Free World - September 15, 2021

Victoria Dominguez didn’t know how extreme her students’ needs were before the p…

Victoria Dominguez didn’t know how extreme her students’ needs were before the pandemic. But when schools closed and she began visiting students’ homes to check on them, she realized how many families were enduring a health crisis without electricity, water or enough food, writes Katie Reilly. “We found out that school, for the majority of our kiddos, is a safe place, whether they’re experiencing hunger or homelessness or witnessing domestic abuse,” says Dominguez, a social worker and community schools director for the Cuba independent school district, a rural, high-poverty district that mostly serves students from the Navajo reservation. “I realized that there is such a huge need for basic resources.” Dominguez, 31, started Cuba Cares in spring 2020 to meet those needs, expanding a clothing drive into a much broader effort to bring food, clothing and other supplies to families. She connected students with social-emotional resources and helped families find shelter. “We’re really just trying to help out students and families with their basic needs, so that way when it’s time for school, they can focus on school,” she says. As more students return to classrooms this fall, she’s bringing in therapy dogs and coordinating lunch groups to help them feel comfortable. And she wants Cuba Cares to be a resource long after the pandemic ends. “School is so much more than a place to learn.” Read more about the educators who saved a pandemic school year at the link in bio. Photograph by Damon Casarez (@damon_c) for TIME


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