Underserved Latino Children in the South Valley Self-Actualizing through ACCESS (Arts, Community, Culture, Education, Sports and Sciences.)

ACCESS answers this question: what happens when children in the historically underprivileged South Valley evolve into community leaders?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Through his work as a soccer coach and Community Health Worker, Fernando Ortega discovered that one of the most pressing health challenges for the South Valley families he works with - particularly the children – is a lack of education about healthy living, and personal enrichment programs that support holistic physical, emotional and intellectual health. To fill this gap, in 2013 Ortega recruited a network of educators and professionals to mentor underserved South Valley children via ACCESS.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

A native Mexican, I'm a proud "mix" of Indio-Afro-Moro-Spanish - and now, New Mexican - roots.


Under development.

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • New Mexico

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • New Mexico

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

South Valley of Albuquerque

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

60% of South Valley residents over the age of 25 have no formal post-secondary education, and low-income families in Albuquerque’s South Valley have limited access to after-school academics and sports. ACCESS takes a cross-sector collaborative approach in order to offer youth and their families unique opportunities through its six focus areas, engaging particpants in civic activities that address policy changes for the common good.

ACCESS (Arts, Community, Culture, Education, Sports & Science) was founded by Fernando Ortega in 2013 to connect underserved children from Albuquerque’s South Valley to mentors, educators and professionals to develop their interests and serve their community as leaders. According to a study conducted by the New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research, 80% of Albuquerque’s South Valley’s 41,000 residents are Hispanic, with 52% Mexican nationals. 60% of the population over the age of 25 has no formal post-secondary education, and more than half of South Valley residents have limited English proficiency. Low-income families in Albuquerque’s South Valley have limited access to after-school academics, sports, artistic and cultural events, with 66% of South Valley children living below 185% of the federal poverty line. Teen pregnancy, obesity, and diabetes are serious challenges; the economic, racial, health, and educational barriers are significant, and many South Valley families face a missing parent due to deportation or incarceration.

Through his work as a Community Health Navigator for Pathways to a Healthy Bernalillo County, an innovative program that aims to reduce health disparities among low-income and at-risk populations in Bernalillo County, and following his observations of the Cuban health system as a two-time Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC) participant, ACCESS Founder Fernando Ortega recognized that one of the most pressing health challenges for the South Valley families he works with - particularly the children – is both a lack of education about healthy living, and personal enrichment programs that support holistic physical, emotional and intellectual health. Ortega then realized that in order to build and promote a healthier community, creating access to stimulating, active, hands-on, fun opportunities for these children -- like the community programs he observed in Cuba -- must be the first order of business. With that, the concept for ACCESS was born.

ACCESS has taken a cross sector collaborative approach in order to offer children, youth and their families unique opportunities through its six focus areas. Ortega has been able to creatively bring partners from education (K-12 and higher education), community-based organizations, health sector, governmental entities and others to offer experiential-learning opportunities that broaden the experiences and perspectives for the participants. Aside from these intergenerational learning experiences, the participants are actively engaged in civic activities that address policy changes for the common good that promote social change through a social justice lens; especially for vulnerable populations.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

A ten-year old boy with severe behavioral problems, including ADHD and social withdrawal, was enrolled into ACCESS two years ago by his immigrant mother. After participating in ACCESS's soccer program for less than a year, the mother reported back to Fernando Ortega that her son no longer qualifies for Special Education classes, and that his behavioral problems are no longer evident. Moreover, the child exhibits great self-confidence and a general sense of happiness.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

To date, the ACCESS program has reached more than two hundred South Valley families through its innovative, active programs. Building from this record of success, ACCESS is hoping to expand its activities for middle school students from throughout the South Valley that integrate sports, art and crafts, dance, martial arts, multimedia, nutrition, health and wellness, and science. Art, in particular, is viewed as a critical element in building a culture of health among South Valley youth. With no paid staff (all ACCESS staff are volunteers), ACCESS is hoping to provide founder Fernando Ortega with a salary to allow him to administer and grow ACCESS on a full-time basis beginning in 2017.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $1k - $10k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Presently, ACCESS is under the fiscal sponsorship of the Rio Grande Community Development Corporation, which has been "incubating" ACCESS since its inception. Moving forward, ACCESS intends to secure independent funding though a combination of private and foundation support, and has the assistance of a Leadership Team to provide technical assistance on fundraising, grant writing and donor recruitment.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

The philosophical premise of ACCESS is interdisciplinary, demonstrating that a “whole” child is a healthy, well-developed child. The holistic model Ortega has developed is unique in several fundamental ways, the most important being that the kids are treated, and function as, catalysts of change. The kids aren't regarded as the passive recipients of programming which is brought to them from adults on the outside, rather, they are the motivators, collaborators, and leaders who are transforming their community from within. The ACCESS model also ensures that their parents are fully engaged.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Youth community engagement activities that operate through a lens of “we” rather than “I” will be most impactful, as the ACCESS model stresses; while each individual possess unique skills, talents, needs and stories to share, it is when these participants come together to work as a collective that the most amazing results can be achieved. To this end, programs that look for ways to include those who typically are excluded from, or whose needs are unmet by, existing programs will have the most transformative impact on developing community leadership that is authentic, empathetic and positive.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Francisco Ronquillo, Health Extension Officer/Hispano Latino Health Specialist University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center

Program Design Clarity

Children and their families in Albuquerque's underserved South Valley are the primary beneficiaries of ACCESS programs, through weekly offerings that integrate sports, art and crafts, dance, martial arts, multimedia, nutrition, health and wellness, and science. ACCESS founder Fernando Ortega, a health navigator working full-time to connect South Valley residents to resources, developed the ACCESS model to provide consistent educational opportunities for children in this predominately Latino population with a network of volunteer mentors and instructors committed to the ACCESS vision.

Community Leadership

The ACCESS leadership team is comprised of most of the major non-profit agency representatives and community activists serving the South Valley. The leadership team meets monthly to receive updates on ACCESS programs, assess weaknesses and develop fundraising strategies. Meetings also include the parents of ACCESS participants to provide greater understanding of ACCESS's impact for the leadership team, who in turn make recommendations to Ortega.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12

Spread Strategies

Moving forward, ACCESS seeks to build on its history of success at the grassroots level by enhancing its local and international connections. Specifically, following his observations of the Cuban health system as two-time Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC) participant, Ortega reconized that to promote a healthier community, creating access to stimulating, active, hands-on, fun opportunities for children is critical.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

ACCESS emphasizes authentic leadership development, meaning that participants, while provided with strong direction, are encouraged to see themselves as leaders: as people capable of accomplishing great things and of shaping their community to reflect their cultural identities. Moreover, when Ortega saw that the parents had needs of their own, he made sure that he added programs that developed their capabilities, including ESL and GED classes.

Leadership Story

Fernando Ortega has a deep dedication to building healthy and positive community which stems from not only his cultural heritage, but from growing up in a family of educators. After nearly a decade of working directly with Albuquerque families in need of health care and social services, Ortega learned how advocacy works a variety of ways, becoming a bridge between the families, service providers and other resources, which can be particularly difficult for Spanish-speaking individuals to navigate alone. ACCESS is a direct outgrowth from these encounters.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

ACCESS received a grant from the McCune Foundation in 2014, 2015 and 2016 in support of its work. The Molina Foundation also donated nearly a 1000 books to ACCESS participants.

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 66.7%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 33.3%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 0%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 100%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 33.3%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 33.3%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 33.3%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 33.3%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 66.7%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 50%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 50%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 50%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 50%

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Attachments (2)

ACCESS Graphic (FINAL) .pdf

The attachment is a visual representation of the work ACCESS is currently conducting, focused on our programmatic areas and the systemic problems in Albuquerque's South Valley that ACCESS addresses.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Christy Beighe-Byrne

ACCESS is a program that is seemingly needed in this community (and many others like it). It sounds like many youth can benefit from extra mentoring, support and access to resources many kids take for granted. The goal here is to be able to set yourself apart and make your program that much more unique. The story of the young man who was on an IEP and then no longer needed one was amazing. It would be great if you could get more testimonials from parents or had a video showcasing the program.