DEBORAH DINGWALL’S 39-YEAR-OLD SON was living at home when he began struggling with mental illness. Despite her efforts to help, she had to ask him to leave when he became aggressive. Suddenly homeless, he heard from others about H2 Academic Solutions in Belén, where founders Holly Chavez and her daughter Noelle handed him a lifeline.
“We fed and clothed him,” Noelle says. “We transported him to the West Side Emergency Housing Center in Albuquerque.” With the help of case manager Jenna Rael, they made weekly visits with groceries, drove him to his health appointments, and even stored his belongings at the office. “He was the first adult at H2 who needed that level of intensive services,” she adds.
Established in 2016 as a student tutoring center, H2 Academic Solutions expanded to serve Valencia County with youth programs in restorative justice, resource assessment, and life skills. A scholarship fund helps students pay for tutoring, and a teen center is in the works. Last July, after assisting Dingwall’s son, the organization expanded again to help adults through its Adult Resource Assessment Center.
No matter who walks through the door, Holly, Noelle, and their 30 employees attempt to provide what they need, including food, clothing, sleeping bags, and other essentials. “We make appointments for people for behavioral health and physical health services,” says Noelle. “We even drive them to the appointments.”
H2 serves mostly at-risk youth who have been referred for absenteeism, mental health problems, violence, or other issues. “We do an assessment that identifies the risk areas, then we try to connect them with resources,” says Holly.
Last year, H2 assisted 1,000 kids in Valencia County, but the need is only increasing. Before the pandemic, between 15 and 20 percent of youth were referred with thoughts of self-harm. “Now we’re closer to 40 percent,” Noelle says. “Our youth issues have escalated and, at some point, something’s got to give.”
Both mother and daughter have felt the firsthand impact of the kinds of services H2 offers. “I had a child who expressed suicidal ideation in middle school,” Holly recalls. A specialist visited their house and determined there was no immediate risk, but the response left an impression. “I don’t know what I, as a parent, would have been able to do without that assistance,” she says. “Making sure this is available to parents is important.”
While living in Michigan and working two jobs, Noelle and her daughters became homeless. “That experience makes it easier to help others,” says Noelle, who has a master’s degree in psychology and is trained to deal with mental illness.
Making an impact has been a way of life for Noelle and her four siblings. The family moved often because their father, John Chavez, was in the military. (He’s now a judge on the Valencia County Magistrate Court.) “That gave us the mindset that you have a very short time in your community, and if you wanted to have friends or know what was going on, you had to get involved,” Holly says.
That involvement has made a big impact in Valencia County, especially for Dingwall and her son. “They helped me a great deal with my anxiety because I knew that someone was watching over him,” Dingwall says. “They really took him under their wing.”