Lots of people want to help homeless, hungry and hurting kids in Taos, but they don’t know where to start. That’s where Florence Miera steps in. Because of her unstinting effort on behalf of Taos youth and families, she was chosen by this year’s Taos News focus group to be one of 2020’s Unsung Heroes.
“What?” Miera said over the phone when informed of the honor. “That’s so great. But there are so many other people doing good things.
Florence Miera, is a licensed clinical social worker in Taos, an adjunct professor at University of New Mexico-Taos, social worker and homeless liaison for Taos Municipal Schools and a clinical therapist for special education youth.
“She’s just amazing,” says Jill Cline, St. James Episcopal youth minister, about Miera. Cline was selected as a 2018 Unsung Hero and is thrilled that Miera is being honored. “The heart she has and everything she does for the community is just awesome. Whenever I’m around her she always has a smile on her face, even with all the time and effort she takes to turn things around. She works with the homeless. At Christmas she’s feeding the kids, getting Christmas presents; also helping kids being raised by grandparents. What she does goes a thousand times above and beyond any expectation of any ‘job’ she has.”
Miera assists with behavioral health programs throughout the county. In her role with Taos schools she is on campus at every school in town once per week. As a result of all this, she is able to keep a pulse on what is going on in the community with regard to kids and families.
“She has connections to a multitude of resources and people,” Cline said, adding as an example,“When a great grandmother ends up all of a sudden having one or sometimes even several grandchildren to care for, Florence is able to connect with various locations to help them get clothes, food, sleeping supplies, etc. She is out in the evenings and on weekends, on her own time, helping people in need find the bare basics to simply survive.”
Cline said Miera works with the state (Children, Youth and Families Department of New Mexico), but also for people with no state support as well, “driving around house to house, doing so much that’s not part of her job. She has connections to unknowns in the community, helping homeless students navigate what they might qualify for in 504 or IEP (Individual Education Plan), for kids experiencing some special needs, either in physical or learning situations.”
“It’s all about empowering innocent children,” Miera said, noting the rewards are many. “They’re anywhere from pre-K through high school and in their eyes there’s a light that sparkles through when they know you care. Oh, it’s pretty amazing.”
She does crisis intervention, said Marilyn Farrow, a nominating committee member. Whether suicidal or even homicidal, she assesses them.
“That’s often when their hearts open and they tell you their stories,” Miera explained further. “Like one kid, with one foot over the bridge, literally; then got into a program, doing deep work. When you see them graduate and they go, ‘I’m graduating!’ Yes. This work is rewarding.”
Miera has two daughters, Santana and Destiny, three grandchildren, Darian,15, Giovanni, 9, and Zianni, 9 months. She made sure her daughters had higher education – she worked five jobs for years to get them through college, because she said getting her undergraduate degree turned her own life around, ultimately leading her to get a Master’s of community organizing at Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
She said incredible grief and loss led her to what she does now. Her father Ruben Miera, also a social worker, died in a car crash when he was 27 years old and she was 19 months old, at the same time her mother, Edna Martínez Miera, was pregnant with her little sister. Florence was 18 and 19 years old when her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer from which she died two years later, sending Miera into “a tailspin, into the unknown,” she said, as she and four siblings suddenly had “to become young adults.”
Death continued to loom large in her life. The same year her 33-year-old sister died of cancer, her nephew was murdered at a gas station in Ranchos de Taos, and her niece was run over by her niece’s boyfriend. Three of her mother’s siblings also died of cancer.
“I have had to start over a couple of times in my life,” Miera said. “I have hit rock bottom before. I totally understand hardship and loss in many areas of life. There was a time in my life after my divorce that I lost my home. My daughters and I had to move in with my younger sister. During this time she was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Starting over yet again since the pandemic, with the rest of the world, means state-mandated pandemic restrictions complicate things for doing in-person and virtual visits, and telephone care for students.
“All of it is hard,” she said. “Most of the students I serve have difficulty getting online. Some of them struggle with a permanent place to live. They move from home to home or place to place. Many of them live with grandparents who do not know or understand technology. They do not want to use it. Mental health issues create fear that others are invading their space using technology. Some believe that the virus is entering because of internet 5G.
“I use Zoom. I canvas, email, text and phone calls to support my students during COVID. I also visit homes and take food and supplies: tissue, hand sanitizer, hygiene items donated by community members: Valle Escondido golf community – food, hygiene and more; Taos Mountain Outfitters and Larry Adams – help with coats, shoes, sleeping bags, tents for couch surfers; St. James – food, food and more food support; and many, many more generous donors.”
Florence Miera remembers where she came from and that makes all the difference she says.
“In the past I wasn’t the best kid. When I think of middle school – the hormones; there’s acting out. We’re changing in middle school. And when you’re rebellious, like I was – I would walk right out of class in middle school! So I get it. These kids think I have no idea – Um, yes, I do.
“I couldn’t do this alone,” Miera said. “I DO do amazing work, but the sad thing is, I’ve been through it all, the people I love have experienced it all. I’m more effective because I’m so used to it all.”
“She’s an absolute gift to this community,” Cline said.