Championing Youth, Families, and Community Growth through La Fonda Foundation

Armando and Marisol two boys on the stairs

Courtesy photo: The children of Armando and Marisol are receiving support from La Fonda Foundation to plan for their education and create a path to success.

La Fonda on the Plaza’s Commitment to Community

By Leticia Bernal

La Fonda on the Plaza, a historic hotel in Santa Fe, is not just a landmark of hospitality but also a beacon of community support and empowerment. Recognizing the critical role of economic stability and career advancement for its employees and the local community, the ownership of La Fonda on the Plaza took a transformative step in early 2023 by launching La Fonda Foundation. This foundation is dedicated to promoting upward economic mobility, improving living standards, and driving systemic change, specifically focusing on the hourly wage workers in New Mexico’s hospitality industry.

La Fonda Foundation was conceived with a mission to address the economic and social challenges faced by hourly wage workers of the hospitality industry. The foundation aims to create a lasting, positive impact by collaborating with local philanthropic organizations, implementing innovative strategies, and offering complimentary services to foster meaningful change. Initially targeting the employees of La Fonda on the Plaza, the foundation envisions extending its successful initiatives to benefit the broader hospitality industry of Northern New Mexico.


The foundation is guided by three core values.

Data-Driven Decisions: The foundation relies on data rather than sentiment to guide its initiatives and measure success. This ensures that the programs are effective and meet the real needs of the community.

Collaborative Efforts: La Fonda Foundation leverages the work of community partners, focusing on the impact rather than seeking credit or publicity. This approach fosters stronger collaborations and maximizes resources.

Entrepreneurial Spirit: Embracing an entrepreneurial mindset, the foundation is willing to take calculated risks to discover new opportunities and drive change, understanding that innovation often comes from stepping outside the comfort zone.

Family all holding hands

Courtesy photo: La Fonda on the Plaza recognizes that its employees are the bedrock of its success. La Fonda Foundation was created to support hourly wage earners of the hospitality industry by driving positive social change.

La Fonda Foundation offers a range of programs and services designed to support the employees of La Fonda on the Plaza to begin with and then to extend support to all hourly wage earners of the hospitality industry of Northern New Mexico. These initiatives aim to increase upward economic mobility by providing educational opportunities and connecting individuals with essential resources.

Recognizing the language barriers that many employees face, La Fonda Foundation offers English as a Second Language classes onsite at the hotel. Led by a certified tutor from Literacy Volunteers, these classes are available on a drop-in basis every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 3:30 to 4:30 P.M. Employees receive their hourly wage while attending these classes, ensuring that financial constraints do not hinder their participation. This program helps employees improve their English proficiency, which is crucial for career advancement and personal growth. By strengthening existing skills or building new ones, exposure to the English language will empower employees within the roles and, hopefully, will allow employees to utilize their skills when interacting with their families, exposing the next generation to spoken English.

In partnership with the Santa Fe Public Library, the Foundation provides employees with the opportunity to earn a high school diploma through a 100 percent online program. The tuition for this program is $1,500 per student, but through this partnership, it is offered free of charge to La Fonda employees. The program is self-paced and can be completed via computer or smartphone, making it accessible and convenient. Additionally, each student is paired with a counselor who provides ongoing support to ensure their success and completion of the program. This program’s flexibility makes it more appealing to the busy and often unconventional schedules common in the hospitality industry and of busy families known to juggle child and household responsibilities.

La Fonda Foundation facilitates regular visits from community partners to meet with employees in the workplace. These sessions, held in the employee cafeteria during work hours, allow staff to learn about and access numerous services and resources. One key partner is Homewise, an organization that offers homebuyer education, financial coaching, real estate services, and mortgage lending. By eliminating barriers to access, this initiative helps employees pursue homeownership and other personal goals. Since January 1, 2024, Homewise has supported two La Fonda on the Plaza households with the purchase of new homes through the program, and there are twelve additional families at the preliminary stages of the home buying process.

Family in front of La Fonda having fun

Courtesy photo: La Fonda Foundation is working closely with this family of four to create a path of endless career opportunities, educational success, home buyer dreams, and general economic mobility.

Beyond specific programs, La Fonda Foundation provides comprehensive support to employees, helping them navigate challenges related to housing, food, healthcare, transportation, and childcare, among other critical areas. The Foundation assists with phone calls, accompanies employees to meetings, finds solutions, and acts as their advocate, ensuring they have the resources needed to overcome obstacles and improve their quality of life. The Foundation has supported two rising middle schoolers—children of La Fonda staff members—through the application and financial aid processes to attend private schools in Santa Fe. To date, both students have been accepted into the schools of their choice. One will be attending on a full ride scholarship for the next six years and the other’s financial assistance is still being assessed.

In collaboration with Apple, Santa Fe Public Schools, and Santa Fe Community College, La Fonda Foundation is helping to facilitate the launch of the Santa Fe Creative Coding Initiative. This community partnership provides challenge-based learning opportunities in the digital creativity and coding fields to learners and educators throughout Santa Fe, providing not only educational opportunities, but real-world experience. Two high students will participate in this internship this summer. This experience not only enhances the students’ resumes but also exposes them to technology-based careers, inspiring the next generation of innovators in the hospitality sector.

Since its inception, the La Fonda Foundation has made remarkable strides in improving the lives of its employees and the broader community. The programs and services provided have been instrumental in enhancing the skills and education of the participants, which in turn has improved their job performance and opened new career opportunities. Employees who have participated in the ESL classes have reported better communication skills, leading to improved interactions with guests and colleagues.

Armando and Marisol holding hands and walking through La Fonda

Courtesy photo: Armando and Marisol are both part of the La Fonda on the Plaza’s family. Armando’s parents also worked at the downtown hotel, making him a second-generation employee.

While the initial focus of La Fonda Foundation is on the employees of La Fonda on the Plaza, the goal is to extend its successful programs and initiatives to benefit the wider hospitality industry in Northern New Mexico. By sharing best practices and collaborating with other organizations, the Foundation aims to create a ripple effect, driving systemic change and improving the lives of hourly wage workers and their families throughout the state.

As the Foundation grows and expands its reach, it will become a model for other organizations seeking to positively impact their communities. Through data-driven decisions, collaborative efforts, and an entrepreneurial spirit, La Fonda Foundation is paving the way for a brighter future for New Mexico’s hospitality industry and beyond.

By nurturing the potential of its employees and investing in their future, La Fonda on the Plaza is not only enhancing its own operations but also contributing to the overall well-being of the community. La Fonda Foundation stands as a testament to what can be achieved when businesses take an active role in supporting their workforce and driving positive social change. As more organizations look to La Fonda’s example, the ripple effects of such initiatives will continue to grow, creating a more equitable and prosperous society for all.

For more information, contact Leticia Bernal, executive director of La Fonda Foundation, at

Leticia Bernal is La Fonda Foundation’s executive director. She is a former restaurant owner and entrepreneur, employing hourly wage earners in New Mexico. Additionally she has more than ten years of nonprofit leadership experience. She is passionate about making New Mexico a place where families can thrive, including her three children.


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