LOS LUNAS — Both Valencia Shelter Services and its new executive director mark significant milestones this year.
For VSS, this is its 30th year of operations, and for Ann Sanchez, she’s stepping into a new role in a field she started working in two decades ago.
“I’m excited to be here. I really felt this was a good fit,” Sanchez said. “After meeting with VSS leadership and the board, I felt comfortable and this organization has good all around energy.”
Sanchez is taking over as executive director of the county’s only domestic violence agency after Alexandria Taylor stepped down in November.
Her vision for the future of VSS and approach to leadership is focused on improving and growing the nonprofit and, like Taylor, leaving it better than she found it.
“As an organization, we are ready to go to the next level,” Sanchez said. “I see so much of the work we are doing and we need to expand our facility so we can grow.”
New office space is on the horizon, along with prevention initiatives for teens and more involvement with the local juvenile justice system.
“We want to continue our strong relationship with the community and be responsive to the needs,” she said.
Sanchez started working in the domestic violence prevention field in 1999 as the volunteer coordinator for the El Paso Center Against Sexual and Family Violence.
“Just watching that transformation of someone from victim to survivor, I just fell in love with the work,” she said. “It’s the privilege of service.”
She also worked as part of the Albuquerque Police Department’s Victim Assistance Unit, training with the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“Again, I fell in love with it. I knew I loved the work before, that just solidified it,” she said.
Just prior to coming to Valencia County, Sanchez was the interim director of La Casa, in Las Cruces, which is the largest domestic violence shelter in the state with 86 beds. VSS has 17 beds in its emergency shelter.
While VSS started in 1989 as a domestic violence education and prevention agency, as well as emergency shelter provider for survivors of domestic violence. It’s services have expanded to serve more vulnerable populations.
In 2013, VSS began offering sexual assault survivors services, and a year later, the organization established a child advocacy center, where forensic interviews will soon be held.
“Each of those areas, I would like to grow to be their own individual program,” Sanchez said. “VSS is the only comprehensive service provider in the county and one of the most comprehensive service agencies in the state. We also provide support to Socorro and Torrance counties and we’d like to expand services in those areas.”
Any expansion of services, staffing and facilities is dependent on funding, which comes to VSS through a number of sources, such as the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, the New Mexico Crime Victims fund, United Way, New Mexico Department of Health, and Housing and Urban Development.
“We have to reapply for those funds every year. Cuts at the state and federal level trickle down to us but the community still needs services,” Sanchez said.
That’s why donations of all amounts are so important, she said. Recently, Fortis, the general contractor for the Los Lunas Facebook Data Center, donated $10,000 to VSS.
“We also had a donation of $853 from the First Baptist Church of Bosque Farms. It all helps,” Sanchez said. “Gifts like those might not be a $1 million, but they are very meaningful. It helps us with little things that make a difference — gas money, a bag of groceries, toiletries.
“The best thing is we are giving people hope. We like to say, ‘VSS will find a way.’”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.