Kelso School District’s Nancy Baldwin has been announced as ESD 112’s Classified Employee of the Year. Baldwin serves as the McKinney Vento Homeless Liaison and Family Resource Specialist for the district.
Baldwin began her career managing adult incarcerated felons with rehabilitation and reentry into the community. She was drawn to the education field when she recognized the need for intervention at a younger age. Her intuition drove her to create a program that is now meeting the needs of 180 McKinney Vento students, Foster Care students and unaccompanied youth within the Kelso School District.
“My vision is to provide a safe space for students where they can come for support, access to the internet, job training, coursework, cooking classes, sports clinics, tutoring, laundry facilities, and even the opportunity to maintain a community garden,” explains Baldwin.
A Kelso resident her entire life and 18 years working for the district, Baldwin’s strong connection to her community is what led her to develop a support system for hungry, homeless and struggling students. Baldwin also finds it important for her students to volunteer and give back to the community center that has helped them along the way. Her inclusivity and caring spirit are what has turned out a very high success rate for students and families alike.
“Nancy Baldwin is incredibly deserving of this award. Her ability to build relationships with community members and organizations, as well as with students and families, and then match available resources to the individual needs of our families is exemplary,” said Mary Beth Tack, Kelso School District Superintendent. “Nancy’s care and compassion for the Kelso community is extraordinary, and we are honored to have her in our district.”
Baldwin has also garnered the support from national organizations and through local charitable contributions to see that the center continues to meet the needs of the community. “When I started this job, I had a few bags of donations in a closet,” said Baldwin. “Now, we have an overflowing center.”
Undocumented and insecure families have developed a trust with Baldwin and feel safe sharing their needs with her. “I believe families labeled “homeless” feel a lack of respect and are reluctant to seek help,” said Baldwin. “I wanted to develop a center where students and families can go for guidance, resources, normalcy and to connect with others in a safe space.”
Throughout the past year Baldwin was an integral part in maintaining food securities for families challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic. She was heard saying, “If hunger is knocking at your door, I’ll be there to answer it with you!”
Baldwin’s passion for serving is seen not only by her students and community, but also her colleagues. “Nancy plays a key role in caring for a diverse and complex population of students that are housing unstable,” said Don Iverson, Director of Student Services for the Kelso School District. “For these students and families, she may serve as their liaison, but she also serves as their counselor, confidant, graduation specialist and community service provider as well as their inspiration,” he added.
Baldwin has created a welcoming environment through her program and center. “At the end of every week, we acknowledge the things we may have lost and celebrate those things we have gained in a community that has wrapped its arms around us,” she said. “We draw from Kelso’s support.”
Baldwin is one of approximately nine regional finalists, one from each ESD, for the State Classified Teacher of the Year Award. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has set a tentative date of Monday, September 13, 2021, to announce the state winner. Please visit the OSPI website for additional information.