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Connection Before Direction in Rio Arriba County

The future success of any community depends on its ability to foster the wellbeing of its children. Research has shown that investment in high-quality early care and education services for children 0-8 will reduce the burden on schools, the justice system, and the general economy. 

Issues such as poverty can profoundly distract communities from pressing needs and create what feel like insurmountable challenges. Rio Arriba County in Northern New Mexico is one of the most challenged counties of the state with nearly a quarter of the population—a majority of whom are Hispanic and Native American—living in poverty.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Foundation supports strengthening young children, families, and communities by starting with the strategy of universal home visiting. The LANL Foundation believes this approach, among other high-quality early care and education services, will give Rio Arriba County’s children a chance to be lifelong, successful learners. 

In August of 2018, the LANL Foundation’s Early Childhood Program helped to form the Rio Arriba County Early Childhood Collaborative (RACECC) with county and community stakeholders to discuss how to improve the lives of children from 0–5 years of age and their families with the goal of gathering authentic community input and information to develop an actionable plan.

Beginning with the inaugural meeting, members of RACECC expressed a strong desire to work together to break down institutional barriers and commit to building bridges of hope and efficiency for all children and families within the community. All held dear the adage: “It takes a village to raise a child.”

In 2020, after many convenings and thought-provoking conversations, the final draft of the RACECC Plan was created, and with it a new vision for the future.

RACECC Plan: Reflecting the Community

A question asked of RACECC in the first year was, “In an ideal world, what does a thriving child/community look like?” In response, members created illustrations, which led to the desire for a representative logo to reflect the mission, vision, and purpose of RACECC and the developing Early Childhood Plan. To assist RACECC with designing a logo, the LANL Foundation Early Childhood team reached out to local artist, Isaac Ortiz, who participated in several meetings, and was given the illustration and RACECC Plan to use as inspiration. 

In March of 2021, Isaac presented to the collaborative and reflected on the creative process: “I am deeply humbled by the opportunity to translate what RACECC stands for in this logo. Taking all the ideas from the collaborative along with my own ideas, I created a tree to represent strength and to depict our deep-rooted heritage. The tree has two images, someone young and an elder to symbolize guidance and growth. The tree branches produce leaves shaped like hearts. The leaves are different shapes to represent our diversity and love of community. In the back is a rising sun that represents the dawn of a new day. To tie everything together I wanted to showcase a mountain scape to bring a sense of beauty that our valley holds.” 

In response, one of many excited RACECC members commented, “It fills me with so much hope.”

Next Steps

With the RACECC Plan complete and united under the newly created logo, strategic goal implementation is moving forward and the RACECC membership continues to grow. While there is a lot of work ahead, the future of Rio Arriba County looks bright.