The business of giving back
In business, the bottom line is profit.
For most private industries, it’s the most important priority. It’s an important factor for staying in business, which makes it all the more amazing that so many small, family-owned businesses in Valencia County generously support the community through financial donations, material goods and their own personal time.
One business, Ambercare, a home health care and hospice company headquartered in Belen, even aims to be 90 percent employee owned in the next decade. Every employee is a shareholder as soon as they start working for the company.
Mike and Mary Merrell, founders of Ambercare, also support many community events, including the Alzheimer’s Association of New Mexico and Relay for Life, where they are a major sponsor, as well as have their own team. This year, they donated the handbags for the silent purse auction.
Family owned businesses, such as Fat Sat’s Bar and Grill in Belen and RAKS Building Supplies in Los Lunas, also support Relay for Life and have teams.
“It’s awesome to see those small businesses step up and support community events like Relay for Life,” said Karin Trujillo, co-chairperson for the Los Lunas Relay for Life event.
Regardless of the competitive commercial climate, these businesses find ways to extract money or materials out of their own businesses when the community asks for help.
“When we do something for the community, we get new faces in here that have never been here before,” said Theresa Trujillo, co-owner of Fat Sat’s Bar and Grill.
“We like to let people know Fat Sat’s isn’t a bar, per se, but a family restaurant,” said her husband, Joe Trujillo.
The family businesses in the county see giving back to the community as an investment for their own children and grandchildren, as well as the community at large.
“We feel like anything that we spend in our community, financially or time-wise, or pay somebody to show up at something, that’s all such an investment, because we love our community,” said Mary Merrell, CEO of Ambercare. “I think that the people here have a real, genuine sense of community.”
What motivates them is simple.
“It’s a good way to grow community,” said Kenneth Trujillo, co-owner of RAKS Building Supplies in Los Lunas.
His business partner, Richard Tabet, said they had a lot of support from the community when they first started the business.
“So, when we started making money, we were able to help the community in return,” Tabet said.
RAKS has helped local 4-H clubs, the Valencia County Fair, the Valencia County Community Expo, the Boys and Girls Ranch and El Ranchito de los Niños.
They particularly like to help Valencia County youth, Tabet said.
But it’s not all pure altruism. Local philanthropy is also good advertisement, they all said.
When RAKS has donated supplies or sponsored events, it has put the RAKS name in people’s minds, Tabet said.
They price their merchandise to be competitive, and just hope people will at least come to them for an estimate on the supplies they need, he said.
“In the 26 years we’ve been in business, we’ve gotten a lot of loyal customers,” he said.
RAKS is a big supporter of the schools, donating when they can to various programs and events, such as Renaissance and Partners in Education, concert bands as well as community traditions, such as the annual matanza.
“Without RAKS’ support, I don’t think the matanza would be the scale that it is today,” said Yvonne Sanchez, president of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce. “RAKS got involved the second year, they actually had a team, and then the third year is when they started off as title sponsor.”
Whatever was needed, supplies to fence different areas or build a stage, RAKS helped, she said.
“They really stepped in not only financially, but with employees going out there and helping, too,” Sanchez said.
RAKS and Fat Sat’s also support the YAFL and other athletic programs.
For the Fat Sat’s owners, giving back to the community is a win-win situation.
“We love for people to come in with their kids, relax and not be stressed,” Theresa said. “This is a family-oriented restaurant.”
Feeding the Belen High School football team before the first game of the season has become a tradition since they opened four years ago.
“We had 80 boys here a couple of weeks,” Theresa said.
They love meeting the new people that each event brings to the restaurant, she said.
Fat Sat’s has also supported the annual matanza, the Belen Chamber of Commerce golf tournament and cancer research.
This year they donated paintings and held a silent auction to raise money for the Valencia County American Cancer Society.
“We had a great turn-out,” Theresa said. “People love doing stuff like that. They just love to come over here and support the community.”
The Trujillos have helped raise money for many school programs, cheerleaders and special education.
They used to sell turkey legs every Friday night at the Belen High School home games, then gave all the profits to the athletic fund.
They have also let others use their gas station for car washes to raise money.
The Ambercare Foundation helps people in the community with temporary medical service care and some financial aid. The company makes a special effort to honor Valencia County armed services veterans, with ceremonies and special speakers, as well as a pin of gratitude for their uniform.
They hold breast cancer awareness campaigns, job fairs and health fairs, such as “Beauty and the Breast” through the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Even the employees come together to pool resources for families at Thanksgiving and Christmas, or assist a community member they’ve heard is in need.
For the past six years, the Merrells also endow the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus with scholarships for people who want to go into health care, and they pay the educational costs for Ambercare LPNs who wish to become registered nurses.
“This year, we gave 16 $1,000 scholarships,” said Mike Merrell, Ambercare’s director of business development. “They can go to a two-year school, a four-year school or a trade school. We just want them to better themselves so they can get a job.”
Preference is given to returning students since it is harder for them to find funding.
“We actually had a recipient of the Ambercare Scholarship who was in the first graduating RN class at UNM-VC, and now she works for us,” said Mary. “So, it’s kind of nice. It went full circle. We like to grow our own nurses here in Valencia County and not make them have to drive.”
The Ambercare Foundation was set up to raise money for people who fall into the gap between the well off and those who receive a lot of public assistance. It helps home-bound people needing some temporary medical assistance who would otherwise have to enter a rehabilitation facility or move in with relatives. It allows them to stay at home.
The foundation has paid for rent, house payments, utility bills, special dietary foods, even wheelchair ramps.
“We’ve assisted with the Valencia County Senior Coalition and with the United Methodist men at the First United Methodist Church here in Belen, to assist them build some ramps with the funding for the lumber,” Mary said.
The Merrells had funded these types of services themselves for several years, but it got to be too much, so they thought it was important to start a foundation so everyone in the community could benefit and anyone in the community could contribute.
“Because, we’re really a very home-town kind of foundation,” Mary said.
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