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Rancho High School registrar goes extra length for students in need

Angela Urquiaga helps feed, clothe and look after hundreds of kids every day. They might not all be her biological children, but she treats them that way. She is the registrar at Rancho High School, 1900 E. Searles Ave., near the border with North Las Vegas, and runs the homeless student outreach program, but she said she does not distinguish between those who are homeless and those who are in need. She helps everyone she can.

Urquiaga, who has worked in the position for 13 years, said she is not only the students’ advocate, but she has walked in their shoes.

“I was in the same position with four of my children, so I know what they’re going through,” she said.

Rancho has several students from North Las Vegas enrolled.

Although she never lived on the streets, she said that many years ago, she had to rely on the generosity of others to find a couch on which to sleep. That is something she wants to help more students avoid.

Through the Clark County School District, she officially works with 125 homeless students, but she said overall, she sees more than 300 students at a high school that has some of the largest populations of homeless and children in need, she said.

“It’s very sad, the area that we’re in,” she said.

In some cases, Urquiaga has even invited the children into her home. Her son discovered a boy living in a car after his mother died, so Urquiaga brought the boy into her home two years ago and enrolled him at Rancho. He played football and is pursuing education at a community college, she said.

A girl needed help filling out forms and scholarships for college because she wanted to be an engineer or doctor. Now, the girl is at St. Joseph’s College in New York, and Urquiaga still helps her fill out forms when necessary. “It’s not about me; it’s about them,” Urquiaga added.

The school district provides homeless students with tutoring, school supplies at the start of the year and daytime meals, but many of the kids need more. That is why Urquiaga collects anything the kids might need, from toilet paper and blankets to granola bars and water.

“Anybody that walks in my door that needs help, I help,” she said.

Any extra supplies she receives, which is rare, she takes to other schools with similar populations.

Las Vegas Towing, a small company that started in August, heard the call for help and pulled together what it could in time for the holidays. Owner Hank Lelev said he was adopted when he was young and connected with the teenagers.

“They have nothing,” he said.

At an emotional drop-off Dec. 12, Lelev said he and his daughter, son-in-law and employees delivered 128 gift bags full of gloves, sweat shirts, toothbrushes, toothpaste, granola bars, deodorant, shaving cream, face wipes, notebooks, pens and more.

His daughter, Danielle Williams, said they had 10 days to put together all the bags, and some of the kids helped carry the goods in from the truck.

“It just hit me, and I told the whole staff, ‘Get on the phone and get funds; we’re gonna do something for these kids,’ ” Lelev said.

He said the company plans to organize more donation drives at least two or three times a year and invested between $1,500 and $1,700 on donations with the help of community members.

“That woman is a saint,” Lelev said, referring to Urquiaga. “We only have to deal with it when it’s in front of us; she deals with it every single day.”

Her program gained notoriety when it made television news reports last year, and she said she has seen more donations since, but she always needs more.

“I’m always in need; there’s never enough,” she said.

The children are appreciative, too, she added. She said she will hand the children a piece of candy, and they will thank her “100 times.” Urquiaga reminds them that this is to help them stay focused.

“This is all about you, so you can stay in school and reach your goals. You can never give up. Life is not easy, son, but you can’t give up,” she said she tells the teenagers.

The children had an additional holiday surprise from another donor who delivered 100 Christmas dinners for their families, including mashed potatoes, ham and corn. Many of the children stop attending school a few days before the holidays because the reminder of presents and holiday traditions is hard on them, Urquiaga said, so she makes sure that she delivers all the donations the previous week.

“Thank you so much, Ms. Angela. I didn’t think I would get a present this year,” Urquiaga said the teenagers told her.

Anyone interested in donating can contact Urquiaga at 702-799-7000 or visit the main office at Rancho High School.

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Laura Phelps at lphelps@viewnews.com or 702-477-3839.

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