Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Real People


Some of the 700 geraniums and hanging baskets grown for recent plant sale

Michele Cody and employee

Development Director Michele Cody with one of the Associate Employees Circle of love

—Margaret M. Nava

ARCA was formed in 1957 by four Albuquerque families who had children with developmental disabilities and wanted the same thing that all parents want for their children—opportunities. With the help of some courageous and loving volunteers, these families inaugurated a social and recreational program aimed at providing quality services that would enable their children to enjoy productive, meaningful, and joyous lives. As other families in the same situation learned of this unique program, they joined efforts with the founding families. A community-based child study center and preschool were set up, recreational programs put into place, and by 1965, a sheltered vocational workshop was established. In the 1970s, ARCA began providing community-based, residential support, and in 1984, the La Paloma Greenhouse was opened.

Located on three acres in beautiful Corrales, La Paloma Greenhouse grows more than 28,000 plants and flowers annually, including a wide variety of year-round houseplants and succulents, springtime geraniums and hanging baskets, and 7,000 world-class holiday poinsettias. Through the growth and sale of these plants, La Paloma is able to offer educational opportunities and programs that enhance the lives of the people they serve.

In 2004, ARCA Organics, a for-profit wholesale greenhouse operation that organically grows wheatgrass, pet grass, and organic fruits and produce for the local market, was incorporated onto the Corrales facility. Like La Paloma, it employs individuals with developmental disabilities to assist in the various steps of growing, preparing, packaging, and distributing wholesome, certified organic products to two dozen health food stores, pet businesses, and other locations throughout the area. Profits from this venture help supplement gaps in federal and state funding programs.

Jim Douglas, division director, said, “Individuals who work here are associate employees, and each one of them takes an important part in everything that happens here... from seed to sale. The making of the soil, the filling of the pots, the planting of the plants, the maintenance, watering, care, and love that the plants receive and also the delivery. The work they do here changes who they are, and it changes their label. They are no longer people with disabilities; they are ‘Sally, the greenhouse worker’ or ‘Jim the delivery man.’ We grow about 150 flats of wheatgrass per week and deliver twice a week to 26 locations. We’ve also developed wheatgrass for pets and sell about 200 pots a month to local vets and pet stores. Work is something that society puts great importance on, and with these jobs, our employees are contributing and are automatically accepted as part of the community.

“Nowadays, a lot of people are concerned about the environment and living healthier lives. Everything we grow here is local, it’s organic (no pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers), and it’s sustainable.
Among other things, we’re growing a mix of six or seven varieties of organic lettuce.
Our biggest customers are Intel and local restaurants like Casa Vieja and Village Pizza. We reuse and recycle everything, and we even run our greenhouses on solar power.”

Development Director Michele Cody believes none of the work done at La Paloma or ARCA Organics could be done without the community. “At any given time, you can come out and find community members, kids, staff, friends and neighbors, and business leadership teams planting, weeding, harvesting, and just doing whatever needs doing. There’s such a mix of diverse groups and interests who are having fun and working together to open doors for people with developmental disabilities. The thing that is so magical about all of this is that even though we ask so much from our volunteers and community partners like Intel, Victoria’s Secret, Hewlett-Packard, the Vietnam Veterans, and Job Corps, we invariably receive more. When I thank someone, almost every time, they say ‘No, thank YOU. The people we serve, the people who buy our plants and produce, and the people who support what we do all take care of one another. It’s like a circle of love.”

ARCA is New Mexico’s largest nonprofit organization, providing residential services and meaningful employment and recreational opportunities to over 600 children and adults with developmental disabilities. All of its community-based services, such as supported and independent living, foster care, the health and wellness and meaningful employment programs, and the literacy project, are funded through various resources, including Medicaid Waiver, ICF/MR foundations, corporations, and private donors, as well as plant and organic product sales.

Talking about some of the special public events at the Corrales greenhouse, Michele said, “On April 30, we had our annual geranium sale. It was like having everybody over to the house. There was food and snacks, at least 700 geraniums and spring baskets, and lots of people came out to mingle with the community, see old friends, and just hang out. On June 4, we’re holding our Third Annual Bob Scanlon/Steve Mackie Bowl-a-Thon at Tenpins and More in Rio Rancho, and on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, we’ll have another get-together like the one we had in the spring. During the rest of the year, the public is invited to come out on weekdays and purchase in-season produce like lettuce, tomatoes, garlic, blackberries, apples, and year-round houseplants. We love it when people come visit, but they can also purchase our organics at La Montanita Coop and our holiday poinsettias at Sunflower Market.”

La Paloma Greenhouse is located at 181 East La Entrada (just north of Village Pizza on Corrales Road) and is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 am until 3:30 p.m. Call (505) 897-2184 for plant availability, or view their catalogs online at

For information about ways you can support ARCA, call Michele Cody at (505) 332-6803.


Can they do it again?

A team of 19 art students from Rio Rancho High School (RRHS) has been selected as regional semi-finalists in the Vans Custom Culture Contest, a national design competition.

This week, the public will vote to send 5 teams to the Final Event in New York City this June.

The champions will bring home $50,000 to benefit their high school's Fine Arts department. RRHS is the defending champion from last year's contest, when they won $10,000 at the Final Event in southern California.

Finalists are chosen exclusively by public vote, beginning at midnight (EST), April 26, through midnight Monday, May 2. To vote, go to and select Rio Rancho High School in the southwest region. (You can also vote for one school in each of the other regions, if you like.)

Ernie Vigil

Ernie Vigil Benavidez
(June 28, 1969—February 24, 2011)

En memoriam

—Town of Bernalillo

The Town of Bernalillo lost an important member of our family on February 24, 2011 when Ernie Vigil passed away.

For the last eight years, Ernie was a beloved Santa Claus who helped bring Christmas joy to hundreds of Bernalillo children. His jolly grin probably appears in countless holiday photo albums.

Ernie was Santa in the Town of Bernalillo Christmas Parade and for the delivery of gifts to children in Bernalillo. “He was a big, strong guy who loved playing Santa,” Mayor Jack Torres said. “He understood the spirit of Christmas and represented everything that Santa is.”

Ernie was also an integral part of running the events at Rotary Park for the Fiestas de San Lorenzo and at the New Mexico Wine Festival.



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