Through the Read to Me Albuquerque Network, Bart Regelbrugge estimates he has personally delivered more than 5,000 books to children in the county, including to Uriah, a second-grader at Canon Christian Academy in Belen. Makayla Grijalva | News-Bulletin photo

A Champion for Children

Bart Regelbrugge lives by a policy of positivity.

“Positive thinking causes the best body chemistry you can have,” Regelbrugge said. “And negative thinking causes you to have toxic, negative stuff and the worst body chemistry you can have.”

Although he shares his philosophy with “anyone standing still for too long,” his focus — along with the Community Wellness Council, of which he is a member — is to educate parents on creating a positive environment for their children.

For his work promoting children’s literacy and advocating for the spread of positivity to promote hope, especially in the up-and-coming generation, the News-Bulletin selected Regelbrugge as one of its 2021 Unsung Heroes.

Regelbrugge said his passion for creating positive environments for children to grow up stems back to his experience raising his own children.

“I didn’t do a good job at raising my kids and when they were teenagers, I was definitely out of step with them,” the Los Lunas resident said. “They were saying things and I’d say to myself, ‘Where did that come from?’ So in doing all the studying that I had done, it led me to Kids at Hope.”

Through the Community Wellness Council, Regelbrugge became a Kids at Hope champion for Valencia County. Kids at Hope is a frame of mind, beginning in 1993, to shift the youth at risk paradigm and negativity associated with the term to one of hope.

“It’s almost like building a bridge; every plank has to be there so the kid can actually walk across this bridge to get to hope,” Regelbrugge said.

In promoting the framework, Regelbrugge starts with parents, teaching both fatherhood and parenting courses at the New Mexico Men’s and Women’s Recovery Academies for the past decade. Although the pandemic put a stop to the class, he hopes to get it up and running again within the next couple of months.

“Everything I said to them was news to them, of course, but my first thing was to get them more confident about themselves and more positive about themselves,” Regelbrugge said. “And it goes on from there.”

After convincing them to think more positively generally, as promoted by the Mayo Clinic and other reputable sources laid out by Regelbrugge, then they can begin speaking positively to their children, lessening Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs.

Child welfare advocate and Kids at Hope champion, Bart Regelbrugge has been named one of the News-Bulletin’s 2021 Unsung Heroes.

“The majority of people in this state have had one or more ACEs … the more ACEs you have, the worse the behavior or physical or mental [health] might be,” he said. “So, what are we going to do about that?”

In addition to the Community Wellness Council, Regelbrugge also serves on the DWI Board, the Juvenile Justice Board and in the local Kiwanis chapter.

He also passes out age-appropriate books to children in Valencia County through the Read to Me Albuquerque Network.

“There is nothing better than knowing a lot of words, because the more words you know, the better you can describe to somebody,” he said.

Regelbrugge estimates he has distributed about 5,000 books directly in the hands of children in Valencia County since he began distributing them through the program. He stresses the importance of giving the books directly to children themselves so they create an attachment to the book, and eventually develop a love for reading.

Noelle Chavez, who nominated Regelbrugge as an Unsung Hero, said her organization, H2 Academics, is a regular recipient of books delivered by Regelbrugge.

“For him to be doing all this stuff, at a time when he’s at that retirement stage,” Chavez said. “In the retirement stage when people are usually settling down, he’s staying incredibly active and doing that physical work. In fact, with the books, they are heavy boxes of books; he helps us unload them. He’s just a very active guy.”

Following the Belen flooding earlier this year, which devastated many homes and businesses in downtown Belen and Becker Avenue, Regelbrugge built, donated and installed an air filtration system to H2 Academics, equipped with MERV 13 filters.

“He refused to let us reimburse him for that. He did it all out of pocket,” Chavez said. “That, to me, was a big deal. That was super nice, incredibly thoughtful. He didn’t have to do that.

“He wasn’t associated with any organization. It’s just something he felt the need to do to make sure the kids were breathing decent air after our building filled with mud.”

Although Regelbrugge has been retired since 2000, he wants to continue to promote safe and positive environments for children in the county, as well as the Kids at Hope framework.

“If we keep believing that they are going to succeed at something, and our confidence in this eventually will give [children] confidence to say, ‘Hey, I may be able to do something,’” Regelbrugge said. “Positive thinking eventually allows you to have enough hope to start talking about your future.”

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.