By Hannah Sophia Winnick (Originally appeared in the November Newsletter From Hispanics in Philanthropy)

New Mexico, recently described by the New York Times as “the nation’s most Hispanic state” and a model for “the way many states will look … down the road,” has long been one of the most active sites in [Hispanics in Philanthropy’s] HIP’s Funders’ Collaborative for Strong Latino Communities. In the last nine years, HIP and local funders have invested nearly $2 million in more than 30 different Latino nonprofit organizations, providing critical support and training.

In this vast state, with its breathtaking sunsets and rich blend of native cultures, the economic crisis has taken a harsh toll and HIP’s grantees often form the backbone of their communities – stepping in to provide social services and advocacy wherever needed.

Based on 2011 surveys, however, New Mexico also has:

  • The highest poverty rate of any state, at 22 percent, which is well above the national average of 15 percent, according to a September report by the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • An annual median income that has fallen to $44,270 for a family of four (compared to $50,054 average U.S. median household income in 2011).
  • Safety net worries, with nearly one in five New Mexicans lacking insurance.

Much of this reflects the fallout of the economic crisis and the state’s slow and difficult recovery; but it also points to deeper problems.

New Mexico Grantee Convening

At HIP’s grantee convening on Sept. 21, Angelo Gonzales, associate director for Community Engagement of the University of New Mexico Center for Education Policy Research, took a close look at the education crisis confronting New Mexico’s Latino population.

This year’s convening focused on strategic messaging and fundraising to individual donors, with speakers like Pat Davis and Marsha Garcia, executive director and Hispano media director at ProgressNow New Mexico, giving a workshop on strategic messaging; Amy Duggan, executive director at the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, providing an overview of the Center’s resources, and  Ona Porter, president and CEO of Prosperity Works, leading the grantees through a reflection on the current grant round, as well as training in fundraising from HIP staff.

Pat Davis, Executive Director, and Marsha Garcia, Hispano Media Director of ProgressNow New Mexico lead a workshop on developing value-based messaging.

 

Gonzales set the tone and provided useful data in providing specifics about the state of Latino children in New Mexico’s schools, where they make up between 45 and 90 percent of the student-aged population in nearly every county. Yet, in the last two years, only about 40 percent of Latinofourth graders in New Mexico were proficient in reading and math, compared to about 60 percent of their non-Latino white peers. He said thatthis gap has remained largely unchanged by 11th grade. In fact, this difference in achievement has persisted since 1990, with a slight increase during the 1990s as white students improved their scores.

Studies have found that Latino students in New Mexico consistently perform below the national average, while its white students have exceeded the national average every year. Adults are often unable to provide adequate educational support and guidance: In 18 of New Mexico’s 33 counties, about a third or more of Latino adults do not have a high school diploma or equivalent; in four of those, the percent surges to nearly half. The proportion of adults who lack post-secondary degrees is below the national average of 13 percent in all but a handful of counties.

Not surprisingly, these achievement gaps are highly correlated with the income and the socioeconomic background of students’ families, as well as with health indicators, researchers have found. Twenty-six percent of New Mexico’s Latino children live in poverty – in more than half (19) of New Mexican counties, Latino childhood poverty is between 30 and 50 percent.  In 21 counties, at least one of every 10 high school students will not have had enough food to eat when they enter the classroom. And, given the demographics, there is a high likelihood that those students come from Latino families, Gonzales said.

Those statistics appeared to confirm the stories that the 40 nonprofit community leaders, funders and other participants at the Sept. 21 convening have heard and witness on a daily basis, as they work to tackle the issues that state resources fall short of addressing.

Civil Sector Responses

HIP’s local funders have played a key role in building the capacity of New Mexico’s Latino-led and Latino-serving organizations. Over the past nine years, HIP has collaborated with funders, such as the Azalea Foundation; the Con Alma Health Foundation; the Daniels Fund; Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation; the New Mexico Community Foundation; the Nirvana Mañana Institute; Oppenheimer Brothers Foundation; the Santa Fe Community Foundation; the Simon Charitable Foundation, and the Taos Community Foundation.

In turn, the HIP Collaborative’s  grantees, such as the Boys and Girls Club del Norte in Chimayo, N.M., empower youth and provide critical after-school activities, while also addressing crime and drug prevention. The Bridges Project for Education in Taos, N.M., has worked with more than 2,000 students and families, focusing particularly on first-generation college students, to assist in the college and financial aid application process and improve college retention. YouthWorks, in Santa Fe, assists high-risk youth through culturally-appropriate programs to learn job and educational skills, fostering healthy attitudes and behaviors for a successful future.

Many others, such as  the SouthWest Organizing Project, Young Women United, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, the New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition, Taos County Economic Development Corp. and Concilio Campesino del Sudoeste, to name only a few, provide critical advocacy, financial education, legal assistance and social services to low-income communities across the state.

Several HIP grantees have been recognized with state and national awards, including Enlace Comunitario, which last year was one of four organizations in the country to be honored with the prestigious Mary Byron Project Award for its Promotora Leadership Development Program.

Such acknowledgments confirm the longstanding belief of HIP and the local funders in the importance of investing in Latino leadership and empowering our community organizations to respond to local needs. Yet, if New Mexico is truly a glimpse at this country’s future, then the lack of adequate  investments in the state’s Latino social capital  should be a red flag-a call to act now to build stronger communities for the future.


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