Category: Our Volunteers

Apr 21

2021 Volunteer Appreciation Message and Volunteers of the Year

A very special thank you message to ALL OUR AMAZING VOLUNTEERS!

Congratulations to volunteers of the year:

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Nhi Ha

Nhi is the silver lining of the cloud for her students. She is humble, kind, polite, compassionate, and incredibly intelligent. All her students look up to her and many have mentioned they do not want any other tutor. The grace, fun, innovation, creativity and substance Nhi brings to a tutoring session is something her students look forward to every week. Nhi has contributed to School on Wheels in every possible way throughout 2020, before and after: as a tutor, mentor, tutor coordinator, and ambassador. 

-Manmeet Sodhi, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I used to tutor through my college to provide free services for peers. One semester, I noticed one student who had difficulty in the class and provided some resources they look into for help. They disclosed to me that they were experiencing homelessness and therefore had limited access to resources since they had to work outside of class to support themselves. After listening to their story, I took it upon myself to pool together any free resources on campus and online that would help the student even after hours. The student started participating more during the lectures and would continuously attend my tutoring sessions afterwards. Seeing them grow instilled in me the resolve to always try to help someone in need. Then one day, they stopped coming. It was only later that I found out this student had dropped out of college altogether because they couldn’t afford to attend. After losing this student, I also came to terms with the fact that I needed to do more. And so, I decided to volunteer with School on Wheels to tutor and better understand how we can reach out to students early on to give them more structured support through an unstable time in their life. I have since treasured my experiences with School On Wheels and all the efforts each person in our organization has made to make a difference.

One of the most rewarding aspects of tutoring for me has been the moment a student finds something that excites them or they enjoy. For example, a recent student of mine had been a bit distant because they were unsure of what they wanted to do in life. When the first few sessions going through English or Math didn’t click with them, I started bringing in different subjects such as science and art. They were a bit more interested in art and we bonded over how to draw 3D shapes. It was something that interested them, but it didn’t challenge them. Then I started integrating computer science lessons as puzzles such as using Scratch and the Google Doodle coding game. The moment she hit a wall in the game, she started trying different combinations of answers to try to work through the problem. It was the first time she was so persistent on problem-solving in the sessions and I could tell she liked the challenge. I felt this moment, this shift, in her attitude towards learning something new after having previously been disinterested, was the most rewarding part of tutoring — helping spark the desire to learn and problem solve in a student.

One memorable experience with another one of my students again involved seeing that spark. This student had previously avoided tutoring due to pressure from other children in their group home. It was difficult getting them to be engaged and they would leave without notice sometimes. So when the staff members told me they would make sure the student attended the upcoming session, I knew I had to make it count. I remembered that my student often doodled in his notebook and wanted to listen to music during the sessions. He was very artistic, so I figured we could work on figurative language by creating a rap album. I pulled examples from some of the most popular songs and had him identify similar things in other songs. I then asked him to make his own rap and afterward, he was able to figure out that he naturally incorporated epithets, metaphors, and similes on his own. Then we cooled down by designing the cover art for his album. That was the first time he sat through the entire tutoring session with me, and he kept the album cover and song he wrote. I know that I haven’t significantly changed his situation or his life, but I do think that he found something he cared about and a way to translate it for people to see. I think that was one of the memorable experiences I’ve had with a student.

Manmeet has been an amazing coordinator who will show you the ropes, make sure you are heard, and will always value your input. School on Wheels benefits not only the students and families, but also the staff, volunteers, and you. It has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had. It isn’t easy, for sure, but when you get to the end of the tunnel with a student, you know that you both put in the work to get there together. 

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Chris Ruoff

I decided to nominate Chris because of the effort he has put forth for his student, Karla. In the short time I have worked with Chris, I have seen the impact he has had on his student. She started out failing her courses and is now excelling because of his help. Their match is an inspiration and I wanted to recognize Chris for that hard work. 

-Aeriell Woodhams, Volunteer Support Coordinator

All of my prior volunteer work (20+ years) had involved my kids’ schools or activities (coaching sports, being on the PTO board) and as they got older, I wanted to shift my volunteer work to give back in the community, especially to those in need. My first assignment with School on Wheels (SOW) was in group tutoring at a winter emergency shelter in Santa Ana, which was an interesting way to break in! When the shelter closed, I became a Tutor Coordinator (TC) and helped start up the first SOW after school program in OC at Washington Elementary School. Then, I helped start up tutoring at the new Homeaid Family Care Center in Orange. After that, I helped start the onsite tutoring program at California Lodge Suites, where I shifted to 1:1 tutoring instead of group. That is when I was paired with my current student, Karla, and we have been together ever since. I’m in my 5th year at SOW and I’ve also had the opportunity to record a webinar on group tutoring tips, help deliver advanced trainings for tutors, organize backpack and supply drives, hold first-sessions with tutors, and speak about SOW at corporate events. Everything I have done for SOW over the years has been extremely rewarding!

I’ve been tutoring Karla since she was in 8th grade and math has always been challenging, as it’s not one of her favorite subjects. But we have worked hard on getting this turned around. Karla has a very positive attitude and has moved her grades up, consistently earning A’s and B’s on quizzes and tests!

When I was at Washington Elementary, I had a special student who was nervous about tutoring and we had a very rough start. I worked closely with him over several weeks, won his confidence. Soon he was running from class to after-school tutoring, wanting to be the first one there. When he would solve a problem on his own, we would high five and I would say “Anthony, you got this”. Then he started saying “Mr. Chris, I got this”. It still makes me smile thinking about it.

This is the most rewarding and meaningful time you could spend with a child in need – to be able to help them, be there for them – it’s the best thing you could do!  And, you get to work with and learn from some amazing staff members and volunteers. Please join us!

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Lynn Johnson

Lynn isn’t just an exemplary tutor and a dedicated volunteer, she is a kind and caring person who inspires me with her enthusiasm and willingness to take on any challenge. She advocates for her students, creates a warm and collaborative relationship with the families, and always answers an immediate “yes” whenever I need her assistance. She has been invaluable in our transition to online tutoring and I feel extremely lucky to have her as a School on Wheels volunteer! 

-Chris Walsh, Regional Coordinator

My neighbor, who is a CASA, introduced me to School on Wheels. I had been fully retired from an education career for about a year and there was something definitely missing in my life. I thought by being a part of a student’s life and supporting them in their education just might fill that gap in my life!

I enjoy ALL aspects of tutoring, but especially the one-on-one non-academic time I have with my student. We begin with catching up with what’s been going on in our lives, which includes checking in with our household pets, before we hit the academics! We conclude the session with an art activity. Personalizing the session makes it such a special time for my student and me!

I think the most memorable experience I had was when at the conclusion of a session, my present student had a big smile with bright eyes and asked me….”see you tomorrow?”.  Another, just as memorable, was when my student’s teacher communicated with me that she has seen more confidence in my student since I began working with her.

This is what I share with EVERYONE….this volunteer experience has done as much for me as it does for my student …it’s immeasurable!

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Marlene Brostoff

Marlene carries such immense care and dedication for her students and their family. She is constantly looking for new, innovative ways to engage her students and fosters a safe and caring environment to help her students flourish. She is encouraging and motivating and that has really exemplified through her sessions.

-Maxine Faustino, Volunteer Support Coordinator

After retiring as an elementary school special education teacher at a public school, I wanted to share my skills and experience as a teacher with children who didn’t have all the advantages of the students who I taught at a wealthy school.  When I read about School on Wheels, my heart literally did palpitations. I have been aware of the increase in families who are experiencing homelessness and food insecurity (especially in Los Angeles) and learning about School on Wheels gave me an opportunity to be able to reach out to students in need.  This was just what I was looking for in my retirement. 

The most rewarding aspect of my tutoring has been hearing the joy in the voices of my students as they proudly read new material and seeing a huge smile on their faces.  It’s been great to see them closing the gap in their learning as they acquire new skills. 

A memorable experience was when I’ve said, “OK……we are finished for today…….I’ll see you next week” and my students said, “Oh no……we are done already? Can’t we do a little bit more?”

Another memorable experience is that I was invited to attend my students’ mom’s graduation from a college program.  It meant so much to me to be included in this wonderful event for this family and to know what an incredible role model this mom is for her kids.

I would like anyone who is considering tutoring for School on Wheels to know that as much as you will feel good in knowing you are helping others, your students will touch your life in immeasurable ways.  Back in the days when we were able to see kids in person instead of on Zoom, I volunteered at the Rescue Mission in Reseda.  Whenever I left that environment, I thought about how lucky the kids were to be in a place filled with safety, love, and joy.

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Alexis Chan

Alexis is so dedicated to our students! She goes above and beyond to make sure her student is getting the attention he deserves. In addition to supporting her high school student in applying for our scholarship program, she also coordinated a toy drive for the family shelter she tutored in-person before COVID. Thank you, Alexis, for all that you do at School on Wheels!

-Jesse Pasquan, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer and School on Wheels seemed like a great organization in my area. I love when a student asks good questions or when you can see a concept click. Helping my student apply for the School on Wheels Scholarship was fun because we were able to talk about what he wants for his future and he had some great ideas about what to write on his application. Volunteering is an easy and rewarding way to make a difference in a kid’s life and their future!

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Mara Miyashiro

Mara is a hugely dedicated member of the School on Wheels family. She transitioned from in-person to online tutoring when her student Elizabeth moved, way back in 2019. Her experience and expertise with online tutoring allowed her to provide crucial insight to other volunteers when the pandemic started. With her student Elizabeth, Mara makes every session engaging and fun, using a combination of our literacy resources, educational videos, and a virtual motivational “sticker chart.” School on Wheels is lucky to have such a dedicated, creative, and caring volunteer as part of our team.

-Emma Gerch, Digital Learning Specialist

During college, I mentored and tutored high school students struggling with algebra, helping them develop a growth mindset and consider careers in the STEM field. I wanted to continue tutoring students after college and I found the right opportunity through School on Wheels.  When I heard about School on Wheels’ mission to provide tutoring and support to students experiencing homelessness, I knew I wanted to be involved. 

During my time as a tutor, I’ve learned how important consistency, patience, and optimism are when teaching. I’ve really enjoyed the trust and rapport I’ve been able to establish with my student. Being able to be a consistent face and cheerleader for her success has been really special. I enjoy seeing my student’s aha moments when a concept clicks and watching her confidence grow with difficult problems. I’ve also enjoyed being able to encourage her passion for art and space exploration during our free time in sessions. It’s rewarding seeing my student become more motivated and eager to learn. We use a star chart to track her progress each session and with each lesson we complete she earns a star.  My favorite thing is hearing my student brag to her mom about how many stars she’s earned.

I would say if you are considering volunteering, go for it. The support you can give can really make a difference in a child’s life. The bonds you form with a student and their family are invaluable and I couldn’t have asked for a better student or family to be placed with.

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Tolulope Popoola

Tee has consistently dedicated himself to his student and School on Wheels. With 6 years of tutoring experience, he has motivated and guided his students to reach their educational goals. We admire his tenacity, and we’re extremely grateful to call him a School on Wheels tutor.

Carlie Whittaker, Student Support Coordinator

I was inspired to volunteer as a School on Wheels tutor due to my belief that education provides a low-risk, high yield opportunity to be successful regardless of background and past history.

A memorable experience with my student was when he texted me out of the blue that he would like to be a medical doctor. It is remarkably interesting and relevant to note that I am also a medical student but I have always made sure to not directly influence his career path. If anything, I imagined I would have discouraged him as I shared with him some of my academic struggles and the amount of commitment I had devoted to achieving my goals. In fact, we had established that he would not seek a career related to science, technology, and mathematics due to his lack of interest in these subjects even though he academically excelled in them. However, I think he has been highly influenced by the pandemic both from a scientific and health/social disparity aspect as his family was affected. And of course, it is possible that I might have had a tiny bit of influence too!

Working as a volunteer tutor is a great way to leave a positive footprint in the life of a young person. For some students, these tutoring sessions are a rare opportunity to connect with a role model figure and it is quite evident to me that this can have a profound effect on their development, both in academics and their personal lives.

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Rosemary Shinbane

I could not have picked a more well-deserving tutor for the Volunteer of the Year award. Rosemary has gone above and beyond tutoring one-on-one with two siblings. She works with each student twice a week and has formed an incredible bond with both of them. She has faced her fair share of challenges but never gave up, just kept pushing forward. Rosemary continues to make significant academic breakthroughs with her kids and they cannot get enough of her. Both kids just absolutely adore her. It has been such a delight getting to know Rosemary and I am so fortunate to have her volunteering in my region. She has a heart of gold!

-Kristina Rakosh, Regional Coordinator

Once I heard so many of the amazing  stories from current and past students of School on Wheels I knew that I wanted to be a part of this great organization. I have always been grateful for the wonderful education that our children had, and wanted to be a hands on part of making a difference in other children’s learning experiences as well.

I began my journey as a tutor at the Skid Row Learning Center which I truly enjoyed. Once Covid -19 changed all of our lives, I was determined to pivot to one-on-one tutoring, which I discovered was an awesome experience. The most rewarding part of tutoring is getting to know students in a more personal way and to see the pride they have with each new accomplishment.

I work with two children, a sister and brother ages 7 and 5. I think the best memories have been when I am able to connect with them despite doing so from Zoom.  During our sessions, once our “school work” is completed, we dance together and send each other pictures and I love that these meetings bring some fun to our tutoring time!

For those of you who are contemplating becoming a tutor, I would say that despite all of the challenges that will be a part of your experience, that the joy of connecting with your students will impact you in ways you will always treasure. You will make such a difference in their lives!

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Acacia Shyr

Acacia is a highly skilled tutor and is exceptionally dedicated to helping her students become life-long learners. She practices a pedagogy of love and puts in the work to build deep and transformative relationships with her students.  Acacia’s compassion, thoughtfulness, and dedication are absolutely outstanding, and it is my honor to nominate her as a School On Wheels volunteer of the year for the West Los Angeles region. 

-Alex Toutant, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I’ve always been looking for a meaningful volunteering opportunity to be directly involved in an organization’s mission. During my time at UCLA, I discovered that I really enjoy teaching, so I set out to find a way to give back to the education system that gave me so much. When I found School on Wheels online, I was hopeful that it would be what I’ve been looking for. It is nearly impossible to find volunteering where you feel needed, and there isn’t a huge barrier to entry. It has been such a blessing to have been a volunteer tutor for the past 3 years, and I hope I never stop.

The most rewarding aspects of tutoring include the freedom to explore students’ interests, be their strength when they feel weak, offer dependability, and bring them closer to realizing their purpose through education. In school, there’s often little to no time to ask students one-on-one about how they feel about school, what their interests are, and reveal the importance and wonder behind seemingly mundane assignments. 

One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had as a tutor happened a few weeks ago when my student (a 5-year-old) told me that she loved coming to tutoring because it was fun. She has such a sweet spirit, and it made me so happy to hear that I am making a life-long positive impact in her life. In six months, I’ve seen her go from knowing the alphabet to asking if we can learn to spell “friends,” a much more advanced word than her current level. 

My advice to new volunteers would be to listen to your student actively. Outside of tutoring, they may rarely get the impression that what they have to say is important. Love is spelled T-I-M-E. We aren’t regular tutors whose main goals are to reach certain academic markers. We are role models and dependable guides who journey with our students toward loving learning and using it to live out their passions.

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Meng Liev

I nominated Meng as a volunteer of the year for her amazing leadership in working with 2 students and meeting as many times as possible with her students, even up to twice per week. Meng engages students to participate in various School on Wheels programs, competitions, and scholarships. She has been a great advocate helping make sure a Spanish-speaking family gains the correct information and stays engaged. Meng has also helped in communication with tutors who are working with siblings and taken on a leadership role to help the students’ families! 

-Genesis Torres, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I am grateful for my life and want to give back to this country that has taken me and my family in. I volunteered to be a School on Wheels tutor for young children because I love nurturing curious minds.

I was thrilled to learn that my student had studied his division notes that I made him take when he kept saying he doesn’t understand.  He started our tutoring session as the tutor and taught me division from his notes.  He was so proud to show me that he had grasped a difficult concept, and I was happy to see him happy.  

The saying of “the more we give the more we get” rings true for me. The joy of helping a child is priceless.  It’s an exercise in opening our hearts, appreciating the little things in life and growing as a person.  It has been good for my mind, body and soul to know that I can make a difference in positive ways. 

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Phillip Chung

From the day Phillip joined School on Wheels, his passion, and enthusiasm for helping our students really stood out.  Shortly after he was matched with his first student, asked if he could tutor more students (he now tutors four students).  I’ve had the pleasure of watching Phillip tutor and his students adore him, they really look up to him.  Not only do his students adore him, but the parents of his students really appreciate him and feel like he’s a part of their family.  In addition to tutoring, Phillip has been incredibly active in other ways, including creating a Volunteer Peer group for which tutors in the IE come together, meet, exchange ideas and support one another.  Phillip is always looking for ways to enhance what he does with his students as well as ways to make a deeper impact overall with School on Wheels.  Phillip is one of the kindest human beings I know with a heart of gold.  His passion for his students, their parents and the community is huge.  I’m incredibly grateful for Phillip. He deserves this distinction so very much.

-Stephanie Swenseid, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I often met homeless families through volunteering at a food pantry and always wished there was more I can do more for them, especially the children. I was raised with a strong emphasis on education, so I believed it was my duty to leverage this background in helping displaced students reach their highest potentials. School on Wheels sounded like the perfect opportunity to pursue this interest of mine.

Being able to be a long-term resource for students has been the most rewarding aspect. Not only do I get to see my students grow both academically and emotionally over time, but I can also support them on both their good and bad days. Through all of this, I have the opportunity to grow alongside my students.

One fond memory was when Eliana, a 3rd grade student, asked me to keep being her tutor when her family found permanent housing and transitioned out of School on Wheels’ services. It meant so much that she enjoyed our sessions as much as I did, and it was a stark reminder of our tangible impact on our students.

If you are considering being a volunteer tutor, do it! It has been such a life-changing experience. You do not need any teaching experience—just the passion and desire to serve our youth—and will have the chance to grow alongside your student.

Nov 18

We Are Thankful for You

In a year fraught with uncertainty it can be challenging, yet essential, to note glimmers of hope. Hope comes when volunteers support students in their formative years. Hope comes when donors and supporters fund programs that enhance marginalized communities. Hope comes when frontline workers dedicate themselves to serving their community. We give thanks for all these glimmers of hope and we give thanks for your support—not just of School on Wheels, but of any of the thousands of organizations that are working to make our community a better place.

We want to express our deepest gratitude to our community of supporters. Your time, talents, and contributions have allowed us to match more than 2,000 amazing kids with their very own tutor. Because of you, our students got the support that they wouldn’t have received otherwise. May this act as a reminder that a little hope goes a long way. Please continue to take care of yourself and others as we embark on this season of thankfulness. 

Charles Evans
Executive Director

Aug 26

Scruffy and the Egg

From creator John Dowd’s Instagram:

Today I’m happy to share a short video I made about an extraordinary LA artist named Angela Sanchez. Angela is the author of a children’s book series called “Scruffy and Egg”. The series is based on stories that Angela and her father would tell each other as they experienced homeless together while Angela was still in high school. Angela’s stories reach children and adults alike and place dignity and empathy at the forefront of the conversation on homelessness. I’m truly grateful to Angela for being so open with me and for allowing me to tell a small part of her story.

John would like to encourage anyone who is moved by this video to donate to support our work for students like Angela.

Jul 29

Our 2019 Annual Report is OUT!

The School on Wheels 2019 Annual Report is available now for you to read in full on our website. Check out the photo slideshow—you might see a familiar face or two!

The way we serve our students may look a little different this year; still, our mission is the same. Watch Executive Director Charles Evans and President of the Board Josh Fein talk about 2019 and the changes 2020 has brought and read messages from our students, parents, and volunteers. Your work as a tutor, donor, cheerleader, and advocate for kids devastated by homelessness is more important now than ever. Please read about the impact you have made in our annual report,

May 28

May 2020 Update From Our Executive Director

Before the pandemic, we had already tutored more than 1,600 students experiencing homelessness with 1,250 volunteer tutors this year alone. We were well on our way to achieving—or even exceeding—our goal of tutoring 3,700 students. Our new improved literacy and digital learning programs were in full swing, fostering a love of reading and narrowing the digital divide for our students. Then, suddenly, normal life ceased and our reality transformed. Many people adapted. Meanwhile, our most vulnerable children face increased challenges in receiving a quality education. We at School on Wheels are determined more than ever to ensure our students get the help that they desperately need and deserve.

Today, we are focused on making sure that our students have access to a tutor, the internet, and technology so that they too can get online and access their classes. We are collaborating with our shelter partners, school districts, charter schools and other nonprofit partners to maximize our impact.

With your continued support, here is our most recent progress:

  • Conducted outreach to shelters, families and our volunteer tutors to gather information on their greatest needs and issues.
  • Strategized with LAUSD, LAHSA, LACOE and Mayor Garcetti’s team on ways to best support our students.
  • Partnered with several organizations and other nonprofits to distribute over 3,000 books, school supplies, Chromebooks, Wi-fi hotspots, tablets, kindles, hygiene kits, activity and science kits, and educational games and toys.
  • Re-trained our active volunteer base to tutor online and revamped our advanced training to address the new social and emotional needs caused by the pandemic.
  • Currently, more than 350 volunteer tutors⁠—with the support of our staff⁠—are regularly meeting with their students. That number continues to increase as more and more students are referred to our program.

We recognize that this pandemic will impact the world long-term, and while our lives will hopefully return to some semblance of normalcy, we expect online tutoring to become increasingly important for our students’ success over time. Our resource center is open for deliveries, but our staff is still working from home. As summer approaches, we need your support now more than ever, so that our kids don’t fall behind even further and have fun activities (albeit online) to keep them learning all summer long.

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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