I first met Frank Lopez with Ngage New Mexico a couple of years ago over coffee. He was telling me about an ambitious project of his fairly new education advocacy group to map out how to bring early childhood education to Doña Ana County. How many kids needed it, what it would cost, how many providers would it take.

He had so much enthusiasm about the potential of the littlest residents of our county – if their parents read with them every night before they went to bed, if we could tell parents about all the resources that exist for their kids, if we could find the means and the will to pay for quality early childhood education. The studies were there to back up the fact that early childhood education could help change New Mexico’s last-in-the-nation educational outcomes.

Since then, Lopez and Ngage’s mission and ambition has only gotten bigger.

The group created the SUCCESS Partnership, which aims to bring together all the groups working on child well-being on initiatives that span from early childhood to higher education to workforce development.

 “We’re a connector agency,” Lopez told me Thursday. “Just getting them working together, it becomes a safety net so that our kids don’t fall through the cracks.

The group launched the first community school at Lynn Middle School in January, with the hope the concept will expand throughout Las Cruces Public Schools to bring access to health and social services, youth and community development and educational opportunities into neighborhoods around Las Cruces.

Then in February, they created a website and app that connects families with young children with services that can help them thrive. Parents can take a short, eight-question survey, then the site provides customized information about services in Doña Ana County for which they may qualify.

 Through its grant writing, Ngage has brought in more than $1 million for education initiatives in the county over the past couple of years.

Oh, and that early childhood development plan for Dona Ana County? We’ll, that’s done and it keeps growing, Lopez said.

One of the outgrowths of the plan was the idea for an early childhood learning hub connected to a children’s museum. With hands-on exhibits, it would be something fun and educational for kids to do. How many times have you heard people lament that there is nothing for families to do here in Las Cruces? And, while their children were having a good time in the museum, there would be a central location for parents to learn about all those resources Ngage has been touting. “There are all these possibilities available right in our community,” he said.

Lopez and Michael Radke brought the idea to the Las Cruces City Council last week. It’s still in the planning stages and it’s gonna be a huge endeavor. Members of the committee working on it have been visiting children’s museums throughout the region – Albuquerque, Tucson, Phoenix, Juarez. They’re figuring out how much it will cost to develop exhibits, shopping the idea to community leaders and working on funding.

And that’s where you and I come in. The owners of the Sun-News, Gannett Co. Inc., have launched a new grant program called A Community Thrives. They asked us to partner with a local nonprofit in a way that would make social impact in our community in either education, arts and culture, or wellness.

Ngage was the first group that came to my mind. Working together, our photographer Josh Bachman, Lopez, Radke and several of their partners put together a video application. They need everyone who would love a children’s museum in Las Cruces to go to the website and vote for their idea. There is between $50,000 and $100,000 in it for Ngage and for the children of our community.

Let’s make this happen for Las Cruces.

Sylvia Ulloa is the managing editor of the Sun-News.