Frank Sanchez, right, visits with R.G. Bobby Villegas, center, and Matthew Villegas at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, Thursday. Noah Vernau Photo
The Community Foundation of Chaves County held its third annual Community Foundation Honors event Thursday at Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, recognizing Frank Sanchez as the organization’s 2012 honoree. Sanchez was selected for his lifelong contributions and commitment to helping the residents of Chaves County and beyond.
Born in Roswell in 1950, Sanchez is roundly considered one of New Mexico’s most active grassroots community organizers. Before Sanchez had even reached 21 years of age, he became co-founder of the Chicano Youth Association, which helped confront discriminatory practices in the Portales school district. The hard work of his spirited organization led to a landmark case that set a national precedent for bilingual education.
From the 1970s to the present, Sanchez’s instrumental work has included focus on such issues as welfare rights initiatives, labor rights, health care and voting rights issues. In 1997, Sanchez began working as a Roswell-based program officer for the Needmor Fund, a position he holds to this day.
The Needmor Fund, a foundation based in Toledo, Ohio, has a core value of democracy, with a simple premise that people should participate in decisions that affect their lives, Sanchez said. “Everyone should have the right and the ability to imagine and shape the future of their communities. So we fund what we call community organizations all over the country, and that’s exactly what they’re working on, is to bring more people into the democratic process and to make democracy work for all residents and citizens, whether it be in a town, a state or our country.
“… I have always worked as hard as I could to ensure that all people, especially those who are shut out, participate in the democratic process. That’s why we work so hard on voting rights and voting rights lawsuits, because we wanted to make sure that the Latino community was included in the decision-making process in Roswell and many other communities in southern New Mexico.
“So my passion is democracy. I think it’s the best thing we have in the world, and we need to strengthen it and expand our democracy to everyone.”
Sanchez said his proudest accomplishments include being co-founder of Southern New Mexico Legal Services, which provides legal services for low-income families in the area, and helping to establish the Con Alma Health Foundation, which provides health care grants across the state.
Sanchez said that while he was very thankful to be honored Thursday by CFCC, he was even more appreciative of the work the foundation does for the community.
“What the Community Foundation of Chaves County does that’s so important is they invest in the community, they work for the common good, and their grants help develop the capacity of many nonprofit organizations. So the CFCC, and all community foundations, play a really critical role in their community. It’s part of a long tradition in philanthropy.
“… The first community foundation established itself in 1914, and since then they’ve grown and expanded across the country. And that’s what I look to the future of CFCC: It’s going to become stronger, and be able to provide more grants and help more local nonprofits.”