New Mexico Foundation spoke with Carol Miller, volunteer Board Director of Ojo Sarco Community Center in the small mountain village of Ojo Sarco, to discuss the importance of rural development, the difficulties of accessing funding and services throughout rural New Mexico, and preserving the dignity, pride, and sustainability of small-town, rural New Mexico.
Published Friday 08.18.2023.
above photo caption: a sign reading “Welcome to Ojo Sarco – Rio Arriba County”
above photo caption: a photograph of the Ojo Sarco Community Center in 1943, when it was used as a one-room schoolhouse. Find more archival photos of OSCC from this collection via the US Library of Congress (link).
Ojo Sarco, in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico is an isolated mountain village of around 300 people located along the High Road to Taos, about two-hours round trip to larger cities and many other services. The Ojo Sarco Community Center serves as a multipurpose glue holding together both community social life and many essential municipal services for residents of Ojo Sarco, as well as their neighbors in Chimayo, Truchas, Trampas, Peñasco, and other rural communities along the High Road to Taos.
The Ojo Sarco Community Center (OSCC) was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1988. This status allowed the Peñasco school district to sell an abandoned one-room schoolhouse to the organization for $1.00. At the time, the area was without any public buildings, a fire department, or reliable emergency medical services. As is unfortunately the case with many small rural New Mexican towns and villages, consistent, accessible state and county funding was and still is difficult to come by, even for vital services such as fire safety. As volunteer Board Director Carol Miller puts it, “We’ve had no choice but to do it ourselves – food pantry, volunteer fire department, the acequia, mutual domestic drinking water systems… small rural communities are an afterthought at every level of government.”
Thanks to community leadership, the past 35 years has seen OSCC grow organically to adapt to residents’ needs. The food pantry is one of its most popular programs and serves over 60 households, including deliveries to elderly disabled households. The OSCC pantry is one of very few student summer lunch programs easily accessible to families along the High Road. OSCC also serves as a lending library (and a soon-to-be certified New Mexico library); a meeting, workshop, and gathering space; a connectivity hub that played a vital role in Internet accessibility during the pandemic; and has plans to create senior transportation systems to ease the burdens of travel and errands for elderly residents.
Youth empowerment and joy is also an important part of OSCC’s work; they sponsor youth programs and various field trips for local kids and their families (including swimming lessons and trips to places like Albuquerque’s BioPark Zoo), and OSCC also provides small cash gifts to Ojo Sarco graduating high school seniors. Ojo Sarco works together to be a place that kids want to be from; Carol sees much of OSCC’s work as modeling “community self-esteem.”
In 2022, a $10,000 grant from the inaugural Sustaining New Mexico Fund at New Mexico Foundation helped Ojo Sarco Community Center fund its operations and continue to provide vital programs and services to their village and other rural mountain communities. In a full-circle moment, the Sustaining New Mexico grant comes 30 years after NMF provided one of the first-ever grants to OSCC, helping them to purchase lumber, insulation, and roofing for the construction of their first firehouse (at the time attached directly to the Center). It is inspiring to see the perseverance, community-based care, and resilience of the many residents of Ojo Sarco who have served as volunteers on the Board of Directors throughout the past 35 years. NMF is honored to continue our support that has helped this organization grow and continue to provide homegrown care and services to residents of rural New Mexico.
Ojo Sarco Community Center encourages folks to visit during the upcoming annual High Road Artisans Tour on September 16 & 17, where they are Stop #21. Download a map and plan a visit to at highroadnewmexico.com/map.
Stay in the loop with Ojo Sarco Community Center on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/OjoSarcoCommunityCenter.
New Mexico Foundation’s Sustaining New Mexico Fund was created in 2022 to bolster the sustainability of nonprofits throughout the state, strengthen our communities by promoting social equity, and support self-sufficiency to improve the quality of life for all New Mexicans. In 2022, the Sustaining New Mexico Fund awarded a total of $121,600 in funds between 15 organizations.
Special thanks to our longtime partner Carol Miller, volunteer Board Director of Ojo Sarco Community Center, for speaking with NMF about OSCC’s recent work, the historical relationship between NMF and OSCC, and the ongoing fight for rural funding and services.