Joe ‘Casey’ Peña helps through United Way of Central New Mexico

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Joe “Casey” Peña is a busy man as the superintendent of BNSF’s field operations, but he still makes time to serve the community he lives in.

He has worked for the railroad for 39 years, and takes pride in his company’s efforts to better the communities where it does business.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Joe “Casey” Peña, the superintendent of BNSF’s field operations in Belen, recently volunteers to be on the United Way of Central New Mexico’s board of directors and is chairman of the Valencia County Rural Committee task force.

Peña recently volunteered to be on United Way of Central New Mexico’s board of directors, and chairman the Valencia County Rural Committee task force.

“I want to make sure Valencia County is represented,” Peña said. “I live in Valencia County, my company is in Valencia County, our headquarters are in Valencia County, so, it’s important to me.”

Peña is also involved in the cornerstone partners as a BNSF representative. The cornerstone partners are the corporations that provide donations to United Way to fund administrative costs.

“This way, an employee’s donation goes 100 percent to United Way charities,” Peña said. “United Way of Central New Mexico was the first one to ever do that, and now it’s a model being used by other United Ways.”

They (the cornerstone partners) establish and run the (charity) initiatives, said Stephanie Kozemchak, United Way development officer.

In the county, there are two cornerstone partners, BNSF and Walmart. They sponsor programs such as the 2-1-1 health and human resource helpline.

The helpline gives information about services for shelters, food banks, utility assistance, job training, child care, senior citizen centers and many others.

Anyone in the county can dial 211 or 245-1735 to find resources. For example, if your grandmother had surgery and needs a wheelchair in her recovery, you can call 2-1-1 to find out how you can get it, said Kozemchak.

“This is just one of the many things United Way does besides raise money,” she said.

United Way’s purpose is to help the most vulnerable residents by advocating, educating and raising money for the nonprofit organizations that serve them, and the Valencia County task force is a voice for the county.

“They wanted to make sure that they had representations from the counties, so that United Way of Central New Mexico wasn’t just considered to be Albuquerque,” Peña said. “This is our effort to make sure the counties have a voice on the board.”

His focus is on identifying services that are needed in Valencia County.

United Way set up three county task forces and each is headed by a board member. The objective is to identify the particular needs of each county, and then give grant money, he said.

“We’re a volunteer organization,” said Kozemchak. “We have a panel of volunteers, and we get together once a year to review proposals and then divvy out the money.”

The number of nonprofits has sky-rocketed since the recession began in 2008, so there isn’t enough money to support all the nonprofits.

Peña’s goal is to find the most pressing issues in Valencia County to get funding where it is needed most.

United Way also provides training for nonprofits in different areas such as financial management and grant writing at its Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

“We are all about the nonprofits that serve our community,” said Kozemchak.

“What I want to accomplish is to make it known to Valencia County residents what United Way does presently does for the county, and then we can find out what are the needs, specifically from the county’s perspective, that we need to be addressing … to help where we need to help.”

The Valencia County task force meets with school administrators, both at the lower and higher levels, and nonprofits providing health and wellness services, senior care services, children and youth services and others to come up with a plan and a strategy to address the needs of the county, Peña said.

The task force meets every other month, but they are forming subcommittees in different areas such as education, health and wellness, and a workplace campaign to raise money.

“What Casey does is, not only is he using his own personal time to run this rural committee and work with the community, but financially he’s putting BNSF’s money and some of his own money into United Way,” Kozemchak said. “He gives his time and his money to this effort.”

Every dollar a Valencia County resident or business donates will be used in Valencia County, Peña said.

It was United Way CEO Ed Rivera who approached Peña about serving on the board.

“How can I not be a part of this,” Peña said. “To me, it’s logical that I’d be a part of the county efforts, since I live in Valencia County and my company is here.”

Peña’s father and grandfather are from Fort Sumner, but Peña has lived and gone to school all over the world because of his father’s career in the U.S. Army.

Peña started with BNSF as a laborer and worked his way up to supervisor of field operations.

It’s important to him to be involved with the company’s efforts to be good neighbors, he said.

“My company operates on the southern part of the state and we touch a lot of people,” said Peña. “My company is trying to do the right thing, and I think that’s the right thing to do.”

Peña is a supporter of the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce, and has nominated BNSF staff members to serve on the chamber’s board.

Through the company, he has given the Belen Schools girls’ and boys’ softball and baseball teams two mobile offices for equipment storage.

“If you cut me, I bleed BNSF,” he said, laughing. “Since I’m a leader in this division, I want to see that BNSF is put in the light that it should be — in a good light with what we’re trying to do as a company, and what I’ve always tried to do as an individual.”

The company is also involved in Mission:Graduate, a partnership dedicated to developing student success from cradle to career by galvanizing all sectors of the community to reach a goal of adding 60,000 new associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees to Central New Mexico by 2020.

Peña and his wife, Tammie Lou, a retired paramedic, have three grown children, and six grandchildren.

They have lived in Los Lunas for seven years.

“He doesn’t speak very often, but when he does, people listen,” Kozemchak said. “Before he speaks, he really thinks about, not only what are his thoughts, but he’s caring about other people and their thoughts. Because he cares, people listen.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.