ECHO transitions to new executive director
Sara Kaynor, the outgoing CEO who led the organization for 27 years, will stay on for six months to help with the transition
FARMINGTON — The new executive director of ECHO Inc. says she's ready to hit the ground running.
"My mindset is not to just work for the community and to serve them, but to work with them," said the new director, Alicia Borrego Pierce, during an interview today. "I grew up in a poor community and I used to accompany my grandma to get her (donated) commodities. I’m really excited to be able to give back."
In addition to the food assistance program ECHO offers, the nonprofit has several other programs, including a low-cost preschool in Aztec and Hope Housing, which helps low-income families qualify for mortgages and build new homes.
Borrego Pierce has been at the helm of ECHO — which stands for Economic Council Helping Others — for the past three weeks. Outgoing director, Sara Kaynor, will stay on for six months to ensure a smooth transition.
"There are some big things that come up after the first of the year, so we want to make sure things go as smoothly as possible," Kaynor said.
Kaynor, who has led the nonprofit for 27 years, said the decision to retire was a logical one. She said after retirement she is looking forward to increasing her volunteer activities in the community.
"It’s time for ECHO to have a fresh look at everything we’re doing," she said. "We’re doing very well, but it’s time to expand our vision even further and see what’s possible."
Borrego Pierce grew up in Española and earned several degrees, including a master's degree in business administration from the University of New Mexico. She worked for 17 years as administrator of operations for both the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and the Explora Museum in Albuquerque.
In those roles, Borrego Pierce developed outreach programs for underserved communities. She said she hopes to continue that type of outreach in her new position with ECHO.
"I definitely want to continue the legacy Sara built, but I also want to go out and make new partnerships," she said.
Kaynor said her successor's management and collaboration experience is a plus, adding that ECHO often works alongside other agencies, such as the People Assisting The Homeless program, the Salvation Army and the local Boys & Girls Clubs.
"She was the complete package because she also knows a lot about New Mexico demographics and government issues, as well as grant management and writing," Kaynor said of Borrego Pierce.
In addition to ECHO’s Farmington food bank, the agency also has a warehouse in Albuquerque. Between the two food banks, up to about 10,000 people are fed each month, Kaynor said. The Farmington food bank distributes food throughout San Juan County and also to Gallup, Shiprock, Counselor, Blanco and Dulce. The Albuquerque location serves the Albuquerque metropolitan area and areas that include Socorro, Tucumcari, Clayton, Raton and Grants.
While ECHO always needs food donations, Kaynor said that's especially true around the holidays and into the New Year, when donations decrease as people feel like they've "done their part."
Staple food items such as canned food, dried beans, peanut butter and other non-perishable foods are needed year-round. Right now, ECHO staff and volunteers are making 600 Christmas boxes for needy families.
One of ECHO’s most important projects centers on ensuring children who may not have enough to eat at home receive nutritious meals over the weekends when students cannot get meals at school.
Working with local schools, ECHO provides backpacks of food — usually crackers and peanut butter, cereal and granola bars — that children cane take home for the weekends.
That is particularly important, Kaynor said, because the poverty rate for San Juan County children is so high.
"The teachers tell us that by mid-week, some of these kids are really nervous because they know they will be hungry all weekend," she said.
More than 29 percent of children in San Juan County in 2014 were living in poverty, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That amounted to more than 9,700 children, the agency found. Data from New Mexico Voices for Children found that in 2014, 30.3 percent of children in San Juan County ages 4 and younger were living in poverty.
Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.
If you go
What: ECHO open house to welcome new director and say goodbye to retiring director
When: 3 to 5 p.m. Jan. 12
Where: ECHO food bank, 401 S. Commercial Ave. in Farmington.
Want to donate to ECHO?: Food items can be dropped off at ECHO's warehouse at 401 S. Commercial Ave. For more information about the organization, visit echoinc.org or call 505-325-7466.