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.