FARMINGTON — Keeping the community running takes hard work and dollars and -- most of all -- partnership.
On Tuesday, that trifecta of collective effort was on display at an awards luncheon hosted by BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal. The coal company awarded 44 area non-profit organizations with $400,000 to support a variety of programs that the company feels benefit the quality of life in San Juan County. Awardees were selected by a cross section of the coal company's employees in seven categories -- community development, education and youth development, elderly and disabled services, environmental projects, health and wellness, human and social services and substance abuse prevention and treatment.
"This is always the highlight of our year and one of the best ways we measure our success," said Pat Risner, New Mexico Coal's asset president. "Though our role is changing, our values and commitments are not."
He addressed employees of the coal company, civic leaders and officials, and representatives of the winning organizations at the Marriot Hotel in Farmington.
Risner cited recent cuts to operations at its two facilities, Navajo Mine and San Juan Mine, which have both seen drops in production. Despite these hits, he said, the company's negotiations to transfer ownership of Navajo Mine to the Navajo Nation and renew investments in San Juan Mine add up to securing hundreds of jobs. The two mines produced 12 million tons of coal in 2012 and employ more than 1,000 people, 63 percent of whom are Native American.
The $400,000 is a slight increase over previous years, Risner said.
Vicki Metheny, ECHO food bank's food program director, was all-smiles when she and ECHO's Executive Director Sara Kaynor accepted their agency's $10,000 award. The money was given to support its emergency food-box program, which distributes an average of 10,000 pounds of fresh produce and packaged food to more than 250 families and individuals in crisis each month. Those numbers rise over the holidays, Metheny said.
And the award money couldn't have come at a better time. The Farmington food bank sees its demand rise 10 to 20 percent during the winter months when families strive to provide festive meals, pay rising heating bills rise and purchase warm clothing.
San Juan Chapter President Rickie Nez received $10,000 for landscaping and lighting at its chapter house across the San Juan River from Hogback Ridge on the Navajo Nation.
"It's a big difference for us," Nez said. "Without this, we would not be able make these improvements to our chapter."
The award funding met a variety of needs in the community.
"To see so many groups represented is incredible," Metheny said. "We can't do it without these partnerships that sustain people in this community. Even in these uncertain times, (BHP's) holding onto their values. It's that affirmation that you're not in it alone."