Kalispell, Evergreen homeless education liaison receives national recognition
Homelessness plagues many young people, including kids in the Flathead and across the nation. Homeless education liaisons were put in school districts to support them.
The liaison for Kalispell and Evergreen just received national recognition for the work she is doing.
Most of the time Nichole Heyer is helping students in need, but this week she attended the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, where she was nationally recognized as the first-ever homeless education liaison of the year.
"It was just really overwhelming. You know, this job is emotional, too, on its own," said Heyer.
For the last 4 1/2 years as homeless education liaison Heyer has identified students in need. In Kalispell and Evergreen school districts she said there are about 350 students who are recognized as homeless by federal guidelines.
Heyer works with the students and their families making sure they have breakfast and lunch, reliable transportation and more.
"The reason the homeless education liaison is so important is so that these kids truly have an advocate in the school system," Heyer told NBC Montana.
She has even taken her work a step further with the Heart Program, a nonprofit that helps homeless youth in the Flathead. It consists of four parts -- the Heart Locker is a free store for students in need of clothing, school supplies and more. The school's Heart Markets provide food. The Heart Fund helps students directly with financial needs. The newest addition is the locker learning space, which is a workspace that gives students a quiet place to do their school work and hangout.
"Part of the reason the community won this award is because of the work we are doing,” said Heyer. “Schools have to become something more. We are having to fill more needs in order for students to be able to sit in class and learn."
The program goes beyond the Flathead, recently Browning received Heart Locker donations.
"They have very few resources to draw from in their own community, so they were excited to hear that we could collaborate with them," said Heyer.
Heyer told NBC Montana the award is not just hers.
"This whole community -- they do the work, they do the giving,” Heyer said. “I just sort of organize it."
The work is all to make sure students feel valued, loved and supported in and outside the classroom.