BHP, NTEC grants help community organizations

Joshua Kellogg
Alexis Dan watches marbles run through a track with her mother, Jessica Sam, and her brother, Dylan Dan, during the Discovery Festival Oct. 16 at the McGee Park Convention Center in Farmington. Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Juan County recently received a grant to help fund the event.

FARMINGTON – Several nonprofit organizations, area schools and Navajo Nation chapter houses in the Four Corners will be able to continue operations and start new projects after receiving more than $300,000 in grants from BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal and the Navajo Transitional Energy Company.

The grants were awarded at a Community Investment Fund ceremony at the Courtyard by Marriott in Farmington on Nov. 12, where representatives presented $310,000 in grants to 34 recipients in San Juan County and the Navajo Nation.

Pat Risner, president of BHP's New Mexico coal program, said the company has been providing community grants for more than 30 years and has been running the Community Investment Fund in its current form for eight years.

“We want these projects to impact our local communities,” Risner said. “We want them to positively impact as many people as possible.”

NTEC spokesman Erny Zah said the company has been working with BHP on the selection process the last three years and wants to continue the program in the future as its contract with BHP to manage Navajo Mine expires at the end of next year.

The Family Crisis Center in Farmington was one of the recipients and will use the money to provide support for its domestic violence shelter Marge’s Place, development manager Amy Williams said.

Women, men and children who are victims of domestic violence can stay at the shelter as long as they need until they can venture out on their own.

Grants help pay the operation expenses for the shelter to remain open, Williams said.

The funding also pays for supplemental costs, including toiletries like toothpaste and shampoo, along with food, bedding and clothing. Williams did not disclose the amount of funding her organization received.

Williams said the organization has seen a loss of about $600,000 in funding in the last five years and largely depends on state and federal funds.

“It’s very important for us to be able to maintain those services and not cut them due to a lack of funding,” Williams said.

The San Juan Center for Independence will use the grant it received to purchase nearly 2 acres of land behind its 1204 San Juan Blvd. location in Farmington to establish a community orchard.

Executive Director Branda Parker said the center hopes to plant fruit and vegetable plants on the new property to teach people with disabilities how to maintain the garden.

Participants will be taught to weed, water and manage the crops, and classes will be held on preparing meals using the crops.

Parker said the main reason the center wanted to pursue the community orchard was to help contribute to the healthy eating habits of the center users who typically live on a fixed income and who might struggle to afford fresh fruits and vegetables.

The staff will break ground on the orchard in March next year and is planning to order trees for the site soon.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters of San Juan County uses its grant funding to help pay for professional staff members to manage its Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics initiative.

Chief Executive Officer Christine Garcia said the $10,000 grant helps the organization pay for the staff to screen and supervise mentors assigned to children to learn more about STEM careers and education.

The grant will help pay for costs associated with the organization's annual Discovery Festival, held last month at the McGee Park Convention Center. Williams said about 1,900 students and a total of 2,300 people attended the two-day event Oct. 16-17.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.