BELEN — Calling 2022 a year of growth and unity, incoming Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors President John Ivey said the chamber is looking ahead, striving for togetherness and growth in the new year.

“One of our main goals is growth for the chamber and the entire county,” Ivey said at the chamber’s annual gala Saturday evening. “We represent businesses throughout the entire county and in other states. We want to continue that and work with all the different municipalities and communities in the county.

“As a community, we can grow and work together. We are behind and support everyone.”

At the gala, the chamber’s new board and officers were sworn in, and it’s annual award recipients were announced and celebrated.

Service Organization/Non-Profit of the Year

The Valencia County Community Wellness Council was named the chamber’s 2021 Service Organization/Non-Profit of the Year.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Peggy Gutjahr and Ginny Adame, center, accept the 2021 Service Organization/Non-Profit of the Year from Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rhona Espinoza, left, and Chamber Board President John Ivey, right.

Ginny Adame, the council’s president, said the organization was very grateful and honored to receive the recognition.

Adame said the council brings together and relies on dozens of organizations and volunteers to bring its vision to life — a community working in cooperation to ensure the health and well being of all its residents.

“It’s a lot of hard work to do a lot of good in the community,” Adame said.

The community has identified five priorities it wants the CWC to focus on — violence prevention, behavioral health, substance abuse, healthy eating and active living.

Infinity Award

Mark Jaramillo and the entire Jaramillo family with Al’s Mini Mart was chosen the chamber’s 2021 Infinity Award winner.

The Infinity Award is given to the business which has continued as a viable, productive part of the economic vitality in the Belen Community. Traditionally, the award has gone to family-owned businesses, but is not restricted to that criterion. It can be one that carries either a family history or has maintained the same name for the entire years of existence.

“Al’s Mini Mart exemplifies well the focus of the Infinity Award as they celebrated in 2021 50 years in business,” said gala master of ceremonies Rudy Espinoza.

Amigo Award

The 2021 Amigo Award was given to 1st Care of New Mexico, a non-medical home care service, with offices in Belen, Los Lunas and Albuquerque.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Serena Tafoya, 1st Care New Mexico Albuquerque office assistant manager, and Lucy Lucero, Belen office manager, center, accept the 2021 Amigo Award from Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rhona Espinoza, left, and Chamber Board President John Ivey, right.

The Amigo Award is presented to an individual or business that has become recognized throughout the state and nation as presenting a positive, friendly image of Belen and Valencia County.

This award isn’t necessarily given each year, but the Chamber Board of Directors felt 1st Care has been an outstanding representation of the area.

“Our goal is to bless anyone who needs help with the assistance they deserve,” said Lucy Lucero, the Belen office manager. “We work as a community to continue to deliver those blessings.”

Member of the Year

Charles and JoAnna Montoya with AC Disposal Services were selected as the chamber’s 2021 Member of the Year.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Charles and JoAnna Montoya, owners of AC Disposal Services, center, accept the 2021 Member of the Year from Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rhona Espinoza, left, and Chamber Board President John Ivey, right.

The criteria for the Member of the Year, which can be a large or small business, are outside recognition, stability of the business, improvement of business, community involvement, customer service and inspiration to others.

The couple were the padrinos for the 2019 Our Lady of Belen Fiestas and were named Unsung Heros by the Valencia County News-Bulletin in 2017 for their volunteer service to the community.

AC Disposal was named the chamber’s Member of the Month in December 2021, took first place in the 2017 Miracle on Main Street Electric Light Parade,

The company regularly donates time, funds and equipment to events, such as the Our Lady of Belen Fiestas, the Hispano Chamber of Valencia County’s annual Matanza, the Valencia County Fair, community clean ups, and sponsors local sports teams and 4-H chapters.

The Montoya’s have also lent a helping hand during semi-regular flooding in the city of Belen, using their pumper trucks to remove flood waters from the streets.

The company began 15 years ago with $10,000 by the then two 20-somethings, Charles Montoya said. AC has since grown to 40-plus employees — 99 percent of who are from Valencia County — and a full-fledged operation in Belen.

Montoya thanked his wife, JoAnna, for 22 years of happiness, as well as his sister and parents for their constant support.

“Our customers — without them we wouldn’t be in business,” Montoya said. “In 2012, Bosque Farms gave us our first big contract, and then Belen in 2017. Those really made us grow.”

In addition to trash service, AC also builds roll-off containers, with the majority of them being purchased by the cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

“I have to mention them because they helped bring employees and business to the city of Belen,” he said.

Citizen of the Year

Clearly surprised by the announcement of being named the chamber’s Citizen of the Year, Belen City Councilor Frank Ortega said he was humbled by the recognition.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Belen City Councilor Frank Ortega and his wife, Louise, center, accept the 2021 Citizen of the Year from Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rhona Espinoza, left, and Chamber Board President John Ivey, right.

Espinoza said Ortega, a Marine veteran and former city of Belen fire chief, and his whole family were known for their community volunteer work.

“The (Belen) Veterans Memorial, a lot he did on his own,” Espinoza said. “I salute you for your love and respect for the community, for the countless hours volunteering. He asks for nothing; his is selfless commitment and dedication.”

Espinoza continued, saying she has seen all Ortega does to make Belen a better place, noting he will no doubt continue to do so.

“I didn’t do this all by myself. My wife (Louise) has always been there through countless nights,” Ortega said.

He named others, such as former city councilors David Carter and Wayne Gallegos.

“We didn’t do this for us; we did it for all the people who served during war and peace,” he said. “Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. This is a new year, and a new (city) council and we are going to continue growing the city, the chamber and Valencia County.”

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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.