handy.”
What have been difficulties for you?
“A challenge for Adelante in general is staffing. We have great long-term employees, but finding additional employees — just like every other employer around the state — limits our ability to expand services. Personally, I would say I’ve been very fortunate in life, but a challenge for me was caring for my mom. She had dementia … and providing that care and support to her remotely was a challenge. Like so many people who have gone through that chapter in life, that’s a tough one.”
How do you cope with difficulty?
“I try not to assign good or bad to different situations, and I try to approach it, whether it’s good or bad, in the same way. Analyzing it, taking a look at it, being thoughtful about the approach and looking for a path to move forward, whatever difficulty that is.”
How do you splurge?
What’s proved to be good advice for you?
“From Mahatma Ghandi: ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.’”
Describe yourself in three words.
“Optimistic, thoughtful and resilient.”