Meet Marie Morra, Community Outreach Virtuoso

marie employee profileWhether you call it outreach, marketing, or public service, the result is the same: individuals or groups learn about a product or service, and when they try it they find that it improves their lives. Service is probably the key word, and Marie Morra, marketing specialist for the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, learned about service as a youngster in Clayton.

“I was one of seven children, but our dad passed away at 41,” she says. “My mother was 38. They owned a dry-cleaning business, and we all worked at the dry-cleaners.”

A Gift to Herself

Morra left home to attend the University of New Mexico, studying recreation and sociology, and she calls her education “a gift I gave myself.”

That gift provided her a first career in marketing for the City of Albuquerque, from which she retired. She started with Rio Metro 10 years ago, and her dedication to serving people has not wavered.

Among the highlights of the last 10 years was meeting a guy named Danny, who lives in Los Lunas and works in Los Alamos.

“He rides his bike to the Los Lunas Station, and takes the Rail Runner to the 599 Station outside of Santa Fe. There he catches the bus to Los Alamos,” she says. “On the train he can relax, work on his computer, or watch television.

“He figures that he saves $564 a month by using public transportation rather than buying gas, putting miles on his car, and paying higher insurance premiums. I asked him what he intends to do with the money, and he said he has a daughter who golfs and he is going to send her to the best school for golf that he can find.”

Morra also knows a family from Rio Rancho whose parents live in Santo Domingo Pueblo. The family regularly rides the Rail Runner to the pueblo to care for their horses and gardens, and spend time with their family.

The Programs

Teaching people how to use the New Mexico Rail Runner Express is a big part of Morra’s job, and she has helped develop several programs with that intention.

“We have a program called ‘The Smart Business Partnership,’” she says. “We go to major employers and talk to them about getting their employees to give the train a try one or two times a week.” Employers are encouraged to promote the use of various forms of alternative transportation among their employees, including taking the train, the bus, carpooling, and even using bicycles. Even if the employees don’t become regular rail or bus passengers, we hope that they will tell their family, friends and neighbors about their transportation experiences, and word-of-mouth is great marketing.

A program that blends Albuquerque’s seniors with seniors from nearby pueblos also has been successful. “I woke up one morning at 2 and told myself, ‘I am going to teach our seniors how to use the train,’” she says. That wake-up-call resulted in the Senior Exchange Program, with a much-needed cultural exchange.

“Seniors are still doing this on weekends,” Morra says. “Seniors from Barelas Community Center ride up to Cochiti Pueblo on the Rail Runner with a connecting bus. They do arts and crafts, share meals, and play games.”

At a conference in Florida, Morra learned that other public transportation programs around the nation offered veterans free passes. When she returned to Albuquerque she talked to a grant writer about it, the grant writer determined that the Rail Runner qualified for public funding. Today there are thousands of veterans riding the Rail Runner and connecting buses from Taos to Socorro.

“I love getting up in the morning,” she says. “My greatest passion is helping people use the Rail Runner.”

Morra’s dedication makes it clear that her education was not only a gift to herself, but also a gift to the citizens of New Mexico. And let’s hope that other kids working at dry-cleaners across the state take to heart what it means to provide service, just like Marie Morra.

Story By: Martin Frentzel

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