LAS CRUCES – Tents and tables, buses and a fire truck lined Ash Avenue Saturday morning at the launch event for Lift Up Las Cruces, the city’s anti-poverty initiative.
Each booth featured a different city department, government agency, faith group, nonprofit or social services organization. All offered information about their services and resources and gave out swag to the attendees of the block party, which closed off Ash between Wade Street to Calle Sosa from 9 am to noon July 30. There were also games and activities for children.
Lift Up is a program seeking to reduce poverty and crime by targeting one specific area of the city at a time. The block party was held in the first “footprint” chosen, bound by North Solano Drive, East Madrid Avenue, Anita Drive, North Triviz Drive and Spruce Avenue — all within the 88001 ZIP code. The area concurrently faces high poverty and crime. Nearly one in four Las Crucens live in poverty, according to census data.
The Lift Up boundaries are contained in City Council districts 1 and 3. District 1 is represented by Mayor Pro Tempore Kasandra Gandara. The councilor attended Saturday’s festivities and said the community seemed “jazzed.”
“The energy is here to improve our community,” Gandara said, who mentioned she lived nearby. “There’s been a lot of momentum about establishing neighborhood watch programs, neighborhood association programs, to that point of you see something, say something. We want a safe community. We want people to be able to walk safely, increase health … For me (the next steps are) continuing to partner with these nonprofits to bring programming in this area from mental health to food to housing, transportation (and) beautification.”
Sabrina Perez is a born-and-raised Las Crucen who said she has lived in the city for 52 years. She said she lives in the area served by the Lift Up program and is raising two children there, ages 7 and 10. She said the block party was a great activity to bring the kids to and would love the city to plan similar events in the future.
“Right now there’s a lot of kids that are homeless and they’re all around, and that’s what I see a lot of,” Perez said.
Perez said she wanted the city to increase services to aid the homeless as well as people addicted to drugs. She said she’s had family members struggle with addiction.
“They’re doing all the community stuff but lose focus on the drug addict and the homeless guy,” Perez said. “I don’t know what they’re doing for them.”
City Manager Ifo Pili mingled with attendees and organizational staff at the event. The city manager has said the alleviation of poverty is one of his main goals, and although Lift Up is the first major anti-poverty program under his administration, the ideas were consolidated from the community, city staff and councilors.
“I am so grateful to all the entities that have come out,” Pili said. “This was, to me, crucial, essential to the success of this program for the community to get involved. And they are.”
Casa de Pereginos food pantry passed out bags of fresh produce for free to attendees. Amanda Kmetz, an agency support specialist with the pantry, said their work supports the mission of Lift Up because the organization makes it easy for anyone to receive free food. All someone needs is an ID and proof of address, like a utility bill, and they are eligible.
“When times get hard, when food costs go up, when gas goes up, when rent goes up, sometimes you need a little bit of help, and that’s what we’re here to do,” Kmetz said.
Brenda Verrett, the Anthony Office Manager for the Southwest Counseling Center, tabled at the block party to offer information about mental health services. SWCC last year relaunched its services as a provider and has a location in downtown Las Cruces.
“Literally anything you need, we can help,” said Lui Fa’amasino, an outreach coordinator with Families and Youth Innovations Plus, a nonprofit which provides services such as mental health, nutrition, housing and food assistance. “Whether it’s clothing, whether it’s programming, whether it’s resources, funding, things like that. We can connect you to things that you do need.”
Artist Raquel Madrigal is painting a mural on the corner of North Solano and Mulberry Avenue on the side of Cravings Catering in partnership with the Doña Ana Resilience Leaders to mark the launch of the program. Anyone was welcome to help paint portions of the mural on Saturday, which depicts a girl succeeding because she’s surrounded by family over the words “100% Community.”
Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, email@example.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.
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