Twenty-five years ago, leaders at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of California, the Department of Energy and Los Alamos Public Schools (with support from members of the New Mexico congressional delegation) decided to create an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation that would supplement the educational programs of school districts in counties near the lab.

At the time, it was a unique and original idea for a national lab to set up a foundation for this purpose. Also at that time, the newly created foundation had no money, no office space, no staff and no real budget. The Department of Energy worked with the University of California to enable the lab to provide the initial funding and resources to establish the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, which was officially created on April 17, 1997.

Soon thereafter, Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, in a bipartisan effort, helped secure federal appropriations to establish a permanent endowment for the foundation to support public schools in the seven-county region surrounding the laboratory.

The endowment was expected to grow in perpetuity for the betterment of the region.

The people who created the foundation were change makers. Millions of dollars in scholarships have been given to thousands of Northern New Mexico students; long-running programs have provided thousands of elementary school students the joy of experimentation and hands-on learning in science education; and thousands of families have had access to early childhood education and home visiting.

We have often engaged independent third-parties to evaluate our programs and provide feedback for improvement. We strive to be a learning organization and to continuously serve our communities better by living our values; to work in partnership; and to be as transparent, equitable, diverse and accountable as possible. This work continues.

Today, we have a new Santa Fe office in the Design Center (our main office is still in Española) of almost 30 employees, with a 20-member board of dedicated community members. One of the pillars or our work is collaboration. At the LANL Foundation, we host or participate in a dozen collaborations, and we partner with multiple entities and organizations to accomplish our goals.

Many of these partnerships and collaborations would not exist without volunteers. If you care about education but feel as if there is nothing you can do, you are wrong. There are many ways to get involved, and participating in or joining an education nonprofit organization’s board or bringing your time and thought to a collaboration really can make a difference. There is also a need for volunteers in the schools. Santa Fe Public Schools’ new Work-Based Learning Coordinator, Jose Villarreal, will need volunteers to help students with mock interviews and other things related to being in a real work environment.

We are dedicated to supporting the teacher profession through training sessions, assisting in professional growth, celebrating their achievements and sponsoring research on what actions will improve teacher recruitment, preparation and retention. Recently, we have added internal capacity to create more work-based learning and career pathway opportunities for our youth.

We are also providing research on pertinent topics that highlight school and community voices on important topics such as teacher retention, the social and emotional supports for students and successful college and career pathways programs in our state and region’s high schools.

There are many ways and places to “plug in” to education in our community. Please get involved! It takes all of us working together to make positive change in our schools. LANL Foundation would not exist without all the people who have given their time, energy and talent to our many collaborations. Be that changemaker.

Jenny Parks is president and CEO of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation.

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