Have you ever seen a tree grown in zero gravity? Deprived of its natural and normal surroundings? The trees will grow in peculiar shapes, often stunted and never blooming or reaching anything like their full potential. The tree did not face adverse conditions as it grew. No Pestilence; No Wind; No Winter Season; No Droughts. They are grown in a vacuum, with no outside influences or forces to help them develop. A tree, similar to us as humans needs adversity in order to be shaped properly. Perhaps adversity is part of the human condition as well and without it we’d be incomplete. And perhaps in extraordinary cases it is the very suffering and pain of adversity that leads some humans to great heights.
This is the story of Carolyn Ortega. A little girl born to a 16 year old mother, raised on welfare by a single mom in low income housing. As a teenage girl, exposed to gangs, crime and drugs. As a young woman, a person that reacted to her adversity making an attempt at the rigors of college but dropping out, getting pregnant and then marrying an abusive drug addict. Never one to give up though, she finds a way out, gets divorced and now becomes a single mom herself. Rebounding once again, she, as a twenty-six year old woman goes back to college and achieves her degree. Yet, still finding the time to care for her mother who is battling ALS “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” while working full-time and raising three school-aged children. By then, being blessed with her 2nd husband, who supported her in overcoming the adversities that were constants in her life. These events shaped her as a person and lead her to professional heights as a Social Entrepreneur.
Carolyn Ortega, a lifelong resident of New Mexico, aspired to be a secretary, but her path took a new direction when she was offered the job of bookkeeper. She began as a part-time receptionist and worked her way to bookkeeper and then Accountant. While working, Carolyn earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting from University of Phoenix. Life began to blossom both personally and professionally never wilting to its challenges.
Today, Carolyn serves as Chief Financial & Operations Officer for six companies, a Social Enterprise. Accepting the job with the Atrisco Companies eleven years ago was definitely a leap of faith. She had never been a part of a start-up company, much less in a role as a key person in an organization that was building four companies and re-creating two others. Carolyn, however, was prepared. Her earlier life experiences would give her the resilience to succeed as an adult both personally and professionally. Carolyn has more than twenty five years of high-level experience managing personnel, daily operations, financial operations, business development, capacity building and managing diverse organizations. Prior to her current role, she was auditing governmental agencies. She excels at strategic and big-picture thinking, as well as navigating the details of complicated systems. In her position at The Atrisco Companies, she has overseen the operational and financial concerns of six companies with 3 organizational structures (three 501(c)(3) organizations, one 501(c)(13), and an LLC). She has a deep understanding of the financial and operational demands, and regulations required for each business structure. In her time with The Atrisco Companies, she has helped to grow the businesses from $1 million to over $5 million in revenue and increased employees from three in the year one to a (180) person headcount today. While growing rapidly, her leadership has helped maintain a tight focus on The Atrisco Companies’ mission to support education, cultural preservation, and economic development in central New Mexico. She has been given an opportunity to combine the passion that has been a driver in her life into a career that can make a real difference in New Mexico by operating an organization with a social impact of more than 20,000 people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds through a menu of services aligned with the community needs.
Carolyn has been recognized professionally and for her philanthropic contributions to the community. KPMG awarded Carolyn with both the local and national Award for Community Volunteerism. She was acknowledged as a “Woman Pioneering the Future” by Congresswoman Heather Wilson; Civic Volunteer of the Year award from Lt. Governor Diane Denish, and Top 25 Outstanding New Mexico Woman by Governor Bill Richardson. She was recently named New Mexico Business Weekly’s “Woman of Influence” in the not-for-profit sector and was honored with the Alumni Community Service award from the University of Phoenix. She continues to partner with other not-for-profits and public and private organizations.
Carolyn is a New Mexico business woman, wife, mother, grandmother and philanthropist. She has always believed in life’s greatness even though her personal experiences were often harsh. Today, she utilizes her position in the Atrisco Companies to make a difference in the lives of our youth, women and all New Mexicans, by giving them access to opportunities that will prepare them for school, work and life. Her passion and motivation is shaped by her experiences. Her style is collaborative, understanding well, one single tree is not as strong as a forest. So, she pursues work with other like-minded and passionate community members and leaders to not only prepare our youth academically and financially, but emotionally. She has provided others guidance through the obstacles, she teaches others how to embrace every experience, be proud of where they come from and to always reach for greatness.
She knows all too well “Good timber does not grow with ease. The stronger the wind the stronger the trees.” Thomas S. Monson.