A Legacy of Caring and Connection Belén Warnemunde’s journey from district volunteer to colleague, confidante, and honorary sister.

Bilingual family liaison Belén Warnemunde, retiring in 2021 after 17 years of (official) service with the West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS), has a favorite story about her time in the district. After chatting with a second grader, she heard another student ask them who she was.

“She replied, ‘Oh, she’s the lady that calls home when you do something wrong,’” Warnemunde shared in this year’s retiree booklet. “What a legacy!”

Those who have worked with her know her legacy goes far beyond those rare calls. Originally an educational interpreter who worked with students in the classroom, Warnemunde now supports Spanish-speaking students and families as a bilingual family liaison from the start of enrollment to each student’s graduation. The care she exhibits has resulted in a trust and affection for Warnemunde that fills the room when families and co-workers share their own stories about her. They describe her as someone they can count on, “an incredible human being,” even a sister.

And Warnemunde feels the same way.

“I’m going to miss the people — the families, the students, the teachers, the administration, support staff, everybody. There’s not a bad one in the bunch,” she said. “That’s what I’m going to miss the most is the people I work with and for.”

The Right Person to Rely On

Warnemunde started volunteering with WDMCS nearly 20 years ago. She supported newcomer students at Stilwell Junior High, then began interpreting as a part-time employee during conferences at Rex Mathes Elementary (now home to the Home School Assistance Program). When a full-time interpreter position opened up in 2004, Warnemunde was encouraged to apply. Her now-colleague and fellow family liaison Rosa Pagan was part of the interview team after watching her work at Stilwell.

“It gave me the opportunity to see her in action, working with the students and working in the classroom,” Pagan said. “I immediately knew she was going to be the right person for this job.”

Belén working with students in 2018.

Families also feel an instant connection with Warnemunde upon meeting her. Bilingual family liaisons assist newcomer and English learner families with enrollment and are often the first WDMCS employees they meet. Warnemunde also takes the opportunity to give families her number, letting them know they can call her at any time.

District parent Adriana Hernandez remembers meeting Warnemunde for the first time in 2015 and receiving her contact information. Pagan interpreted during WDMCS School/Community Relations’ interview with Hernandez, who speaks Spanish.

“I knew right there that (Belén) was a person I could rely on,” Hernandez said. She added that Warnemunde has been there for her family as her son has grown from a little boy into a teenager and said, “I always told her that she was born to do this type of job, to help and support us. She’s always had a smile on her face and been friendly. I felt like she was a person I could trust and be open with and tell the things that we feel. She has always been a great person.”

From Colleagues to Sisters

Pagan says Warnemunde’s openness and compassion are crucial to her success as a family liaison, along with her attention to detail and trustworthiness. Pagan relies on her as a colleague too, sharing that Warnemunde catches the smallest details and does everything she can to reach out to families.

“She looks to understand the family’s background, understand where they’re coming from, their home situation, in order to provide the help and support they need,” Pagan said. “She’s made that always a priority.”

The WDMCS bilingual family liaison team. From L-R: Lily Tial, Rosa Pagan, Abdiel Quiroga, Belén Warnemunde, Biak Thang.

Collaborating for 17 years has also created a special bond between Warnemunde and Pagan, who Warnemunde describes as her “rock.” Both from Puerto Rico, they built a lasting friendship through their shared experience, exchanging recipes, memories, and photos of their children and grandchildren.

“I always told her that here in Des Moines, she is my hermana Boricua, my sister — Boricua is a phrase that we use on the island,” Pagan said. “I always felt like whenever I needed something... I could always grab the phone or send a text message. She’s always been there to support me.”

Even though she will miss Warnemunde, Pagan is eager for her to enjoy the next phase of her life and hopefully take some time for herself.

“It will be very different, but I’m also happy for her that she will have time to enjoy the rest of her life and do fun stuff,” Pagan said. “After so many years of working with us, I think she deserves that time.”

Belén’s Real Legacy

It’s with this true legacy of care and compassion surrounding her that Warnemunde looks forward to her retirement from the district. She is excited to spend more time with her family, especially her grandchildren, and looks forward to traveling when it is deemed safe. But she also has a vision for the families she’s supported throughout the years: that they will become more comfortable and feel more welcome in the community.

“I’d hope we could all be together, no matter where we come from and what languages we speak,” Warnemunde said.

Though she doesn’t know how yet, Warnemunde plans to continue working toward that vision by supporting the families who have been so grateful to her.

“These people are so thankful and they’re so nice; It makes you feel almost selfish,” she said. “You’re doing this and they’re just gushing with thanks. It really leaves me speechless sometimes.”

Hernandez’s final well-wishes for Warnemunde may certainly leave her speechless. While she would like to express her thanks to Warnemunde in person, Hernandez shared a statement she hoped would speak for all the families Warnemunde has worked with over the years:

“It’s clear that a human being needs love. Without love, we cannot be happy. The love that you have given us has been a great support and encouragement. Your help throughout all these years has been greatly appreciated. We will always remember you. You have always been attentive to our needs throughout the whole school year in regard to our children. In the name of not only me, but everybody that you have worked with, I say thank you for lending such a caring hand to all of us. We will all miss you for sure.”
Created By
Alexandra Wade