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Communities In Schools of New Mexico Gives Hope to Families By: Kelly Pope (published July 26, 2021)

I am honored to know of and tell the remarkable pandemic story of Communities in Schools of New Mexico and how this group provided hope and resilience to countless families over the unprecedented last 18 months.

Since 2015, I have watched and admired the deep commitment Communities in Schools has to the local community. They help students through a variety of methods of support, ensuring no one falls through the cracks and that each graduates from high school.

Modeled on founder Bill Milliken’s philosophy, “It’s relationships, not programs, that change children,” Communities in Schools develops trusting relationships and personal bonds, bringing hope to many students and families struggling with issues of access to educational resources and poverty.

Communities in Schools of New Mexico was established in Santa Fe in 2012. It leverages community assets and works in collaboration with Title I schools to develop a web of support for students who may be at risk of dropping out of school due to hunger, insecure housing, violence or other trauma at home.

By deeply understanding the needs of students and families and by doing the hard work of building authentic relationships, Communities in Schools staff provide individualized, whole student/whole family support programs that empower students to stay in school, achieve confidence and attain educational success.

We have all seen and/or experienced the chaos the pandemic brought to schools and families. Amid that chaos, Communities in Schools staff did not miss a beat. It quickly doubled down to support the most vulnerable in the most impoverished communities in Santa Fe. These communities were disproportionately hit with the hardships of COVID-19, as most were already living at the margins.

Being on the front lines, Communities in Schools bore witness as needs multiplied due to the fallouts of the pandemic. It was in the perfect position to respond.

The existing relationships the organization had with students and families allowed it to immediately serve them in ways schools and teachers could not. Communities in Schools site coordinators connected directly with families and students by consistently texting, telephoning and connecting online. Even while virtual, this allowed them to quickly listen to and understand new and mounting needs.

That translated into delivering 145,000-plus meals, ensuring internet access through technical and financial aid, paying rent to keep families in their homes, motivating students to stay engaged, matching virtual tutors with students to keep them academically on track, and many times, simply providing a familiar and supportive adult voice to listen and mitigate student trauma.

The Communities in Schools team continues to work through COVID-19 and continues to have an outsize impact on those it serves. These people are beacons of hope and provide moments of joy for struggling families. Without the care and support from Communities in Schools, these families would not have known where to turn and may have fallen between the cracks and into despair.

Though Communities in Schools has made an impact on students during the coronavirus pandemic, truth be told, this has always been its work. The organization is committed to one of the hardest things in the social sector — building human capacity. It’s also deeply committed to equity and social justice. The staff is as diverse as the communities it serves, many hailing from these same neighborhoods. Before diversity, equity and inclusivity training became popular, Communities in Schools already had trained its staff in culturally appropriate language and practice, plus trauma-informed care.

It’s a team focused on the whole student, which not only includes academic supports but also robust health and well-being programs providing access to food, nutrition programs and mental health counseling.

During the pandemic, Communities in Schools did the front-line work of providing critical basic needs to students and families. In doing so, it has been a model of resilience and grit, just like the one it’s committed to developing in the students they serve.

Post-pandemic, Communities in Schools will continue to do this vital work quietly, earnestly and authentically, servings as graceful attendants for many children and families across our community. It’s a group that’s as inspiring to me as it is to so many others in the community.

Kelly Pope, formally a social entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, now resides in Santa Fe and works as a social-sector strategic adviser and community advocate

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