Mike Powers | News-Bulletin photo

Gwen Mosimann, the McKinney-Vento liaison for Belen Consolidated Schools, says the best outcome would be that she wouldn’t have a job anymore because all students would have homes.

School is difficult enough, so imagine trying to learn your A-B-C’s or the Bill of Rights when you are homeless. That is a sad truth that school districts are trying to tackle.

Leading the effort to help find solutions for Belen Consolidated Schools is Gwen Mosimann, the first-year McKinney-Vento liaison for the district. Her directive is clear but daunting — find housing for homeless students and their families.

“My job is to identify any families who are experiencing homelessness in any form,” Mosimann said. “Whether it is living in a camper, an RV, a shelter or their car or as simple as living with family because they have no home of their own. “

McKinney-Vento is a federal program to help the population that is without housing. All school districts fall under the law and are tasked with aiding students “who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.”

Mosimann was selected as an Unsung Hero because of her efforts. Before taking over as liaison, Mosimann spent six years teaching sixth grade at Central Elementary School in Belen.

Val Gauthier, the director of federal programs for Belen Consolidated Schools says Mosimann’s background as a teacher is a positive because of how she relates to students.

“She’s very versed at connecting with students, building those relationships,” Gauthier said. “They have to trust you, especially the older students.”

Mosimann was nominated by her husband, Michael, who has seen those relationships first-hand.

“She has students who trust her enough to email her daily with updates because they will get an adult response from someone who truly cares,” Michael said.

Gauthier says Mosimann has experience analyzing data and the ability to work with outside agencies.

“All of it is really about making connections with different organizations and that was a skill we were looking for along with getting to the root cause of why families are struggling and overcoming those barriers,” Gauthier said.

Mosimann’s new calling is part of a team effort to assist families by finding “resources in the community or state to try to get them whatever they might need,” Mosimann explains.

Those resources include the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, the Roadrunner Food Bank, Youth Development Incorporated and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

New Life Fellowship Church has also been a big help according to Mosimann, “giving us food bags every week that we have been handing to our families in need. That has been absolutely amazing. We send them home for the weekend.”

Ever do school work on an empty stomach?

“Exactly. Those basic needs have to come first and that’s what we’re trying to do, get those basic things covered,” she said

Mosimann also oversees a store room with hygiene and school supplies along with some clothes for students who need them.

The most pressing need?

“Housing. It’s always housing,” according to Mosimann. “The hardest thing to find right now is affordable housing. I have a whole list of low-income apartments,” but very few units are available.

The district effort in Belen includes referrals from teachers, counselors, administration and the attendance team. There is also a Youth Development specialist.

The process often starts with information that parents fill out at the beginning of the school year that details the student’s housing situation.

More than 100 kindergarten through 12th grade students enrolled in Belen Consolidated Schools are currently receiving services under McKinney-Vento.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, New Mexico had nearly 12,000 homeless public school students in 2019-20. Los Lunas Schools report 172 students are currently being served by McKinney-Vento across the district.

It wouldn’t be surprising if those numbers were actually higher.

“I have a lot of people I reach out to who say, ‘I don’t need your help.’ A lot of people that are very shy about asking for help,” Mosimann shares. “It is kind of an embarrassing situation to be in. I get it, but all I want to do is help. I’m not judging anybody. I just want to help. “

Mosimann, who was born in Edgewood and lives in Los Lunas, admits she didn’t understand when she was hired everything that being a liaison entailed.

“There’s a lot there. There’s a lot there,” she repeated. “They can tell you what the job is but actually getting your feet wet and getting in there and doing the job is a very different beast.”

But it is immensely gratifying.

“These kids are just amazing,” she says. “They come to school, they do their work, they go to class. Our kids are great.”

However, Mosimann says the position is a roller-coaster ride.

“It’s such a good feeling when I’m able to help somebody. I really love that,” she said. “Then I’ve had some days where I’ve just gone home and cried on my husband’s shoulder because people are in such a bad situation and there’s so little I can do about it.”

As for the future, Mosimann will continue to work hard for the students in the district, and hopefully help as many as she can.

“My greatest goal would be to work myself out of a job, where everybody has a home and there’s no need for me anymore,” Mosimann said.

Contact the McKinney-Vento liaison in your local school district for more information.

Unsung Hero: Jessica Chavez

Chavez has been teaching at La Promesa, part of Belen Consolidated Schools, since it opened 22 years ago. She has taught kindergarten through fourth grade.

Unsung Heroes: Jocelyn and Chris Padilla Hunter

For the past 10 years, Jocelyn “Joshie” and Chris Padilla Hunter have been active in the 4-H community throughout Valencia County, not only going above and beyond for her own children, but also other youth involved in their club.

Unsung Hero: Gary Jacobson

A lot of local businesses will generously help support youth organizations and athletic teams, but not many will invite hundreds of teenagers to an after-hour event.

Gary Jacobson, the manager at Mitchell Starlight Cinema in Los Lunas, does just that every prom season for all students in Valencia County.

Unsung Heroes: The Keller Family

Since 1999, the Keller family — Mary Ann, Ron, Richard and Eddie — have hosted the Bosque Farms Car Show during the village’s annual community fair. Originally billed as the “Just For Fun” Car Show, the event started when Mary Ann was on the fair board.

Unsung Hero: Clair Toledo

Toledo became principal of Los Lunas Opportunity Schools in December 2021 to lead the merger between Century High School and the Los Lunas Digital Academy. She said while the merge is an ongoing process, this will be the first year they graduate in a single ceremony, albeit with different gowns.

History of Valencia County News-Bulletin Citizens of the Year and Unsung Heroes

Since 1995, the Valencia County News-Bulletin has been recognizing a Citizen of the Year and Unsung Heroes each year.

Citizen of the Year: Holly Noelle Chavez

“She’s selfless … through blood, sweat and tears, and focus on what is best for the most vulnerable in the community, she does a thankless job, but she wakes up every day and does it.”

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.