Offering her help

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By Kirsten Laskey

Self Help Inc.’s mission is to help others. Whether it is distributing seed grants to business owners or assisting individuals in crisis situations, the nonprofit has been there for the community for the past 40 years.


But even an organization that exists to help others can use some support. Therefore, the organization is getting ready to host its annual fundraiser, Empty Bowls, which will be held March 14 at the Betty Ehart Senior Center.


And with hard economic times, the community’s help is needed more than ever.


“It really has affected people,” Executive Director Ellen Morris said.


Any unexpected bills, whether medical, dental or other expenses, can really throw people’s budgets into a crisis, she said.


Which is why fundraisers like the Empty Bowls are important.


“I think people realize that there are more people in need … Empty Bowls is very important in completing our budget for client assistance,” Morris said. “We’re also very grateful to private donations (given) at the end of last year because people care that there is a greater need.”


She added they are also very grateful to the grants the Santa Fe Community Foundation, Northern New Mexico Health Grant Group and New Mexico Community Foundation awarded Self Help.


“Of course we have to give our kudos to the United Way for (its) primary support,” Morris said.


Empty Bowls is more than just a fundraiser, she added, it is also a “friendraiser.”


“It’s a real positive event for our agency,” Morris said.


Morris has been taking part in this positive event for nine years. She explained while working as a case manager at another agency in town, the Los Alamos Family Council, she would refer clients to Self Help.


Additionally, Morris said she was told that the organization was really busy and in need of some extra workers so she went over with her résumé and ended up working part time at Self Help.


What caused Morris to work full-time at Self Help was the Cerro Grande fire. She explained the organization was awarded a grant from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation to provide temporary housing for residents who lost their homes in the fire.


The workload shot up during this period of time, which caused Morris to step into the executive director position.


As the executive director, Morris’ main responsibilities include overseeing the day-to-day office operations, overseeing grant proposals that get written, recruiting volunteers and providing public relations.


Morris said she has gained a lot from this job.


“One of the fun parts of my job is working closely with the volunteers and giving their gifts to the clients,” she said. “I really enjoy the relationships with the volunteers.”


The volunteers are key assets to Self Help, Morris added.


“We have had just wonderful volunteer help in the office, with Empty Bowls, with the school supply fund and the various ways we’re involved in the community,” she said.


Another job perk is the variety of experiences featured in the position.


“There’s something different every day … a lot of different skills are required in this job. (Plus) I like seeing people succeed,” Morris said.


When Self Help initially started 40 years ago, the idea was to provide small grants to support land-base livelihoods in the community, she said.


These livelihoods could include anything from adobe making equipment and farming, to gardening and selling firewood.


As the years went by, an emergency fund was established to people who need immediate help or are in a crisis.


Self Help has a long history in the area, but so does Morris. She has lived in northern New Mexico since 1971.


She currently lives in Pojoaque. Morris was introduced to the area when as a teenager she visited her brother in Albuquerque “and I fell love with New Mexico.”


Later, she moved from Ohio to attend the University of New Mexico before going to the University of California in Davis where she received a master’s in community development.


When Morris is not in the office, she said she enjoys spending time with her family and extended family.


“I’m a runner,” she said, “I like to cross-country ski. My family and I hike a lot when we get the chance. We’re big readers. On these cold evenings you’ll find us with a book.”


In addition to providing assistance to the community, Morris also loves to help those close to her. For instance, she enjoys helping her daughter in her musical pursuits. Morris said her daughter plays the violin and is part of the Chamisa Elementary School’s Singsensations.