Apr 29

2019 Volunteer Appreciation Message and Volunteers of the Year

A very special video thank you message to ALL OUR AMAZING VOLUNTEERS (featuring a surprise celebrity guest)!

Congratulations to volunteers of the year:

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Sasana Kachirsky
(Region 1)

The amount of energy, time, and effort Sasana contributes is simply incomparable. She volunteers as an Ambassador, Tutor Coordinator (TC) and tutor. She also tables at events and helps with community outreach. Sasana was my TC when I joined School on Wheels as a volunteer. She is truly inspirational!
– Manmeet Sodhi, Regional Coordinator

I started volunteering with School on Wheels because I felt that I needed to get out there and help somebody. I gain so much by giving a little bit of time and attention to my students and their families. It gives me a special kind of thrill to see the students respond to someone coming to see them and check in with their progress. I have been extra thrilled with my current student and his love of reading. When we started, I would read one page and he would read the next, because “that’s just too many words for me to read!” Now when we meet he will start telling me about our current book’s adventures and plot twists, even before we even get into the tutoring room! I always tell anyone interested in volunteering for School on Wheels to go for it. We have so many students needing help! Just starting with one student or in a group setting, you will quickly see how much this means to them. Anyone who volunteers to help these kids will get much more than they give.

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Pamela Wrona & David Salazar II
(Region 2)

Pamela and David are two of the most incredible tutors I’ve ever met. Their patience and dedication to their students show how much they value them and their education. They have true passion and unique teaching strategies, which are the main reasons why I chose them to be Region 2’s Volunteers of the Year. These two never cease to amaze me!
– Carlie Whittaker, Volunteer Support Coordinator

(Pamela) Several years ago, I was on a hike with a friend and her friend. I had just started a new job as an in-home tutor for the SAT/ACT, and my friend’s friend remarked that she was volunteering for an organization that provided tutoring for homeless students. I was interested and looked up School on Wheels when I got home. A few years after that, I saw a School on Wheels flyer in my local Starbucks and knew it was time for me to contact the organization! I knew my partner David would be interested in helping too, so when I got home, we both got online and applied. I’ve gained a lot of satisfaction working with children to improve both their academic skills and their self-confidence/self-esteem. The students I tutor for my job are fortunate enough to have parents with the financial means to provide them with tutoring. I believe that every child deserves the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive; our country and our planet will be better off because of it. If you feel a pull towards volunteering, follow it! You will gain as much from the experience as they will!

(David) What Pamela told me about School on Wheels piqued my interest, as I wanted to help tutor kids in Math and Science. The next time I was in that Starbucks, I saw the flyer she mentioned myself and realized that it was an organization created to help tutor homeless kids. That was a win-win for me. I grew up as an Army brat. While exposing me to the diversity of this country, moving around so much in my childhood meant I was always the “new kid,” trying to fit into a new social environment. It was never easy, and I immediately identified with what these kids were going through emotionally, having no real security in their home environment, being thrust into different schools and never quite fitting in. My own past gave me insights into helping them learn, being patient with them, and showing them how important an education is. My first student, someone I was able to help overcome problems with math, gave me a small notebook as a gift. Inside it I found a very moving note, thanking me for my help. It doesn’t get any better than that! School on Wheels has many resources available for you, so you’re not alone in this. Take advantage of what they have to offer and be there for a child. It will be so good for your soul.

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Elizabeth West
(Region 3)

Elizabeth has gone above and beyond as a Tutor Coordinator in her dedication to the students at Bible Tabernacle! She works at UCLA as a postdoctoral researcher in physics during the week, and leads group tutoring at Bible Tabernacle on Saturdays. She is highly communicative and does an excellent job empowering the tutors she coordinates.
– Alex Toutant, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I spent much of my first year in Los Angeles working in a dark basement laboratory. When I realized I wanted to participate in the lively, light-filled community carrying on above my head, I decided to volunteer. I love encouraging childrens’ interest in academics. I particularly love the intimate environment of tutoring, which allows us to enjoy and take pride in every accomplishment, in real time. There have been many memorable moments, but my favorite is when my dad was visiting from out of town and came by to pick me up from tutoring. The moment he arrived, a 5-year-old student in our group ran up to him, presented his illustration of a flatulence-propelled superhero, and proudly proclaimed that he’d drawn “something inappropriate!” The time I spend with these children lights up my whole week. I’ve been working with them for over a year and a half now, and it’s bittersweet watching them grow up before my eyes. Anyone who decides to volunteer, remember that consistency is key, both for honing one’s tutoring skills and for earning the students’ trust.

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Marina Straziuso
(Region 4)

Marina has been such a rock solid volunteer. When the previous Tutor Coordinator left, she immediately stepped in to take over. She is a Tutor Coordinator at a site where group tutoring takes place two times a week and where two groups of tutors volunteer. She stays on top of communication with the volunteers, shelter staff, and me. She is so dedicated and reliable and she enjoys making special bonds with the kids she meets. I am so fortunate to have her as a Tutor Coordinator in my region.
– Kristina Rakosh, Regional Coordinator

I found School on Wheels looking for volunteer opportunities that my children could participate in as well. We’ve done many other types of volunteer work, but this is the one that really speaks to me. I believe strongly in the idea that “it takes a village.” I did not have the happiest of childhoods and have had my fair share of struggles as an adult. Those experiences make you really appreciate the kindness of a stranger; if I can be that act of kindness for one person, especially a young person trying to make it in this world, then I feel like I’ve done my part. These kids really need us and so do their parents; you’ll be surprised to find how much you get out of giving a little of yourself. The gratitude these students show, the effort they put into their work, the excitement in their eyes when they make a breakthrough…it’s all truly priceless. 

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Matt Haze
(Region 5)

I nominated Matt because of his passion for School on Wheels. In addition to tutoring high school students at a tough placement, he also on-boards all new tutors at the youth campus. He wanted to provides families with more resources & even partnered with Lion’s Sight & Hearing Foundation and California Friends in Sight to bring free prescriptions glasses to families in need!
– Jesse Pasquan, Volunteer Support Coordinator

After barely surviving my childhood, I entered the system at 14 under the legal category of “abandoned.” As you might imagine, education was never a central concern during that chaotic period of my life. It was only after I aged out of the system (at 18, with no further support) that I truly understood how much I needed an education, and how far behind I was. Many years later, after earning my 2nd degree, I decided to volunteer as a tutor; it was where I thought I could do the most good, and I often receive. A few years ago I was tutoring two 15yr old boys. The three of us decided to read The Outsiders, then watch the movie as well. The boys really identified with the book, even calling each other Ponyboy and Soda (after characters from the story). Years later, both of these young men reached out to me to express their gratitude. For me, at 50 years old, there are few things in my life that have been more personally fulfilling than being a volunteer tutor for School on Wheels. Changing the course of a river is hard, but changing the course of a young person’s life can be surprisingly less so, and that change could come from you. It is a commitment to be sure, but if you are willing, the payoff is huge. You can do so much good for these kids, for the community, and for yourself.

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Wendy Nguyen
(Region 6)

Wendy is a passionate, dedicated, and creative tutor who embodies our mission and values as an organization. She creates fun ways to connect and engage with her student and they are always doing something really unique and memorable. Wendy goes above and beyond when it comes to her student, always looking for ways to contribute to their life in a way that will positively impact them far beyond their tutoring sessions together. She not only focuses on academics, but is also an incredible role model, mentor and positive adult. I’m truly grateful for Wendy, and very proud of all she does. She’s a beautiful example of what a giving heart looks like.
– Stephanie Swenseid, Regional Coordinator

Service has always been in my heart from a young age. I started volunteering in 2013 and I’m close to my 7 yrs. of service with School on Wheels now. Initially I wanted to commit to a year but I really love School on Wheels and the service of helping and mentoring the students. I’m a lifelong nerd and a teacher. School on Wheels gives me an opportunity to use my talents to help kids who need it most. Over time, I’ve seen the positive impact I can make by being a consistent presence in my student’s life. My student always rushes to come work with me at the library, while her sisters trail behind. A couple of months ago, my student told me that in the past, she would just fill out her reading log daily and ask her mom to sign it, without actually completing the task. Then she shared how much she loves to read books now, and enjoys reading on her own. This made my heart so happy. Be the light by blessing others. As a School on Wheels volunteer and mentor, you can make such a difference in a student’s life.

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Elyse Stelford
(Region 7)

I nominated Elyse for Volunteer of the Year because she is incredibly dedicated. She not only displays perseverance and kindness to her students, but also extends these qualities to her fellow tutors when working with them at group sites.
– Maxine Faustino, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I’m a former teacher, and was looking for ways to use my skills, be around students again, and give back to the community. When I got the facts about how many homeless children there are in Los Angeles county, I wanted to be of service. My first student was much older than I had expected and was as tall as me. I didn’t know how much help I could be, but over the nine months I had the privilege of working with him, he really opened up to me and I quickly saw that I could help him. I was so honored every time he shared his feelings and life with me. A highlight was when he quoted me back to myself, saying, “gotta work smarter, not harder!” If you’re thinking about volunteering, I’d say do it! Our job as tutors is about so much more than academics. Any caring adult can help these students. Everyone has something they can contribute to enrich students’ lives. Please don’t be intimated! And if you are, come talk to me! I have tons of teacher tools and I’m always happy to share. Sign up today; you will never regret it!

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Elizabeth Huang
(Region 8)

I nominated Elizabeth as my Volunteer of the Year because she is a dedicated tutor who is also a TC in the Santa Barbara area. She facilitates first sessions with new tutors and their students and has also been a huge part of launching and participating in the Sunday Sessions tutoring program at the Transition House Emergency Shelter. She helps to enroll new students in the School on Wheels program, distributes backpacks and school supplies and continues to meet weekly with her student, Miranda, who she has been tutoring since November of 2018.
– Chris Walsh, Regional Coordinator

I had been involved in STEM outreach and mentoring programs through my university, but I realized that many of those programs are geared toward students from more privileged backgrounds. I have worked with high school students in the past and enjoy teaching. Volunteering with School on Wheels has helped me continue working with kids, and I also think it is particularly important to help less privileged groups and provide them with as many resources as possible to succeed. One memory that makes me smile was with the first student I tutored. Initially, working on math with her was met with a lot of resistance and I felt at a loss in how to engage her in a topic she didn’t like. Then one week, while working on another topic, she actually asked me if we could practice adding fractions using the method I had gone over with her the previous week! It was a reminder to me that we often won’t see improvements during a single hour, but spending an hour a week, regularly, makes a big difference in helping students come out of their shell and be more confident. Volunteering with School on Wheels has been one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made since moving to Santa Barbara. I encourage anyone who is interested to jump at the opportunity. 

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Steve Tiso
(Region 9)

Steven has been nothing but an amazing support and a wonderful role model to his student Julian. His kindness, dedication, and commitment to Julian and his family is inspiring. He is proactive and has taken the initiative to make sure logistical issues don’t hinder them from consistently meeting. He exhibits incredible understanding, kindness, and flexibility. He also followed Julian from South Orange County to North Orange County, even though that has meant driving 70 minutes just to get to tutoring!
– Danait Berhe, Regional Team Leader / Genesis Torres, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I had my first meeting with my student in June of 2019. My student has had a tough, tough life. He is shy and a bit introverted, so anytime I can make him smile makes my day. Of course when he completes a tough assignment and we “high five,” that is also a time to smile! Volunteering as a tutor is very rewarding. Sometimes you need to be patient, as the student’s situation is not easy. They may have difficulty communicating, or any number of other issues or hurdles to get around, but it is well worth it, and you do make a difference. That is the key: you make a difference, even if it is not always obvious.

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Barbara Bauer
(Region 10)

I truly don’t even know where to begin with Barb. She is truly one of the most incredible people I have ever met. She goes above and beyond for everyone around her. Getting to see how much her student, Modesto, trusts her and leans on her for support is truly inspiring. Barb is really an anchor for Modesto and shows it through her constant care and desire to help him succeed in every aspect of his life. In addition, Barb is a tremendous support to all of our tutors AND shelters. She is a gift to our students, tutors, and world. Thank you, thank you!
– Katie Philipson, Volunteer Stupport Coordinator

I started volunteering with School on Wheels because I had recently retired from teaching special education and was excited to find a way to use my skills and training to work with students again. I have a strong belief that all children have the ability to overcome obstacles in learning if they are taught in ways that make sense to them. School on Wheels has been the perfect place for me to teach children while interacting with amazing staff and tutors who are committed and creative. I have been working for over a year with a 5th grade boy with autism. He has an expansive vocabulary and often surprises me with his astute and thoughtful comments. When speaking about his grandmother he said, “She has significant hearing loss, but I have learned it’s best not to take advantage of that fact.” I would encourage anyone who is thinking of volunteering to pursue this opportunity. Our students are at a disadvantage in so many areas of life and having a tutor makes a huge difference. For anyone volunteering, tutoring is a chance to step outside of yourself and share your knowledge, care, and concern for someone who needs you.

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Debra Shrout
(Region 11)

Debra has been consistent, positive, and extremely helpful. I can always count on her assistance with ANYTHING at the Skid Row Learning Center. She excels at working with our Middle School and High School students, but is willing to take on an challenge. We appreciate all that she does!
– Jason Wright, Skid Row Learning Center Instructor

As a retired teacher of 36 years, I knew I wanted to continue working in education after retirement. After moving to Los Angeles from St. Louis and learning about School on Wheels, I felt it would be a good fit for me. And sure enough, every time I volunteer, a student makes me smile. One of my favorite tutoring stories is when I asked a kindergarten whether she was using a tube of paint, and she said no — despite having one tucked in her little hand. In her nervousness, though, she squeezed the tube and paint burst out in all directions, mostly landing on me. We were both startled, but it was so funny that I laughed until I fell into a chair. The student immediately started trying to wipe the paint out of my hair and off my face, and she said, “if only I had told the truth!” We were best friends from then on! I learn from the students. I enjoy the ah-ha moments when the student gets the lesson, I love the challenges when we play brain games or they teach me a new game, and I am amazed at their wisdom and humor. Volunteer for the kids, but also because it will do your heart good!

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Kate McNeil
(Region 11)

Kate runs a class every Friday for SRLC students who need intensive literacy assistance. She is consistent, positive, and genuine. She is a great tutor and an even more amazing person!
– Jason Wright, Skid Row Learning Center Instructor

I wanted to volunteer because my day job is working with middle class kids who have learning disabilities, and whose parents can afford to pay me to give their kids extra help. I wanted to pay some of that forward to kids who aren’t so lucky and don’t have those same resources. There are so many experiences that make me smile, but the warmth I feel when I walk into the Skid Row Learning Center and hear, “Miss Kate! Miss Kate!,” is so beautiful. It’s a cliche, but I get so much more than I give. I tell people all the time about School on Wheels and I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t want to volunteer! These kids deserve so much more than what they’ve been given, and they are so happy to receive a little special attention. It is an easy way to make a difference, show a child that you care, and feel really good about the time you spend volunteering.

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Julliana Tabuada
(Online)

Julliana is an incredible volunteer who goes above and beyond with her student, Kie. Kie is several grade levels behind, and her family lives in an RV, making it incredibly difficult for Kie to keep up in school. Julliana is super patient, understanding, and flexible to Kie’s needs. Julliana tutors Kie multiple hours per week, and is constantly coming up with creative ideas to help Kie learn and improve Kie’s confidence.
– Emma Gerch, Online Tutoring Coordinator

After graduating from high school, I wanted to try a wide variety of different experiences; when I heard about a program that consists of tutoring and students living in impoverished situations, it clicked with me right away. Now that I’ve been with School on Wheels for roughly a year, I have found that volunteering has expanded my view on how to approach teaching, keeping a strong line of communication. It is an amazing way to help kids who are struggling to get back on their feet. One experience that truly made me smile was the first time my student proposed that she wanted to write her own book. I enthusiastically agreed. We worked together to come up with an outline and fill in a dramatic arc to plot out the story. She wrote and illustrated each section of the book. It was around Christmas time when it was completed, so as a surprise I went to a local Kinkos and had the book printed and bound. I sent the book to her, along with other Christmas goodies. Her reaction was so wonderful and left a very big impression on me. Volunteering creates a completely new environment that both the student and tutor can learn from. Being a part of School on Wheels teaches you patience, kindness, and tenacity — important skills that can be difficult to learn. Your student comes to rely on you, and you know that your teaching can positively impact them for the rest of their life. So go out there and help a student in need!

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John Reece
(Online)

John is a very experienced in-person and online tutor. He has worked with dozens of students of all grade levels and backgrounds over the years, but particularly excels with high school students. He has been an incredible mentor and tutor for his current student, who lives in a group foster home. John demonstrates flexibility, patience, understanding, and empathy in all of his sessions.
– Emma Gerch, Online Tutoring Coordinator

One of my great interests is the subject of mathematics, and I was looking for an opportunity to share my love of the subject with young people who were struggling with it. Before volunteering with School on Wheels, I had been a volunteer tutor on a website called Algebra.com, where students of all ages would post their math questions. Over a 12-year period, I provided well over 23,000 explanations and solutions to students having difficulty with their mathematics. Hence, my initial foray into the world of volunteering was to present myself as a mathematics tutor — but as I became involved with School on Wheels, one of the things I discovered was that having such a narrow focus did not fit the model; I had to have the flexibility to deal with not only Mathematics, but Language Arts, Sciences, History, Geography, and so on. One of the things that made me smile was the epiphany that I could actually be effective in providing students with guidance in nearly any subject. My one piece of advice to a new or prospective tutor is to be creative and  teach creativity; make your students think for themselves and question everything.

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