UWNNM Outlines 2016 Goals And Plans

UWNNM Executive Director Kristy Ortega speaking recently to the Kiwanis Club. Photo by Charmian Schaller
Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos

Kristy Ortega, executive director of United Way of Northern New Mexico (UWNNM), spoke to Kiwanis recently, outlining her organization’s needs and goals in her first talk of the 2016 fund drive.

“We raised $620,000 last year, she said, but we were asked for over $1 million. We need to do more.” And so, despite the fact that UWNNM reached 33 organizations last year, its campaign themes this year call for doing more and listening more passionately to those who need help.

As in the past, the organization will continue to help people with needs involving education, financial stability, and health, she said, but this year, UWNNM is trying to do something “kind of unique and innovative” that will “help make our communities a better place.” After doing considerable research and talking with many organizations, it has zeroed in on a single “root cause.”


  • A patient spends time in the hospital and is treated with pain medication. The patient gets well enough to go home—but now has a continuing “thirst for medication.”
  • A family facing many stressful problems descends into domestic violence.
  • A family member becomes a thief to pay for the drugs he or she craves.
  • A teen-ager develops a “suicide ideation.”
  • A new mother sinks into post-partum depression, and the entire family suffers. (As Ortega noted, “We don’t have enough post-partum treatment options.”)
  • Emergency Room statistics show that in stressful Los Alamos, the number of people treated for suicide attempts and suicide ideation is MUCH higher than the national average.
  • In Los Alamos, there is a higher than average rate of Alzheimer’s Disease. (Ortega commented, “We’re living forever in Los Alamos.”)
  • Española is called “the heroin capital of the world,” and also has serious alcohol problems. (Ortega said that survey responses show that most people in Rio Arriba County believe that “mental health and substance abuse-related problems are the single most pressing threat to the health of Rio Arriba County residents.”)

The central problem in each of these cases—and UWNNM’s finding as a root cause—is “behavioral health problems.” Such problems can and do lead to death.

Ortega said that UWNNM has met with local therapists, and they made several points: 

  • We lack crisis intervention programs.
  • We lack funding for low-income clients.
  • We need to recruit new therapists.
  • There are barriers to having therapists practice here.
  • There is a laboratory “clearance effect.” (People perceive—rightly or wrongly—that seeking help will threaten their essential security clearances.)
  • We need educational strategies to overcome stigmas. (“‘We sure as heck don’t want THEM living next to us.'”) 
  • And we need to understand the potential factors in measuring a healthy community.

Ortega said that UWNNM is seeking to play a collaborative role in addressing the underlying behavioral health problems. The organization is striving to bring together people who can fill the gaps. In Los Alamos County, UWNNM is working with Los Alamos County, the Los Alamos Public Schools, the Los Alamos Community Foundation, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. In Rio Arriba County, the greatest need is for increased funding so that more therapy resources will be available.

However, every effort—even the little “stress balls” that UWNNM distributed last year—takes money.

UWNNM will kick off its 2016 fund-raising drive 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14 at Ashley Pond Park in Los Alamos. The deadline for pledging is Dec. 31. If you have sent money to UWNNM in the past, you will probably receive a donation envelope in the mail this year. If you don’t receive an envelope or need more information, call UWNNM at 505.662.0800, or drop by the office at 1200 Trinity Dr., Fourth Floor, Post Office Box 539, Los Alamos, NM, 87544.