Our neighbor, Roger Montoya, has been named one of the world’s CNN Heroes for his work as co-founder and artistic director at Moving Arts Española.

It’s an honor for him, his organization, his town and all of Northern New Mexico. Because of the recognition, millions of CNN viewers have watched videos featuring the people his work affects.

They have seen how this dancer, painter and man of many talents decided that the kids in his town needed access to the arts — access they and their families could afford. Since 2008, the organization has offered art classes, tutoring, meals and support for more than 5,000 children and young people. They are changing lives.

Kids can choose from a variety of classes — gymnastics, fashion design, singing, violin, circus arts, ballet or hip hop. Others want to learn Spanish flamenco dancing or guitar, or dance with a folklorico group. The idea is to offer children a creative way to express themselves, a place of refuge and success so necessary in a town that faces the twin challenges of addiction and poverty.

The CNN introduction to Montoya’s organization puts Moving Arts in context, with the article’s headline stating, “Professional dancer opens arts center for kids living in the heart of America’s opioid epidemic.”

The article goes on to state that, “as a center of the opioid epidemic, [Rio Arriba] has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country — almost four times higher than the national average. Just last week, the county received a $2 million grant to combat the problem. Yet addiction is just one of the challenges in this region, where nearly 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.”

With arts programs available, young people have a different way.

Montoya, who was a professional dancer in New York, found his life turned upside down by the AIDS epidemic. He lost his partner and numerous friends to it and returned home in the late 1980s HIV-positive and “aching with such loss and grief” the 58-year-old told CNN. He was prepared to die, but instead turned to painting and grew stronger. (For his work at Moving Arts, Montoya became one of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference back in 2000.)

Art helped him heal.

That same art, he believes, is helping the children of Northern New Mexico build stronger futures.

Moving Arts Española is celebrating the honor Friday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Moving Arts, 68 Ohkay Owingeh 291, Española. At the event, members of the community will learn how they can support Montoya as a CNN Hero. By liking and sharing videos, he can make it into the Top 10 and perhaps become CNN Hero of the year.

That’s a worthy goal for New Mexico — to support Montoya, Moving Arts and spread the word about how art can change lives. In the process, we can share the CNN Heroes inspiration. It’s about “everyday people doing extraordinary things to change the world.”

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