NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – They are some of the most vulnerable students in our state – homeless teenagers. One organization wants to make sure they have the funding to succeed, and they have support from one of the state’s national laboratories.

“This is one of the most important things we can do for families is to just give them cash,” said New Mexico Appleseed founder, Jennifer Ramo.

For the 2020-2021 school year, high school students facing homelessness in Cuba and West Las Vegas got $500 a month from New Mexico Appleseed, a non-profit fighting poverty.

“Teachers and educators are all basically at war with poverty and they’re losing. If we really want our kids to have a chance, we have to make sure that they have everything they need and all the support to thrive,” said Ramo.

Thanks to funding from Los Alamos National Labs Foundation (LANL), which gives out education grants, 53 students in the two districts received the money.

“I think it’s been proven that it works. It really helps kids most in need. It helps them stay in school. Helps them graduate. Helps them stay connected to their teachers,” said President of the LANL Foundation, Jenny Parks.

Each school got $40,000 to give out during the pandemic when many were struggling. The money helped buy food, clothing, and pay bills. An aunt of recipients says it provided an incentive to work hard in school.

“Coming from these small towns and not having those opportunities and resources being limited, I felt like it was a really good program for these kids,” said Jaylene Salaz.

Schools saw an improved graduation rate after the program. However, it was a pilot program.

In the next few years, Ramo wants lawmakers to help with the funding needed for the program to survive. Ramo added, “In the future, what we hope to do is have this a year-round program and go to the legislature and say, ‘look these kids don’t have a chance.'”

The money is unrestricted, meaning recipients decide what to do with it. Some fear they may be irresponsible because of this.

Ramo mentioned, “The reality is all over the world, these studies have been done and it turns out families prioritize their needs just fine.”

To receive the money, students had to attend a counseling session once a week and go to tutoring. They reported spending the money on gas, food, car repairs, and utilities. New Mexico Appleseed hopes to expand the program statewide one day.