Hommer leads nonprofit to help Las Cruces, surrounding communities

Las Cruces Sun-News 11/11/2013: The adage goes, “choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” something Dawn Hommer adheres to every day in her role as CEO of the Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico.Dawn Photo LC Sun News

“My favorite part of the job is that I’m getting paid to do something I would do for free,” she said.

Through her position as CEO, Hommer and her team at the nonprofit organization work with low-income community members to fight poverty and help them work toward self-sustainability through meaningful programs and long-term services.

“Instead of band-aid services, we do more things to increase their assets, like provide training to increase job skills,” she said.

Through Community Services Block Grant funding, CAASNM serves a number of counties in the region, including Hildalgo, Luna, Sierra, Grant and Doña Ana, with a few programs in other surrounding counties.

Right now, the agency is putting on computer literacy classes, which include a phase dealing with how to use social media and networking for small and home-based businesses.

Through her more than two years at CASSNM, Hommer followed her calling to community service and has taken the inner workings of the nonprofit from about 10 fluctuating and fragmented programs to four distinct service groups — family empowerment, bridging resources, family wellness and community connections — to have a greater impact on the 25,000 people who utilize the agency’s services each year.

Programs provided through the four groups include financial literacy education for residents who want to save for buying a home or starting a business, a children’s savings account program that teaches the child financial responsibility and budgeting, screenings to see which benefits (on the federal, state and local level) the resident qualifies for, child and adult food programs, and more.

Hommer said serving so many residents each year is made possible through strong partnerships between CAASNM and other community entities.

One such partnership is with American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which helps 5,000 people every year with tax assistance, with $3.9 million returned to families in 2012, according to numbers from CAASNM. They also partner with several organization involved in Coats for Kids, giving free winter jackets to 2,900 local kids last year.

“There are about six different entities we work with. The amount of resources we put into that partnership is significant,” Hommer said. “We can give back more by working with these community partners. I love that part.”

The most challenging part about the job has proven to be the lack of knowledge of the nonprofit organization’s existence, which can be hard to generate the funds to keep some programs running.

Having been around for 40 years, Hommer said CAASNM is one of the oldest and largest nonprofits in the community.

“A lot of people don’t know who we are. We’ve taken huge efforts to let the community know what we’re doing so they will believe in us enough to send donations. We want to give them an internal perspective. With funding being cut at the federal, state, and private levels, it’s become so competitive,” she said. “We know that one of the ways to diversify the funding base is to reach out to the community where we serve and ask for donations.”

And a large amount of the community is affected, directly or indirectly by CAASNM’s service.

“I’m passionate about community service. It’s something I think I was meant to do; it’s such a part of me,” Hommer said. “To know that you’re helping people on a daily basis and to hear success stories is an amazing feeling. My staff is like my family, and the team we have, and the work we do, and impact we have on where we live — I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Outside of the office

Hommer is originally from Pennsylvania, and after moving out west in search of a change, settled in Las Cruces, where she’s been for 16 years, beginning her career here at the Arrowhead Center on the New Mexico State University campus.

As the mother of two teenagers — both attend Las Cruces High School — Hommer said she stays pretty busy being a mom, which she described as the thing that comes first in her life.

She also likes to travel, as well as go out to the shooting range for target practice.

“I grew up in a hunting family, so I like to go to the range and shoot once in a while,” she said.

When she’s not keeping up with the kids, traveling and doing target practice, she’s invested in watching football, especially her favorite NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Everybody knows me as a very loyal Eagles fan; hardcore loyal,” she laughed. “Everyone knows me certainly for that.”

For more information, call CAASNM at 575-527-8799, or find them online at caasnm.org.

Matlin Smith may be reached at 575-541-5468.  See original article.

About CAASNM

CAASNM is a non-profit corporation dedicated to building self-reliance for low-income New Mexicans by connecting our community to high-impact programs that encourage family wellness, empower families and bridge resources.

CAASNM has served the community for nearly five decades with high-impact programs to move people out of poverty and build self-sufficiency. Its vision is a community where opportunity exists for all to become self-sufficient. Its purpose is to be a voice for underrepresented populations, mobilize communities, advocate for the poor, and work with the community to better the resources and lives of the people who live in it. CAASNM is an active partner with dozens of businesses and other agencies in its service area that work to improve the quality of life for the community. CAASNM also serves as a catalyst for change by helping new programs launch and sustain themselves. Focus areas are Family Empowerment, Bridging Resources, Family Wellness and Community Connections.

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