BELEN—The Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce held its annual installation and gala Saturday, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held virtually through Zoom.

During the online ceremony, several people, businesses and organizations were recognized for their work and volunteerism.

Citizens of the Year

Submitted photos
Rhona Baca Espinoza, executive director of the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce, presents Jay and Kathy Peters with the organization’s Citizen of the Year award.

The Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce awarded Jay and Kathy Peters with its 2020 Citizens of the Year award.

The Citizen of the Year is chosen with several criteria, including being a contributor and volunteer to the community who receives no pay. The Peters, along with Belen City Councilor Danny Bernal Jr., began Believe in Belen, a local initiative that held numerous drive-thru events in 2020 that aided local restaurants and businesses, participated in food drives and helped celebrate graduation and other holidays.

“They exemplify these qualities in a stellar way, and we thank you for all you do for our community,” said GBCC Executive Director Rhona Baca Espinoza said of the Peters. “You have brought a real spirit of Believe in Belen to our community.”

Espinoza said the Peters were concerned about Belen businesses during the pandemic, and began thinking of a way to help. During a conversation at the kitchen table, Believe in Belen started.

Those associated with the initiative began sending gift certificates from local businesses to people in hopes they would pay it forward. The movement expanded to offering free lunches from local restaurants.

Along with volunteering with Believe in Belen, Kathy volunteers with the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Belen, while Jay is president of the Belen MainStreet Partnership.

“Their spirit of giving back, thinking of the less fortunate but not wanting to take the spotlight is an inspiration to all of us,” Espinoza said.

“This was nothing we ever expected or anticipated,” Jay said of the honor. “I can’t do it without my better half of 35 years. We always seem to be on the same page, and we’re grateful.”

Volunteer Group or Service Organization of the Year

The Believe in Belen initiative was given the Volunteer of the Year Award by the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce.

The Believe in Belen initiative was also awarded the Volunteer Group or Service Organization of the Year by the chamber.

“Believe in Belen exemplifies well the focus of Volunteer Group of the Year,” Espinoza said.

This award is given to a club or organization that gives service to the community without pay.

“Thanks to Jay and Kathy Peters, Danny Bernal Jr., Arnold Conejo and others who have been the organizers of all the special projects and promotions that supported our business community and fed our residents from local eateries. We all have a renewed and inspired outlook on our beautiful community,” Espinoza said. “Thank you so much!.”

Jay said he was honored to receive this award on behalf of Believe in Belen.

“This was born out of our kitchen table … talking about how we could help our friends’ businesses struggle,” he said. “We’ve been lucky enough to travel … and do things in our life to help people. But Kathy always said we needed to help people at home.”

The Belen Mainstreet Partnership board of directors has approved making the initiative permanent and sustainable by bringing it into the non-profit organization.

Member of the Year

Tierra del Sol Golf Club was presented as the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce’s Member of the Year.

The chamber’s Member of the Year award was given to Tierra Del Sol Golf Club.

“The Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce is proud to honor the Tabet brothers, Clinton and Craig Tabet, and Jay Tabet, owners of Tierra Del Sol Golf Club as our 2020 Member of the Year,” Espinoza said. “Thank you for your resiliency and great work ethic, especially through this tumultuous year. You are amazing!”

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

The Tierra Del Sol Golf Club in Rio Communities has been serving the community since 1968. The club started as private until the 1990s when it opened golf to the public. In the early 2000s, local businessmen, including Scott Edeal and Willie Giron purchased the club from a South Carolina company. In 2012, Edeal became sole owner until 2019 when he sold it to T Three, LLC, owned by local businessmen Jay Tabet and brothers Craig and Clinton Tabet. Craig and Clinton are Class “A” PGA Certified Golf Professionals since 2011. Jay has been a business owner for more than 30 years.

When T Three, LLC took over in 2019 they offered a once-in-a-lifetime membership deal — three years of unlimited golf for $150.

The club rents out its banquet hall, which is currently being remodeled, and caters for many different occasions, which will resume once current pandemic restrictions are lessened.

The club also conducts tournaments for fundraising, recreational and competitive play and unbeatable prices. Other events during the year include summer golf leagues for men, women and juniors.

“Thank you for the recognition,” Clinton Tabet said. “Since we’ve taken over, we’ve been doing nothing but good things, serving the community as best we can, helping kids get scholarships and helping people play golf.

“We like to encourage people to pick up the game,” he said. “It’s good for exercising, and it’s a good sport — lifelong sport.”

Infinity Award

Rio Grande Financial was given the Infinity Award by the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce.

The Infinity Award was presented to Rio Grande Financial Network in Los Lunas.

“Congratulations to Grace and Yvonne Sanchez at Rio Grande Financial Network for being chosen the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce 2020 Infinity Award winner by the GBCC Board,” Espinoza said. “Celebrating 20 years in business as Rio Grande Financial and a huge history of service in the insurance business, you exemplify all that is the Infinity Award.”

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.

Rio Grande Financial Network, located in Los Lunas, is an independent insurance agency and financial services firm was founded in 1999 by Yvonne and her mother, Grace Sanchez. Together, they have more than 60 years experience in the insurance industry.

“Rio Grande Financial Network has always maintained involvement in helping the community,” Espinoza said. “They were founding and board members of the Hispano Chamber Matanza and UNM-Valencia Development Board, Partners in Education, Los Lunas Pilot Club and the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce.”

Every year, the business owners raise funds for a community project, including Paws and Stripes, anti-bullying, suicide awareness and first responders. They’ve also established a scholarship at UNM-Valencia.

“We just want to thank the community. We’ve been truly blessed over the 20 years in business,” Yvonne said. “It’s not really just about out businesses. We really do pride ourselves on our customer service.”

She said when they decided to start the business in Valencia County, they wanted to have a strong business and help the community.

“Every year we have our community service projects, and this year we’re raising awareness and funds for our local animal shelter,” she said. “For us, it’s about the community. We’re not successful if our community isn’t successful. On behalf of our team and my mom, we’re really honored to receive this award.”

Amigo Award

The staff at the Belen Public Health Office was presented with the Amigo Award by the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce.

The Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce presented the Amigo Award to the Belen Public Health Office.

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

The office staff provides many different services to the public, such as family planning, immunizations, STD testing, TB treatment and epidemiology surveillance.

The Belen Public Health Office also hosts the New Mexico WIC (woman, infant, children) and Families First programs. Together, these programs support the health and well-being of the community.

The Belen Public Health Office, located on Becker Avenue, is staffed by two public health nurses, one public health clerk, one families first nurse and three WIC staff. These women have been trained to operate the Belen Public Health Office according to the state of New Mexico Department of Health protocols and standards.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Belen Public Health Office has been the hub for COVID-19 emergency planning and services. Throughout 2020, the Belen Public Health Office staff has worked harder than ever before to make sure the health and well-being of the community is a priority, Espinoza said.

“Through the training provided through many different avenues, response has been wonderful,” she said. “With continued support from community sponsors, the Belen Public Health Office hopes to continue to lead the path forward and get back to a somewhat normal day-to-day life activities without COVID-19 worry.

“Thank you for putting Belen on the map with the COVID-19 testing, immunizations and huge support to our community,” Espinoza said. “You stepped up immediately and weathered terrible weather all to keeping our residents healthy. You are our heroes.”

Melinda Ivey, a Belen Public Health Office nurse, thanked the chamber board for the honor.

“The vaccines have started, and next week we’ll be getting more, so I’m encouraging everyone to get online and register,” Ivey said. “We’re working on our schedules this week, and our plans are to get the community and county vaccinated. We’ll be getting 650 doses coming to us and more in the future.

Board of Directors

The 2021 officers of the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors are President Sonya Sanchez, Commercial Broker; President-Elect John T. Ivey, Haloed Solutions; Second Vice President Yvonne Sanchez, Rio Grande Financial; Treasurer Jennifer Hise, CEMCO; and Past President Ray Vigil, PNM Resources.

The board of directors are Pete Armstrong, of Armstrong Services; Deborah Baca, ex-officio for Belen Consolidated Schools; Bobbi Chandler, of the Valencia County News-Bulletin (Number Nine Media); Holly Chavez, of H-2 Academics Solutions; Carl Gallegos, of BNSF; Michael Hoodless, of Nusenda Credit Union; Denise Jaramillo, of Valencia Animal Clinic; Jon Lechel, ex-officio for UNM-Valencia; and Rod Storey, of NM Gas Co.

Honorary board members are Luz Chavez and David Renteria.

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.