“Opens door of opportunity for the underprivileged people of the region so they can break-away from the poverty mindset.”

Very few organizations are passionate about the communities they serve and the people who live in those communities. Often many organizations forget about the small colonias but not The Southern New Mexico Project. Rafael Ramos, the president and CEO of The Southern New Mexico Project, Inc., is very passionate about supporting these forgotten communities. Their mission is to be “an agent of change of the quality of life of low-income residents in the area of Sunland Park, NM.” Mr. Ramos and his team certainly have been an agent for the people of Sunland Park, in more ways than one.

The Southern New Mexico Project is a non-profit organization that provides residents of Sunland Park services and programs. Such services and programs include; women’s counseling, education, computer literacy, food pantry, workforce development, immigration, financial planning, and health. The Southern New Mexico Project curates their services and programs to fit the needs of the under-served. Just by having a few conversations with Mr. Ramos, one could sense his dedication to providing his services to the community and how vital this kind of work is. Mr. Ramos has seen the impacts of a community that is being underserved. He understands that for many, these services could mean life or death. The Southern New Mexico Project opens the “door of opportunity for the underprivileged people of the region so they can break-away from the poverty mindset.”

Long line of cars waiting to receive their food boxes

Southern New Mexico Project has many programs and services under their belt, but the most prominent ones are their food pantry, health program, workforce development, and early childhood education. Every month Southern New Mexico Project hosts food pantry distributions to qualifying low-income residents. They host these food distributions in different locations around Sunland Park. In the last two food drives they had in November 2020, they gave away about 500 boxes of food per day. Five hundred boxes of food mean five hundred families get to fill their hungry bellies for a few more days. Southern New Mexico Project partners with other organizations like Road Runner Food Bank of New Mexico, Casa de Peregrinos, El Caldito Soup Kitchen, and La Economica in El Paso to provide perishable and non-perishable food to the community.

With the rise of Covid-19, the food pantry has been one of the programs that are seeing more demand. Food insecurity has reached a new high because of the pandemic, but Southern New Mexico Project is committed to making sure residents don’t go hungry. Mr. Ramos and the Southern New Mexico Project team created CEFA, Covid Emergency Food Assistance, out of necessity to keep up with demand. This program is separate from the regular food distribution. The front desk workers at the Sunland Park City Hall write down information from families in need of food assistance and pass that information to the Southern New Mexico Project. The Southern New Mexico Project can serve more hungry families in Sunland Park through CEFA. The week before Thanksgiving, the Southern New Mexico Project was able to give out approximately 200 turkeys. It is very remarkable, even with the looming troubles of Covid-19, the Southern New Mexico Project was still able to bring some hope and joy to struggling families.

It has been quite a struggle to keep up with demand and make sure they hand out food while following regulations to do so safely. They provide contactless pickup to residents, and all volunteers wear masks and gloves. Covid-19 hasn’t been the Southern New Mexico Project’s only hardship. For months Mr. Ramos has been trying to find storage refrigeration for the perishable food they give during the food distributions. Since the number of families in need of food increased, the operations have to grow as well. Mr. Ramos has reached out to many leaders like Mayor Perea and the city clerk to find a refrigeration place to store the extra food. Mr. Ramos has yet to find such a place. Also, with a shortage of volunteer staff, a small team must manage the growing operations. Many people won’t or can’t volunteer now, and it can cause some strain on organizations such as the Southern New Mexico Project. Through all the hardships, Mr. Ramos is very optimistic and continues to adapt his team and operations to serve the community still.

Volunteer works unloading food

Southern New Mexico Project is also very passionate about assisting residents in finding permanent employment opportunities. They have created a pipeline that connects the right employees to the right employer. Southern New Mexico Project provides people with training to help develop essential workplace skills, prepare candidates for workplace assessments and interviews, and connect committed candidates to potential employers. In previous years, the Southern New Mexico Project has held job fairs to help residents create a stronger connection to the region’s workplace environment. The Southern New Mexico Project is very adamant about uplifting everyone in the community. They have a partnership with the National Older Worker Career Center to provide workforce services to the senior citizen community.

One of the unique work programs Southern New Mexico Project had was their Sunland Park Beautification Program. They modeled this program after a similar one done in Albuquerque, where they recruit homeless people to workday jobs to beautify the areas around the city. Southern New Mexico Project called on those unemployed to work these beautifying day jobs. Women, men, students over the age of 18, and the elderly were encouraged to join. They paid them the state minimum wage of $7.50, the current rate at the time, and workers were paid in cash at the end of the day. Southern New Mexico Project provided food at lunchtime for the workers. The project started on July 28, 2017 and lasted till October 27, 2019. Workers cleaned the area of Anapra, near the river and El Paso bridge, McNutt Road, the entrance of mount Cristo Rey, and Racetrack Road was swept. They loaded a trash trailer about five different times, and each load was approximately 2.5 tons of trash and weeds. During the program, eight of the workers left because they had found permanent jobs. The program’s main goal was to give the unemployed temporary opportunities to make ends meet while seeking permanent employment.

The other services and programs the Southern New Mexico Project provides to the communities are vital to the residents. For instance, their health program works with partners like the Department of Health of New Mexico, La Ventanilla de Salud of the Mexican Consulate, NMSU Diabetes Prevention Program, and Memorial Medical Center of Las Cruces. Southern New Mexico Project and these partners can provide flu shots, glucose tests, blood pressure tests, BMI index, eye exams, and HIV testing. With their education program, Southern New Mexico Project works with The Children Reading Foundation to get kindergarteners ready for preschool. In 2013 they reached 32 families in communities like Anapra and Tierra Madre through this early childhood education program. Southern New Mexico Project provides some other notable services: their immigration counseling to help those seeking a pathway to citizenship, financial education, counseling for women, and family promotoras to increase awareness and prevent domestic violence and youth programs.

Volunteers loading food boxes for residents

Covid-19 has made an impact on these services and programs. Because of the pandemic, Southern New Mexico Project can’t move forward with some programs. For instance, the workforce program is placed on hold because many residents can’t work virtually due to a lack of internet services or technology. Many job opportunities have been transferred online but residents in under-served communities don’t have the technical skills to perform these jobs. Some residents don’t even have the proper technology regardless if they have the skill or not. Even if a resident had the skills and proper technology many don’t have reliable internet connection which is useless for online work. Before the pandemic residents were already at a disadvantage but their situations worsened with the pandemic. Southern New Mexico Project hopes to continue assisting residents by teaching important technical skills and finding opportunities for employment to the community. The health program is on hold because of safety regulations and the increased demand for the healthcare industry. The Southern New Mexico Project shows up for their community any way they can despite the pandemic’s obstacles. Mr. Ramos will continue to plan accordingly and fill the community’s demands in the best way possible. There is no stopping a great force like the Southern New Mexico Project.

It is effortless to be impressed by all the work the Southern New Mexico Project has done. They have even received some considerable recognition for their work. The Southern New Mexico Project, Inc. has a Bronze Seal of Transparency given to them by GuideStar. GuideStar Seals of Transparency is given to nonprofits that have proven themselves to be committed to transparency in the work they do. The Southern New Mexico Project has even gotten congressional recognition from congressman Mr. Steve Pearce. They received this recognition for playing an essential part in bringing the first job recruiting fair in Sunland Park.
The team at Empowerment Congress is honored to be in partnership with the Southern New Mexico Project. We believe that their work is vital to the communities and support their efforts to combat significant issues like poverty, food insecurity, health, education, and mental health. Mr. Ramos and his team are truly dedicated and passionate about their work, and that is what makes it a great organization. Southern New Mexico Project was born out of necessity by the people, and they have proven themselves to indeed be for the people.

You can find more information about the Southern New Mexico Project at www.sounmpinc.org
Email contact: southernewmexicoproject@gmail.com
You can also donate to them through their website or by shopping on Amazonsmile.com and choose The Southern New Mexico Project, Inc. to donate.