Rep. Stansbury Honors Inaugural ‘Damas de Esperanza’

Rep. Melanie Stansbury honored the inaugural ‘Damas de Esperanza’ recipients during a gathering Wednesday in her Congressional District Office. Courtesy photo


ALBUQUERQUE — Rep. Melanie Stansbury honored the inaugural ‘Damas de Esperanza’ recipients in New Mexico’s First Congressional District during a gathering Wednesday in her Congressional District Office.

This year, Rep. Stansbury honored Bernadette Hardy, Leticia Archuleta, Rochelle Lynn-Nizhoni Larson, Hiddekel Sara Burks and Debbie Johnson with in-person recognitions in addition to the nearly 30 nominees district-wide.  

In honor of Women’s History Month, the inaugural Damas de Esperanza recognition celebrates the work and contributions of women across New Mexico’s First Congressional District. Community members were asked to nominate women in their lives through Rep. Stansbury’s website.

All nominees for the Damas de Esperanza award will receive written recognition from Rep. Stansbury’s office in addition to highlights via her social media platforms throughout the remainder of Women’s History Month. 

“Many women across our district have made incredible contributions to our communities, often without any recognition of their courage, grit, determination, heart, and their lifelong work across our communities,” Rep. Stansbury said. “I was deeply inspired by the stories of all of the women who were nominated for this award who are heroes in their communities, working to create change, support our communities, and working at the cutting edge of their fields, and so much more. I especially enjoyed reading our community nominations and learning about the incredible women across our district, hearing about the work that they lead in our volunteer spaces, in STEM, in education, community service, social work, politics, and so much more.”  

The 2022 Dama de Esperanza recipients joined Rep. Stansbury for a recognition ceremony and light breakfast at the Congresswoman’s District Office, where recipients had the opportunity to talk with Rep. Stansbury before the Congresswoman presented each award recipient with their certificate.  

Short summaries of the work of each of the Damas de Esperanza recipients: 

Rochelle Lynn-Nizhoni Larson

Rochelle has spent her career working in STEM outreach programs, as well focusing on educating our young people through her work to teach science, math, and facilitate outdoor leadership programs at schools on Reservations across Arizona and New Mexico. Through her work as an environmental engineer, Rochelle serves New Mexico’s First Congressional District every day by managing capital improvement projects for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority to ensure our communities have access to a safe, affordable, and sustainable water supply. All this has been accomplished while Rochelle has worked to give back to the community through STEM outreach programs for women and young people, and her work to coach a local high school girl’s’ basketball team.  

Hiddekel Sara Burks

Throughout her career, Hiddekel has touched the lives of many community members across our district, making important contributions as an artist, cosmetology teacher, and retired nurse. Recently, she finished the world’s longest handmade textile braid, a piece designed to celebrate Black history and pay tribute to the CROWN Act – legislation signed into law to protect against race-based hair discrimination in our schools and workplaces. As the founder of the National Braiders Guild, Hiddekel’s work as an artist has helped to shine an important spotlight on important legislation, and works to celebrate the beauty and history of our communities across the district. 

Debbie Johnson

Soon after immigrating to the United States, Debbie experienced winter homelessness. This life experience and the challenges she faced inspired her to found TenderLove Community Center, a nonprofit organization with a mission to help homeless and low-income individuals achieve stable, self-supporting lives for themselves and their families. Spending her career supporting and caring for the district’s communities, Debbie has changed the lives of many across New Mexico’s First Congressional District, still finding the time to work towards her goal of eventually obtaining a doctorate degree in Public Health. Her passionate leadership has inspired others to volunteer and donate, working hand-in-hand to collaborate with diverse groups to help others to obtain sustainable jobs, stable housing, and basic necessities for themselves and their families.   

Bernadette Hardy

Bernadette has worked tirelessly to serve our community, working on countless projects to support our communities in the International District including food drives, COVID and flu shot clinics, rent and housing assistance programs, and backpack and school supply giveaways. Her passion and love for the communities in New Mexico’s First Congressional District shines through in her critical work to ensure that everyone– from our young people, to struggling families, to elders–has access to the resources that they need to thrive. 

Leticia Archuleta 

Leticia has spent her career ensuring our young people have access to mental health resources, a quality and equitable education, and supporting the social-emotional and educational needs of students across New Mexico’s First Congressional District. During her incredible work as an educator, administrator, and school social worker in Albuquerque, she worked diligently to create better models for evaluating student success based not only on in-class advancement but also on overall social and emotional growth. She also has worked to establish the first New Mexico Community Health Workers certificate program, planning the construction of a new school site, and obtaining her doctorate in Educational Leadership – all while parenting her two teenage sons.

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