2024 School on Wheels Volunteer Council Members
Aarij Gora – Orange County
I am from Irvine, CA, and I recently graduated from UC Irvine in June 2023. I am currently applying to medical school. Growing up, I loved playing different sports such as basketball, cross country and track, and cricket. A fun fact about me is that my best mile time was 4:32 in high school, and I am planning to do a marathon in June 2024 before school starts in July!
A major reason why I joined School on Wheels 2 years ago is because I have always enjoyed spending time with the youth. Additionally, my younger brother, who has special needs, has inspired me to give back to the community and continue to be involved by serving different groups that need help the most. Spending time with him growing up has helped me develop my own values, which are to make a positive impact on the community, respect people from different backgrounds, and always support others. To me, the youth are the future of our generation, and we should do our very best to give them the support, guidance, and sense of belonging that they deserve. Joining School on Wheels was one of the best things I could have done, and it has given me many friendships that I will cherish forever.
Christopher Changprai – Los Angeles County
Greetings, community members of School On Wheels! I discovered SOW when I was an Engineering at Raytheon (now RTX), browsing through their volunteer website looking for ideas to participate and give back to the local community. SOW was a great fit for me as I recalled how much I enjoyed working with my niece, Chloe, on her educational growth. Reading about the family stories on the SOW website it gave me pause on how challenging it would be for a parent, already struggling, to keep their child on track with school. While my niece did not have the usual stable family situation, she was fortunate to have other family help that kept enough balance that she will be graduating from college this Spring. My purpose with SOW is to provide if just a fraction, of the tutoring and mentoring experience I had with Chloe to a family in need. Fast forward about eight years later, I am proud to still be a SOW tutor and engaging with SOW staff on recruiting and engagement.
About myself, I am from a first generation, immigrated parents from Thailand. My early seven years were in Bangkok, where I had a pet rooster and hen. My remaining years were in Southern California, where I attended UC Irvine and UC Los Angeles for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I live in Santa Monica where I enjoy taking walks with my wife, Lily, and carrying my daughter on my shoulder, tutoring, and playing beach volleyball.
Chris Ruoff – Orange County
In 2016, I joined School on Wheels as a volunteer tutor/coordinator and found a purpose at the intersection of two of my passions: education and serving the needy. Being able to tutor and mentor kids experiencing homelessness has meant the world to me and to them. I had no idea how impactful I could be in doing this. Every day I tutor – I leave knowing I’ve made a big difference in a student’s life.
Serving on SOW’s Volunteer Council will allow me to best utilize my skills in leadership, recruiting, and connecting people – so that we can together strengthen the mission of SOW and make such a great impact where it is desperately needed.
I’m currently an adjunct instructor at UC Irvine and teach both undergraduate and graduate students who are studying abroad in the U.S. I teach business skills such as management and leadership, finance, international business and operations, strategic planning, and corporate communications. Prior to that, I had a successful career in technology as a business development executive at Intel and IEEE.
I hope my story is an inspiration to others to serve and make a difference. Mark Twain once said: “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” I know my “why” and want to connect and serve with others who share the same passion.
Fun fact: I’ve taught students from 32 different countries while at UCI over the last five years!
Farid Holakouee – Los Angeles County
I joined SOW back in 2015 and started as a Skidrow Learning Center tutor. I strongly believe in the School on Wheels mission, and since then, I continued to support several students over the years. It brings me joy to really build positive relationships with all of my students and be a consistent support to them during this difficult time in their life. I am a Clinical Psychologist and host of the radio show/podcast “In Session” on Radio Hamrah, where I cover topics relevant to psychology and mental health. Fun fact about me, I am a lifelong Lakers fan, born and raised in Los Angeles!
Frankie Olvera – Los Angeles County
My name is Frankie Olvera. Long time tutor, first time Council Member. I am glad to be part of this new group and look forward to making a difference. Speaking of making a difference, I have always believed that I was called for service to others. I have spent the last 30 years (yikes, I’m getting older) doing things like mentoring minors at Juvenile Hall in Downtown, working and speaking to the residents at the food kitchen of Los Angeles Mission, and, of course, my time at School on Wheels. After I met Agnes Stevens, I knew this group had a purpose. A purpose that, unfortunately, is still needed today more than ever.
To say I enjoy tutoring is an understatement. I don’t know who gets a bigger kick out of it, the student or me! Mostly, I enjoy the chaos. I have never had the opportunity to do “one on one” with students. Every place that SOW has placed me involves many more kids than tutors. While it is a challenge to provide 100% attention to each child like a one-on-one, I have strived to make each child feel like they are getting 100% from me. Fortunately, I have been surrounded by some seriously awesome tutors by my side, who likewise realize that being outnumbered doesn’t have to mean being overwhelmed.
Things about me? I’m an Industrial Engineer, I have played events as a DJ, I was a basketball coach for kids, I am an avid soccer fan, and my latest activity I have learned to be a Mixologist (cocktails). As a Dad of three adult kids, I try to “keep it real”.
Jennifer Lazano Huerta – Los Angeles County
My name is Jennifer Lozano Huerta. I am an alumni of UCLA and just completed my post-baccalaureate at California State University San Marcos in Speech-Language Pathology. I am in the process of applying for my Masters this year. Currently, I am working as an ABA Behavior Technician providing therapy to children and families impacted by autism. I am also the President of Speech Prep Society, a UCLA club that is dedicated to networking with other pre-SLP students and sharing perspectives and resources related to the field of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
I have been a volunteer with School On Wheels for over a year now, and I have truly found that the experience of working with kids is incredibly rewarding and special. It has been a unique experience being able to make an impact on someone’s life and just being there for my students. There were times when things were challenging and sessions did not go as planned, but I have come to see these moments as learning experiences, especially when I discover new things about my students, which helps build a much stronger and trusting relationship. I am truly glad to have decided to participate and become a tutor for School On Wheels. Also, two fun facts about me are that I love to journal, I have an entire drawer full of stationery supplies, and I enjoy hiking with family, friends, and my dog.
Judy Spilka – Ventura County
Hi! I’m Judy Spilka. I hold an MA in English from California State University Northridge, where I’ve taught Freshman Composition in addition to working as a consultant in the Writing Center. I believe that education is a life-long journey, and I continue to take classes, focusing especially on subjects within the Humanities. Aligned with my love of learning is that of teaching. The impact of Covid 19 has been devastating for students in general, with analyses of test scores repeatedly showing severe declines in academic achievement. For those experiencing homelessness, the number grows exponentially higher. Tutoring students through School on Wheels has enabled me to help change that trajectory, one child at a time. And as any volunteer knows, the time spent giving to another human translates to a sense of purpose unrivalled by any other endeavor. On another note, I share my life with a wonderful, growing family, and I share with home with a brilliant husband and a marvelous 80-pound black Labrador who thinks he’s a lap dog!
Robbie Jacobs – Ventura County
Hi, I am Robbie Jacobs, and this is my second year with School on Wheels. As a little girl, I always played the teacher, and my friends were the students. I think, even as an 8-year-old, I knew I wanted to work with children when I grew up. After getting my elementary teaching credential, my husband got a job in Guam to set up a pharmacy. We lived there for two years and travelled throughout Asia. When we came home, we moved to Orange County. Between having kids, I substituted for LAUSD and tutored at a private school in Huntington Beach. After 22 years, we moved from Orange County to Agoura Hills. I got a job working as an instructional assistant in special education and worked for 18 years for the Las Virgenes School District. After retiring five years ago, and right before COVID-19, I tutored for SOW at the Rain facility in Ventura. Tutoring children is so enjoyable and rewarding for me. It is truly amazing what I have learned from my students. I am always hopeful when I can capture my student’s attention with humor and storytelling. I love it when the kids are so engaged and eager to learn.
A fun fact about me is that at the young age of 72 years I rescued and adopted my first dog. Callie is a mix of Chihuahua and Jack Russell Terrier. Actually, Callie rescued me.
Saba Modaressi – Los Angeles County
I joined School on Wheels in 2021 with a passion for combating education inequity. More specifically, I aim to address the education debt wherein the public education system has failed to support and provide adequate resources to marginalized students, including students experiencing homelessness. I cherish my experience at School on Wheels, which aligns closely with my mission of reducing the gaps in learning and providing the resources these students deserve. I view tutoring and mentoring as a mutual relationship; while my students learn from me, I also learn from them. My experience at School on Wheels inspired me to pursue a PhD in Education, with the goal of informing policies to make the education system more equitable for marginalized populations. While in school to obtain my PhD, I am working as a research assistant, examining the impact of discrimination on the mental health of racial and ethnic minoritized populations. During my free time, I enjoy exploring health and wellness, cooking, and binge-watching TV. A fun fact about me is that I am training to run a marathon!
Tee Popoola – Los Angeles County
I come from a tight-knit community in Nigeria, where I cultivated a strong sense of social responsibility from an early age. Upon relocating to the United States during my pre-teen years, my parents instilled in me the importance of education and its potential to unlock unforeseen opportunities in the future. Yet, I could not ignore the prevalent disparities not only in educational access but also in the overall quality of life persisting in certain communities.
Motivated by the invaluable lessons imparted by my parents concerning the importance of education and fueled by a passion to effect positive change in my Southern California community, I was thrilled to join School on Wheels in 2015 as a volunteer tutor. My role has not been limited to only offering educational support as a tutor, but I also provide mentoring and advocate for the students under my tutorship.
I am currently near completion of my medical education at the University of California, Riverside, where my inspiration at times often stems from reflecting on the difficulties and triumphs of my current and former students within the School on Wheels program. I aspire to become a physician dedicated to serving a diverse population, particularly those underserved within our healthcare system. Before entering medical school, I earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Exercise Science from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and California State University, Long Beach, respectively. Outside of my academic and career pursuits, I enjoy weightlifting, watching sports, and indulging my passion for playing the drums.