FARMINGTON — Few would suspect that tucked behind the large Navajo Ministries building at 2103 W. Main St. are 16 acres - including a barnyard with horses, llamas and goats - stretching down to the San Juan River.

Now, a new 8,000-square-foot education and activity center has joined the Navajo Ministries campus, offering the 23 children living on site a modern and spacious schoolroom. Twice the size of the old school, the new building contains a large recreation room, library, game room and cafeteria.

Supporters from around the community gathered Wednesday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility, and President Jim Baker spoke about how far the ministry has come and thanked the community for its support. Funding for the new building came from donors - among them San Juan Regional Medical Center, Merrion Oil & Gas, and BHP Billiton.

Navajo Ministries began in 1953, when founder Jack Drake pitched a tent on the western edge of Farmington to care for children who needed a secure place to call home until they could return to their own homes. Since 1989, over 300 children have attended school at Navajo Ministries.

Today, in addition to the on-site school, Navajo Ministries encompases the Four Corners Home for Children, Navajo Nation Outreach, KNMI Vertical Radio station, and a counseling and prayer center.


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A place to call home

Two attractively furnished dormitories with large kitchens with tables that seat 12, and hogan-shaped living/family rooms with a central fireplace, provide a comfortable living environment for kids who might never have experienced what most of us take for granted: a safe and nurturing home.

Two house parents live with the kids in each of the dormitories, providing around-the-clock supervision and support to the children, 90 percent of whom are Navajo. The children range from toddlers to teenagers.

The children have been placed at Navajo Ministries either by social service agencies or by their own families, who are unable to care for them. The goal is to eventually return the children to their families once conditions have improved.

"Being here gives the kids a chance to be in a safe environment, and gives the mom a chance to get her life back on track," said Children and Family Services Director Kelly Hargrove. "Some of these kids didn't even have a way to get to school on the reservation, due to distance or transportation issues. We've seen over and over again that families have these problems with transportation."

The on-site first- through fifth-grade school, which includes Navajo education classes, is a satellite of Farmington Municipal Schools and follows the FMS curriculum.

"Many of the kids come to the school one to two years behind in their education," said Vice President Eric Fisher. "It takes them a little while to be brought up to speed, but we work one on one with them and they do really well."

Surprisingly, Navajo Ministries receives no federal funding and depends on donations to keep going. Sixty percent of its funding comes from out-of-state donations, and even from other countries on occasion. Recently, a group of missionaries from New Zealand visited the ministry to assist in the region.

They also depend on local fundraisers, such as the annual San Juan River Bi-Fly Fishing Tournament.

The on-site barnyard has a therapeutic effect on the children, and caring for the animals is included in their daily duties.

"Caring for the animals helps with the healing process for the kids. It helps to have other living creatures to care for," said Fisher.

The new school building completed the first phase of the ministry's Navajo Heritage Center plan, with the next phase being establishment of a museum celebrating the Navajo people, history, culture and artwork.

"There's nothing like that in northwest New Mexico, and I think it will be good for local economic development," said Fisher, who added that funding is still being sought before construction of the center can begin.

As for the school and dorms, there is a waiting list for entry into the program.

"We have mothers who are desperate for a safe place for their kids," said Hargrove. "If I could open more homes and be able to staff them, I would."

Fisher agrees that the need for this type of program seems to be increasing.

"I think right now, because of the economy and because of more substance abuse, the need is really great," he said.

Fisher is grateful that there has been so much support for the ministry's work.

"Hope and restoration are our mission. It's great that the community really came together to provide funding for this housing."

For more information on donating to Navajo Ministries or to find out about volunteer opportunities, call 505-324-5260, or visit www.navajoministries.org.