Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo

Gary Jacobson, the manager at Mitchell Starlight Cinema in Los Lunas, has hosted a post-prom event for local high school students for the past 13 years in an effort to provide an alternative to under-age drinking.

A lot of local businesses will generously help support youth organizations and athletic teams, but not many will invite hundreds of teenagers to an after-hour event.

Gary Jacobson, the manager at Mitchell Starlight Cinema in Los Lunas, does just that every prom season for all students in Valencia County.

Ginny Adame, the coordinator for the Valencia County DWI Program, has worked with Jacobson for years, helping to organize the annual events. She nominated the Albuquerque resident saying he’s been an extraordinary advocate for our youth in our community.

“Each year, with the exception of 2020-21, Mr. Jacobson has worked with the village of Los Lunas/Valencia County DWI Program and Youth Development Inc., Valencia to provide post-prom movies for our local high school prom goers,” Adame said. “(He) has seen a number of new owners over the years and, a number of times, the new owners were not entirely supportive of continuing to allow the movie theater to be open after hours to provide the post-prom events for the youth …”

Jacobson said when he first come out to New Mexico 13 years ago from Connecticut, the theater was owned by Storyteller Theaters. Two years later, it changed ownership and was renamed Mitchell Starlight Cinema.

“When we switched over, and Brian Mitchell, the owner, was understandably reticent about it,” Jacobson remembers of the conversation he had with him about the post-prom event. “I kept telling him about the success, and the kids had been great. Now, 13 years later, I can still say that the kids have been phenomenal.”

Jacobson was able to convince Mitchell it was something worth continuing to help teenagers stay out of trouble on prom night.

“Mr. Jacobson has always advocated for the post-prom events because he truly believes in supporting our local youth in providing a safe alternative to underage drinking parties by having the movie theater open following prom,” Adame said. Over the years, more than a thousand youth have benefited from Mr. Jacobson’s advocacy in keeping the movie theater open for post-prom events.”

Jacobson said there are several reasons why he opens the movie theater late for post-prom goers — first, to make sure they have a safe place to go rather than consuming alcohol.

“There are kids who genuinely do want to do something like this, and they get their exclusive use of the theater,” he said. “There’s not anyone else here from the general public.”

The theater manager says he’s also grateful for local law enforcement who is also on hand each night, not really as police officers but as extra chaperons.

“We get a lot of volunteers that night to help out,” Jacobson said. “We’re here until 3 in the morning. We provide the movie and refreshments free for the students, but we have to charge the village of Los Lunas who pays for it at a discounted rate.”

Jacobson and his crew plan for an average of 100 participants each night — usually three per year.

“They are the very best customers of the entire year,” he says, laughing. “They come in tuxes and evening gowns. Some of them change clothes, but most of them come in their prom attire.”

Adame says Jacobson has taken a chance each year in entrusting the Los Lunas/Valencia County DWI Program to provide the sponsorship, security and support to keep the events a safe and sober post prom option for our local high school students.

Not only does Jacobson offer up a movie to post-prom goers, he also hosts the annual Believe in Heroes Memorial Run, a fundraiser to help local veterans, at the theater, as well as a special night for the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce.

Jacobson has also been working with the New Mexico Autism Society for several years, offering sensory-friendly showings in which they turn the lights up, turn the sound down, so children with autism or who have sensory processing disorders or photo and noise sensitive can enjoy a movie once a month.

“If kids want to make noise, they can make noise,” Jacobson said. “For a lot of families, it alleviates a lot of awkwardness.”

Described as being humble with a positive attitude by Adame, he showed those attributes during the COVID-19 pandemic when he was forced to close his doors for a full year and layoff most of his employees.

It was because of his love of the community and customers that during the pandemic he started selling movie theater popcorn and Icees every other week from June 2020 to April 2021.

“The way the community supported that was awesome,” Jacobson said. “The first time we did it, I had no idea how many people would come. I though maybe five people. We had well over 500 cars come through. It just blew us away.”

Jacobson said while he doesn’t live in Valencia County, he says the support he has received from people who live here is more than he ever expected.

“It’s about giving back to the community,” Jacobson said when asked why he does what he does. “This community is beyond wonderful … and when we were down, this community came out and gave us their support.

“I have worked in other parts of the country and in different environments, and I can say this honestly that Valencia County has the nicest people I’ve ever met. It’s not even close.”

Unsung Hero: Jessica Chavez

Chavez has been teaching at La Promesa, part of Belen Consolidated Schools, since it opened 22 years ago. She has taught kindergarten through fourth grade.

Unsung Heroes: Jocelyn and Chris Padilla Hunter

For the past 10 years, Jocelyn “Joshie” and Chris Padilla Hunter have been active in the 4-H community throughout Valencia County, not only going above and beyond for her own children, but also other youth involved in their club.

Unsung Heroes: The Keller Family

Since 1999, the Keller family — Mary Ann, Ron, Richard and Eddie — have hosted the Bosque Farms Car Show during the village’s annual community fair. Originally billed as the “Just For Fun” Car Show, the event started when Mary Ann was on the fair board.

Unsung Hero: Gwen Mosimann

Leading the effort to help find solutions for Belen Consolidated Schools is Gwen Mosimann, the first-year McKinney-Vento liaison for the district. Her directive is clear but daunting — find housing for homeless students and their families.

Unsung Hero: Clair Toledo

Toledo became principal of Los Lunas Opportunity Schools in December 2021 to lead the merger between Century High School and the Los Lunas Digital Academy. She said while the merge is an ongoing process, this will be the first year they graduate in a single ceremony, albeit with different gowns.

History of Valencia County News-Bulletin Citizens of the Year and Unsung Heroes

Since 1995, the Valencia County News-Bulletin has been recognizing a Citizen of the Year and Unsung Heroes each year.

Citizen of the Year: Holly Noelle Chavez

“She’s selfless … through blood, sweat and tears, and focus on what is best for the most vulnerable in the community, she does a thankless job, but she wakes up every day and does it.”

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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.