Polly Raye

Busi­ness­woman, com­mu­nity visionary, youth ad­vo­cate Polly Raye

Tradiciones Heroes - - Contents - by bar­bara scott

Raye grew up near Bos­ton and had an early ca­reer as a stock­bro­ker and fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst in New York. When she found her­self un­ex­pect­edly di­vorced, with three young chil­dren to sup­port, she knew she could re­sume her ca­reer. Do­ing so, how­ever, meant less time with her chil­dren, and she wanted to do some­thing that felt more mean­ing­ful. She took a year off to think about her val­ues and how to build a rel­e­vant life. Polly bought a used 1974 Chevy van, equipped to travel and live in with her chil­dren (and their books). This was not a strange choice for a woman who had ma­jored in reli­gion in col­lege and writ­ten her the­sis on “The Mean­ing of Life.”

The com­mune move­ment was strong in the mid-1970s, and Raye had the idea that life in a spir­i­tual com­mune might be a good fit for her fam­ily. Hav­ing read “Com­munes USA,” she set out to see if she could find one that felt right; in the East, they hadn’t. As De­cem­ber grew cold, they crossed into Mex­ico and trav­eled down its east coast, where they met friendly fam­i­lies liv­ing in one-room, grass­roofed, mud-floored pala­pas with one bed for the whole fam­ily, a hearth in the cor­ner for cook­ing and chick­ens in the rafters. These gen­er­ous peo­ple changed her world view. She thought about a spir­i­tual teacher who had said, “There are two ways to be rich: One is to have a lot, and the other is to not want much.”

The fam­ily spent the rest of that win­ter in Gu­atemala then trav­eled up the west coast of Mex­ico back into the United States, still search­ing for the right com­mune. Even­tu­ally, they dis­cov­ered the Lama Foun­da­tion in San Cristóbal. It felt “right,” with 14 chil­dren go­ing to school in town ev­ery day, daily med­i­ta­tion and de­ci­sions by con­sen­sus.

Polly Raye de­scribes her­self as a se­rial en­tre­pre­neur. Over her 43 years in Taos, she founded or co-founded five busi­nesses, in­clud­ing three non­prof­its, and worked with hun­dreds of peo­ple she de­scribes as “amaz­ing.”

Af­ter four years of sim­ple off-the-grid liv­ing,

trans­porta­tion to af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties be­came chal­leng­ing for Raye’s pre­teen chil­dren. She moved the fam­ily to a for­mer church in the cen­ter of town, where she still lives to­day.

Raye started a med­i­ta­tion group around her adobe fire­place and soon learned that all 10 mem­bers, her­self in­cluded, were un­em­ployed or un­der­em­ployed strug­gling to sup­port their fam­i­lies with part-time, min­i­mum-wage jobs. They all wanted to prac­tice the Bud­dhist path of Right Liveli­hood, so they de­cided to open a restau­rant with healthy or­ganic food, plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for “ser­vice” and the pos­si­bil­ity of lots of jobs. The name Ap­ple Tree came to her in a dream and also hon­ored the old ap­ple tree at the cen­ter of the pa­tio.

For many years at their weekly meet­ings, the staff ex­plored what Right Liveli­hood meant. Ev­ery­one contributed recipes and cre­ated the menu to­gether. Wages were equal, jobs were shared and all the com­post went to the chick­ens.

When mak­ing de­ci­sions, some­one usu­ally said, “Well, if this were a REAL restau­rant…” Over the years, new staff came and Raye told them, “What we serve is love, dis­guised as food.”

Raye cred­its the suc­cess of the restau­rant to the phe­nom­e­nal peo­ple who worked there, some of whom later moved on to open their own restau­rants. In 1979, Raye started the Down­town Mer­chants As­so­ci­a­tion which, around 2000, mor­phed into The Taos Project. With roughly 30 ac­tive mer­chant mem­bers, the group worked closely with the town govern­ment to im­prove the down­town. Dur­ing her 10 Ap­ple Tree years, Raye also served on the boards of both the Taos Cham­ber and Taos Main­street.

Raye sold the Ap­ple Tree to her em­ployee Ginny Greeno who, Raye said, made it even bet­ter. In over 30 years, the Ap­ple Tree em­ployed hun­dreds of peo­ple. It was the first job for a whole gen­er­a­tion of Taos teenagers, many of whom Raye now sees in town with their chil­dren or grand­chil­dren.

As she was think­ing about what to do next, Raye was at a so­cial event with Judge Joe Cald­well when he told her about a Taos girl he had sent to a group home in Al­bu­querque. While run­ning away from the home to get back to Taos, she had been raped, beaten and left for dead. The girl was ly­ing in a hospi­tal in Es­pañola.

Cald­well said, “We need a group home for girls in Taos.” Raye de­cided to build one.

She vis­ited teen fa­cil­i­ties all over the state, worked with the Chil­dren Youth and Fam­i­lies Depart­ment, wrote a grant for ini­tial fund­ing, met with the gover­nor when she needed a bit more and in­vited ev­ery­one in­ter­ested in the project to a se­ries of lunches to spread the word and share ideas.

Polly Raye poses for a por­trait by the gar­dens scat­tered through­out the John Dunn House Shops. Since Raye bought the prop­erty in 1982, she has spear­headed ef­forts to make the prop­erty more beau­ti­ful, fos­ter­ing com­mu­nity and help­ing busi­nesses thrive. Mor­gan Timms

The orig­i­nal 10-mem­ber board co­a­lesced from those lunches. Linda Hill do­nated 5 acres.

Raye hired an ar­chi­tect and a builder who do­nated most of their ser­vices as did many Taos sub­con­trac­tors and sup­pli­ers. More than 500 Taoseños do­nated money or goods to build the home.

Casa de Co­ra­zon opened in 1990. Over the eight years Raye worked there, it ex­panded to in­clude a school and out­pa­tient ser­vices to fam­i­lies. Dur­ing those years, Raye was also a li­censed fos­ter par­ent, mostly car­ing for teenage girls wait­ing for a space in the home.

In 1988, Raye re­ceived a visit from Kristina Wil­son, Liese Frank and Carol Har­ring­ton, who wanted her to help them form a land trust. Har­ring­ton’s fa­ther had re­cently passed away, leav­ing a beau­ti­ful meadow in El Prado. With a land trust she could pre­serve the land as open space and wouldn’t have to sell it to pay es­tate taxes. To­gether they formed the Taos Land Trust and served on the board for sev­eral years.

It was too late to save Har­ring­ton’s land, but since that time the Land Trust has helped Taos landown­ers cre­ate vol­un­tary con­ser­va­tion ease­ments that per­ma­nently pro­tect over 25,000 acres of fam­ily lands, usu­ally sav­ing fam­i­lies sig­nif­i­cant taxes in the process.

HEART ad­vi­sory board mem­ber Polly Raye stands in­side the Casa de Co­ra­zon home that is be­ing ren­o­vated to be­come a tran­si­tional liv­ing space for home­less women and chil­dren. Mor­gan Timms

While they were work­ing to­gether at Casa de Co­ra­zon, vol­un­teer ac­coun­tant Fred Win­ter asked Raye to help him start a com­mu­nity foun­da­tion. Win­ter had clients who were mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant gifts of land and money to out-of-town char­i­ties be­cause there was no or­ga­ni­za­tion in Taos ca­pa­ble of ac­cept­ing those do­na­tions or hold­ing an en­dow­ment. Raye dis­cov­ered a trove of re­sources at the Na­tional Coun­cil on Foun­da­tions. But she found lit­tle lo­cal un­der­stand­ing of com­mu­nity foun­da­tions, and in fact, some non­prof­its feared that a com­mu­nity foun­da­tion would re­duce do­na­tions to their causes. It was clear that the first step in Taos was to ed­u­cate both the non­prof­its and the pub­lic about com­mu­nity foun­da­tions.

Edy An­der­son, Les­lie Hale, Carolyn Had­dock, Mar­cus Whit­son and Mari Ulmer joined Win­ter and Raye on the orig­i­nal “or­ga­niz­ing board.” To­day, TCF has an en­dow­ment of more than $10 mil­lion, over­sees grants and do­na­tions of some $800,000 a year and, equally im­por­tant, of­fers train­ing and ex­per­tise to keep Taos’ 200-some non­prof­its strong.

Raye con­sid­ers the three non­prof­its her most valu­able busi­ness ven­tures. But the one she is best known for, in ad­di­tion to the Ap­ple Tree, is the John Dunn Shops. For years, the Plaza was the cen­ter of town, and a rick­ety board­walk past John Dunn’s house con­nected the Plaza to Bent Street. In the 1970s, Har­vey Mudd pur­chased Dunn’s home and di­vided it into seven small shops for his friends from the New Buf­falo Com­mune. Dunn’s stable be­came the pop­u­lar Joe’s Restau­rant.

When Mudd moved to Cal­i­for­nia in 1982, he asked Raye to buy the prop­erty. She didn’t have any money to in­vest, so he lent her the down payment and she se­cured a mort­gage at the bank. Polly’s

in­ter­est was in mak­ing the prop­erty beau­ti­ful, sup­port­ing a sense of com­mu­nity and help­ing the busi­nesses thrive.

In 1983, Joe’s Restau­rant burned down. With some open space avail­able, the town asked Raye to cre­ate a safe walk­way to the Plaza for its em­ploy­ees, who were all on Ar­mory Street (now Civic Plaza Drive). Raye worked with the town to de­sign a long-term land-use plan and, with the in­sur­ance money as down payment, went back to the bank, cre­ated the walk­way and built seven shops on the foot­print of Dunn’s old stable.

The John Dunn House Shops grew from there. Most of the shops now have sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion own­ers. Few have gone out of busi­ness.

When Raye was told she’d been se­lected as an Un­sung Hero, she was sur­prised and said, “I’m a has been,” as her last busi­ness was started 20 years ago. And she said that none had been her idea or re­ally “hers.” All had been cre­ated in re­sponse to a need, and all were suc­cess­ful only be­cause of the col­lab­o­ra­tion of many peo­ple.

These days, Raye is still sup­port­ing non­prof­its, espe­cially SOMOS; TECC (Taos Ed­u­ca­tion and Ca­reer Cen­ter); and TCEDC. She is also on the ad­vi­sory board of HEART, which is cur­rently ren­o­vat­ing the Casa de Co­ra­zon home for a tran­si­tional liv­ing space for home­less women and chil­dren.

Fifteen years ago, she mar­ried her child­hood sweet­heart, Bill Christ­mas. To­gether they have 10 grand­chil­dren, who live on both coasts. The Rayes look for­ward to spend­ing more time vis­it­ing them.

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