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Local children’s advocacy organization brings in new executive director

Gabrielle Uballez

New Mexico Voices for Children, a local non-profit working to improve child well being, has new leadership in Gabrielle Uballez. KUNM sat down with Uballez to learn more about her plans to create a healthier and safer New Mexico for children and families.

GABRIELLE UBALLEZ: I'm a New Mexican born and raised. I grew up in Albuquerque’s North Valley. And just one of the seminal moments of my youth was being a part of a program called Working classroom. It's a social justice art youth center that was located downtown and grew up there learning about being an activist and advocate through the arts. And the reason that's important is because that's really where I got my professional start. And while we weren't doing policy work there, we were working with youth to engage in social justice issues, in issues to address systemic inequities, like housing, like health care, like gun violence through arts.

KUNM: Issues, like you just mentioned, ranging from housing insecurity, to access to quality health care, all relate back to child well being. So, in order to change the narrative to include all these other areas of an inequity, what does that look like to you and your work now?

UBALLEZ: The thing that I think is so powerful, that Voices has had a stance on since before me, and it's why I feel like I really belong here is this idea that we're changing systems, not people. And when we change systems, we can help people make their lives better.

And so what that looks like is when we think about, okay, our kids aren't meeting their third grade reading levels like other kids in the nation. Well, it's not because there's anything wrong with our kids in New Mexico. And it's not because there's anything wrong with their parents. It's that we have a long uphill battle to change our school system so that it better serves the unique population of kids in our state. So, the narrative that we understand that our kids in the rural areas or that are part of Tribal Nations, and the Pueblos are going to need a different kind of education system to meet their needs.

KUNM: I think we're all familiar with New Mexico's last place rankings in areas like child wellbeing and education. But as you're stepping into this new role, how will you focus your attention away from New Mexico's deficits and look to where we can improve?

UBALLEZ: I think the deficit measurements do tell us something. And what they tell us is something about the systems that are serving our kids. And so, when we see that a certain number of kids are living in income volatile homes, that is not a judgment on the families or the children, it tells us something about what it means to be a worker in New Mexico and how we need to figure out what glitches we have in our system that make it harder for people to find meaningful and good paying jobs.

KUNM: Every year, you all use the KIDS COUNT Data Book to aid in advocating for a better policy. Looking at the most recent report, how does that data factor into the policy changes you're considering advocating for?

UBALLEZ: The data book is a piece of our work, but it's not everything. So, I have a lot of questions as fresh eyes at this organization in terms of what do we want to do internally and find resources for and to lift up those stories outside of the data book in a complementary way, so that we have a fuller picture.

My colleague here Javier Rojo, also did a presentation for us a few weeks ago, and he was discussing this idea “that some populations are classified as quote, unquote, statistically insignificant”, but we don't believe that at Voices. No one is statistically insignificant. And so, if we can't measure how a population experiences the world or how systems are impacting them, and traditional ways of data collection, then how do we do that through first hand interviews in a comprehensive way?

KUNM: I want to dig a little deeper into what we were just talking about when it comes to engaging New Mexico's communities. What creative plans do you have to ensure that all voices and all stories are heard and told?

UBALLEZ: Engaging communities requires trust. I think I'm following in the tradition, especially over the last couple of years of Voices really building relationships and trust. Work with coalitions of community organizers, and organizations led by people of color and grassroots organizations. And so it is a real priority of mine, to show up and to listen, and to learn and to continue to encourage and support my team and doing that.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.