FARMINGTON — When members of Leadership San Juan toured McCormick Elementary School last fall, they noticed a small room at the school with a 15-year-old washing machine and dryer.
The members learned Griselda Jaramillo, a nurse at the school, uses the machines to wash dirty uniforms some students wear to school. Because McCormick Elementary serves a number of low-income students, sometimes children arrive at the school in uniforms that need to be washed, school staff said.
And that inspired this year's Leadership San Juan class, which adopted the theme of helping children, to make one of its projects remodeling the little laundry room.
The Leadership San Juan class is divided into four groups. This year, each group chose a project to help area children. One of the group assisted with spring break activities at Sycamore Park Community Center. Another taught children cell phone safety — including how to call 911 and what information to provide 911 operators — and one of the group helped with renovations at Childhaven.
To help McCormick Elementary, the class asked organizations and businesses in San Juan County for donations. A donation from K-Mart stocked the linen closet with uniforms, shoes, socks, jackets and underwear.
Lyn White, the school's principal, said the need for a laundry room didn't arise about until 16 years ago when the school adopted a uniform policy. The uniform consists of a polo shirts, dress blouses or turtleneck sweaters and khaki or navy blue pants, skirts or jumpers. Uniforms must be navy blue, white, red or sky blue, and socks, tights and sweaters must coordinate in color with the uniform.
When the uniform policy was adopted, the school installed a washing machine and dryer in a maintenance closet. The laundry facilities are used to maintain the school's uniforms — a necessity because of the school's population.
Around 78 percent of the 491 enrolled students at the school are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, a common indicator of poverty, according to data from the New Mexico Public Education Department for the 2013-2014 school year. And 68 percent of students at the school are eligible for free lunch. In the Farmington Municipal School District, only Apache Elementary School has a larger percentage of students eligible for free lunches, about 70 percent.
While the laundry area was one focus for Leadership San Juan, the class also provided radios for the school's staff and improved the basketball facilities. White said the school's basketball hoops had been hanging without nets. But now the hoops have been painted, and the nets have been replaced.
"I think they're angels," White said of the Leadership San Juan class.
While the school had 30 radios already, there were not enough for each teacher under Leadership San Juan's solicited donations.
Ben McGaha, a school resource officer in Farmington, has been trying to get radios in every school since 2005. He, along with Sue Nipper, a member of the Leadership San Juan class, asked Western Refining for donations to buy the radios. The company donated $7,000 for the cause.
The Hope Children's Fund
Six years ago, Leadership San Juan decided to help children who receive medical care outside of the county. The program continues through San Juan Regional Medical Center.
Building a greenhouse
Last year, the class decided to build a greenhouse for Totah Behavioral Health Authority. The greenhouse provides an activity recovering addicts can focus on and feel proud of.
'Meth Monster' project
In 2004, the Leadership San Juan class decided to raise awareness of drug use. They hired Justin Hunt to produce an 18-minute documentary about meth in the county.
The 2011 class decided to help prepare high school students for life after graduation. The program involved three hours of training in resumes, interview skills and other important life skills.
The radios allow communication within the school, as well as with police and fire departments.
"It allows for their daily activities, but also to talk outside the schools," McGaha said.
Currently, more than 800 radios are used by staff in Farmington schools. McGaha is now trying to get radios in the Bloomfield schools.
The money donated by Western Refining paid for 30 additional radios, which will be given to teachers on Thursday.
"Western is interested in the community and providing for the community wherever possible," said Larry Hawkins, the facility manager for Western Refining.
Sam's Club also pitched in time and money. The store's employees organized the linen closet and cut tiles for the laundry room floor. The business also provided detergent.
Nipper said the work at McCormick wouldn't have been possible without help from community organizations.
"It was all these entities coming together to help us," Nipper said.
In total, Leadership San Juan received around $10,000 of donations for McCormick Elementary.
Stella Sincher, a second-grade teacher at the school, said she sends a child to the linen closet about once a month for a change of clothes. She said she is excited about the new laundry room.
"It's a privilege to have this stuff installed and the money to be going to the school," Sincher said. "It's an honor."
One of the donated items is new plastic hangers, instead of old wire ones.
"It's a small thing, but it's just nice," Nipper said.