Category: Star Volunteers

Oct 25

October 2021 Volunteers of the Month

Elyse Stelford

Elyse really goes above and beyond with her tutoring sessions and finds useful tools to help her during tutoring. She has shared many great resources with me and she also advocates for her student and her student’s mother. She ensures that Khalil is getting the appropriate resources at school and has great communication with both him and his mother. Elyse is patient and kind and makes her sessions fun and engaging. She is great at listening and makes sure Khalil feels heard and valued. 

-Yesenia Ontiveros, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I was a general education classroom teacher for 6 years, so getting to use my teacher skills to help my student understand a concept (and potentially even have some fun while doing so) is very rewarding. I also just truly love getting to spend time with our kids. They are all so funny and sweet! They get so excited to share their day or about something they read or a show they are loving. Grown ups don’t have that same enthusiasm. Working with kids is the best! 

Recently, I saw that Khalil was struggling with his multiplication facts. So I decided to go back to basics and use more concrete visual aids to help him. Usually we start our sessions with some drawing time and we will take drawing breaks throughout the session. We were working on multiplication using the visual aids and Khalil was CRUSHING it. When I asked him if he wanted to take a drawing break, he said no. I was stunned. I asked him, do you want to keep going because you’re doing such a great job and you’re good at this? He said yes. It made my heart so happy that he felt confident and didn’t even want to stop to draw! 

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer tutor?

If someone is considering being a volunteer tutor, I would tell them to do it! Don’t hesitate! Sign up today! You do not need to be a teacher. Anyone can help! Everyone has something special they can bring to the table to help enrich the life of an incredible School on Wheels kid!

Sai Rithvik Kotla

I decided to nominate Rithvik for his incredible desire to give back to others and help give the gift of education. He is always willing to tutor multiple students while being a student himself! It has been great to see Rithvik grow and build relationships with his students. 

-Genesis Torres, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I always felt that education is the most important thing in life. When people are educated they can contribute significantly to a stable and stimulating community. I wanted to help people in need and School on Wheels had a perfect combination of my interest and my passion. By volunteering with School on Wheels, I’m not only helping people who are in need, but I’m also helping them learn. I feel rewarded when my students finally make a breakthrough and understand something they’ve been struggling with and I’m able to have a direct impact on their work.  

My most memorable experience was when one of my students, who was struggling with math when I first began tutoring, told me that they started feeling comfortable doing math as our tutoring sessions went by and were able to ace a test in school.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer tutor?

You have the chance to make a real difference in the life of a child and ultimately, the greater community. Volunteer tutoring is easy and fun, and you get to experience your student’s positive responses and growth.

Amanda Zaumeyer

Amanda’s immense kindness and advocacy for her student has inspired me during such an uneasy and unpredictable time in the pandemic. Her ability to think on her feet and create innovative ways to help her student constantly amazes me! I am very thankful for all of her persistence and empathy. 

-Maxine Faustino, Volunteer Support Coordinator

The personal connection—I’ve been working with Lexi now for a year and a half—and the satisfaction of helping her through high school algebra and other tough subjects is so gratifying. Plus I really enjoy my time with her. We love chatting about life, our dogs, our taste in TV and music, etc. She’s so positive and has such a great laugh. Last month Lexi had studied for hours for an algebra test, but she still wasn’t feeling 100% confident, so she asked me to make her a whole new practice test to go through. I was so impressed by her determination to keep working until she “got it,” even though she had already put so many hours in. 

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer tutor?

Do it! You’ll get more out of it than you put in. 

Tim Bonds

Tim is a fantastic and dedicated tutor who gives up extra family time so he can tutor his student online on the weekends. He spends extra hours ahead of time finding resources and reviewing his student’s assignments so he is more than prepared for each session. Tim is such a fantastic asset to the School on Wheels program!

-Chris Walsh, Regional Coordinator

My first year of college I found that I was unprepared for the level and pace of my math classes. It was only through the help of friends that I was able to succeed. I have always wanted to pay it forward to others as the best way to repay that kindness. It is most rewarding to partner with families and students that put a high value on education, set challenging goals, and work hard at achieving them.
I have been very impressed with the progress that Mariam has made. Each week she attempts a new set of challenging math problems, and we go over those that are most difficult in our tutoring sessions. The very next week I will quiz her on similar problems—and she can solve them without my help!

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer tutor?

One should consider all of the instances in one’s own life in which we have been helped by others. What was the impact of each gift? How did it change our immediate situation and our lives into the future? In what ways can we offer the same things to others?

Erika Lin

Erika is compassionate, patient and understanding. She effortlessly connects with her students; always going an extra mile for them and advocating for them. It is inspiring to see how much her student Haze trusts her and leans on her for support. Erika is currently tutoring two students. I admire her dedication and flexibility for her students. I am grateful to have her on my team.

-Manmeet Sodhi, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I have always loved working with children and adolescents of all ages. Most of my experiences are from summer camp counseling or in a hospital setting, but never in education. I realized this past year at work, I enjoy teaching and mentoring. Moreover, I was ready to be challenged in a different arena. Luckily, my good friend told me about School on Wheels and when I learned more about the mission of this organization and target population—I knew it would be a rewarding experience. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of tutoring is hearing a student say “this was really helpful.” I love watching my students improve and gain clarity where there is a potential learning gap. As a tutor, I have also improved in the way I explain concepts that I can personalize to the student’s learning style; I have learned to think about multiple approaches to a concept so that I can cover all the important details. Lastly, I am humbled by how hard these students work despite their life circumstances. At times, they can transition between multiple schools within a month. Their willingness to continue to learn, show up for tutoring, and bring positive energy is incredible. 

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer tutor?
Do it. You will not regret it! It is a simple yet incredibly rewarding commitment each week with the potential to make a life-long impact on a student. Even if you feel like working with kids may not be something for you or you have no experience with teaching, the numerous resources and support at School on Wheels will definitely prepare you. Also, we have all been students at some point in our lives, so relating to these students might be easier than you think.

Sara Williams

Sara exemplifies a dedicated, passionate volunteer tutor! Not only was she the first tutor I ever matched at School on Wheels, but she has gone above and beyond to tutor both in-person and online. 

-Jesse Pasquan, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I first learned about School on Wheels (SOW) when I worked at Girl Scouts—a troop was raising money for the organization, kids helping other kids. It touched me so much that I looked into the organization, and was really drawn to the mission and program. It also felt like a wonderful opportunity to make a tangible difference in someone’s life. I’ve loved being part of SOW ever since.

There are so many reasons why I continue to tutor with SOW, and why I’ve found the experience incredibly rewarding. Yet what I’ve found most rewarding is creating a connection with my students like Serena—letting them know there’s another adult cheerleader in their lives, encouraging them to keep going, and inspiring them to do their best. The students have so much pressure to deal with; through tutoring, I strive to provide a respite and safe space for students like Serena to learn, grow, and have fun.

There have been so many great, memorable experiences with Serena, but I’d say the most memorable was our Shakespeare project. During summer break, I looked through SOW’s suggested activities, and came across a site with virtual tours of cultural institutions. I shared that list with Serena , and she wanted to check out the Globe in London.We decided it’d be fun to spend the next few weeks working on a brochure about Shakespeare’s life, works, and legacy. Serena got to flex her impressive graphic design skills! It’s a project I’ll always fondly remember, and hope Serena will as well, especially when she studies Shakespeare later in school!

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer tutor?

For me, tutoring is the best part of my week and can easily transform my day from bad to good. Even if you don’t have a background in education, SOW makes tutoring easy with great resources and enthusiastic (and accessible) staff. The whole volunteering experience has been incredibly positive and rewarding, and I recommend it to anyone interested in working with youth and/or helping unhoused folks. By committing an hour each week to tutoring, you’re doing wonders for the community, for today’s youth, and for yourself. 

Janet Adams

Janet is an incredible role model and mentor. She goes above and beyond for her student Hailey every single week. Janet comes prepared for every session. There are slides, books, pictures, and personalized activities waiting for her student in every session, both academic and non-academic. Her kindness, dedication, and commitment to Hailey and her family are inspiring. I am grateful to have her on my team.

-Manmeet Sodhi, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I meet with two incredible educators every six weeks. We are retired and one of them mentioned that her daughter found out about School on Wheels and shared the information with me. I applied right away. I wanted to continue to give to others my love of education, teaching, curriculum, and technology.  

School on Wheels provides a systematic platform that is incredibly easy to use and learn. The training, the resources, and the coordinators have made my induction a joy. My weekly opportunity with Hailey is not taken lightly. I think about our conversations, her academic position, and Hailey’s emotional health after every session. I examine my conversation and teaching strategies when we leave the session. How can I make the next session better? What am I missing? I really am not looking for my own personal rewards. I am here to serve Hailey and her mother.  

I love the moments when Hailey makes connections. Recently she was reading a book in Epic and the subject matter brought up a personal connection. As she was reading about minerals and their names, she lit up, showing me her bracelet and necklace. The mineral name she was reading was the same mineral that was in her jewelry. 

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer tutor?

The time spent with a student is giving back moments of learning and life lessons that may bring that student a foundation that they will build on from time to time. Your experiences are tried and tested and many of us have gone through fires that refine us into amazing human beings. With grit and determination, why not become a School on Wheels tutor?

Margie Johnson

I nominated Margie because she always goes above and beyond for her students. Even when her students are going through tough times, Margie always shows up ready to help them learn. Margie is always the first one to respond about helping with events and recruitment. She always has a positive attitude! 

-Aeriell Woodhams, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I was a teacher and wanted to work with children again, and I liked the idea of working with students who needed help with school work. I have worked with School on Wheels for about 10 years—mostly in person at Esqueda in Santa Ana. It is a great opportunity to help a student improve their academic skills as well as their self-esteem. Needless to say, I feel great satisfaction about what I am doing.

Batool Hussain

Batool brings the utmost patience, kindness, and care to her tutoring. She meets challenges with grace and persistence and is always thinking of ways to improve her students’ tutoring experience.

-Emma Gerch, Digital Learning Specialist

As a teacher, I’ve seen the disparity in the quality of education available to different populations. I’m going in a different direction with my career now, but I still wanted to use my teaching skills to help fill in some gaps. The first time my student got through an unfamiliar book pretty smoothly, I was so proud!

What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming a volunteer tutor?

Prepare more things than you know you’ll have time for… you’re constantly going to have to adapt to the mood or technology problems or your activity just not going the way you thought!

Sep 27

September 2021 Volunteers of the Month

Adrianne Rippinger

Adrianne is an experienced educator and is tutoring three elementary school students! We are so lucky to have her.
-Alexander Toutant, Volunteer Support Coordinator

As a former educator, and especially after witnessing a year of online education, I knew the best way I could give back to my community was by tutoring students. I also know from experience that well-off parents will always find a way to give their children an edge in school. Sadly and perhaps irreversibly, it is those less fortunate who lost the most educational progress this past year, further widening the gap in educational advantage. So it was to those less fortunate whom I turned to offer my time and educational skill set.

Kelly Bauer

Kelly is incredibly dedicated; he and his student have been working so hard together. He really enjoys working with his student and they have a really special bond. Kelly has so much care and compassion and it’s clear that he only wants to see his student succeed and have all of the opportunities to do so. He has made such a big impact in the four months he has been tutoring!
-Kristina Rakosh, Regional Coordinator

Last year I worked with my own children as they worked from home due to COVID. I saw how hard they were working and knew that it must be so challenging for other kids. I looked for organizations that I could support using my background in education and found School on Wheels. I loved their mission so I signed up.

I think the most rewarding part has been seeing my student grow. He is up against so many challenges and still is able to show up each week and learn. I can already see him getting stronger in Math and Writing. This summer, we worked on a five-paragraph essay as part of a School on Wheels scholarship he’ll be applying for this fall. He learned the whole process, created an outline and drafts of his essay. He was motivated and persistent the whole way through.

No matter what challenges you may be up against in your life, being kind, positive, and responsible can take you a long way. Every bit of energy you put into tutoring you receive back in multitudes from the joy and satisfaction of working with students.

Mohammad Fidaali

Mohammad is an incredible role model, mentor, and tutor for his student, Benjamin. When Mohammad first joined us, he had a huge desire to help, but he was uncertain if he had what it took to be a tutor. From the moment Mohammad started tutoring, he was a natural! He not only possesses a natural ability to teach, but he does a great job of finding ways to connect with his student. When Mohammad joined SOW, he had just made an important transition in his life, leaving a corporate job behind and moving back in with his family to pursue medical school. He’s a great example of what you can do with a positive mindset and determination. Mohammad has always been more than qualified to work with our students and is making a wonderful difference in the life of his student. It’s been a pleasure to watch him grow as a tutor.
-Stephanie Swenseid, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I have always enjoyed working with kids but hadn’t done so in quite some time. I found myself with some extra time on my hands recently and decided I wanted to spend a portion of it tutoring. I started talking to people who also tutor and one of them mentioned School on Wheels specifically. The mission at School on Wheels is genuine, which is why I decided to reach out and see if I can volunteer.

Working with Benjamin has given me an immense perspective on how people develop. I think I was like him in a lot of ways when I was in third grade. Quick, wanting, not wishing to struggle through to potentially greater outcomes. So seeing that, and now working with him at this stage in my life, is humbling. He has taught me patience and the virtue of practicing what we preach. I was blown away at his ability to process the information, retain, recall, and give really sound, creative thoughts on abstract ideas like where he thinks the story will progress. These were things I wasn’t expecting. What I realized then is that he can actually read very well, it’s just sometimes he might get flustered or give an incorrect answer in the moment. In actuality, with time and strong effort put towards the question or problem, he can get an accurate answer. He does have the ability to excel!

Jessica Spake 

Jess is truly an amazing volunteer! The two students she tutors speak three languages, with English being their newest language. Jess has been able to tutor them in both English and in French. She brings excitement about space, animals, and academic achievements to the table.
-Jesse Pasquan, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I learned about School on Wheels from a friend. I believe that kids experiencing homelessness deserve the resources necessary to succeed in school. My student Amy has taught me that we all need big checkmarks for every achievement we make. I would tell anyone thinking about becoming a tutor, “do not hesitate. Getting to know my students, and seeing them bravely face up to academic challenges has been an utter privilege.”

Aug 23

Volunteers of the Summer (2021)

Anya Alag

Anya has an incredibly warm and nurturing spirit. She is particularly great about identifying her students’ interests and incorporating them into her lessons. Anya is always quick to go above and beyond her duties as a volunteer, and we are lucky to have her in the School on Wheels family!

Emma Gerch, Digital Learning Specialist

I always enjoyed working with children—they are so bright, brilliant, imaginative, and curious. I also was in awe of School on Wheels’ mission, to provide resources to children who need them most, and I wanted to be a part of that! Seeing one of my students get excited about something I’m teaching them is the best feeling—I appreciate their passion and enthusiasm, and feel like they are making strides in their educational journey. 

One of my students and I baked cornbread together, and also discussed the science of baking, and the history of cornbread. I enjoyed creating an interdisciplinary lesson for my student that combined multiple subjects and delicious food! To someone considering volunteering, I would say absolutely do it! It is such a fun experience, and just as much as your student will learn from you, you will learn a lot from them. And be creative with your lessons if you can! Putting in the effort can make tutoring a lot more exciting for both the tutor and the student. 

Jaslyn Wong

Jaslyn is a blessing! She is extremely patient, fun, and innovative. She is also enthusiastic and always ready to take on a challenge. Despite the challenges, she creatively engages her student and helps them flourish. She has fostered a deep and warm relationship not just with her student but also with the family. I am grateful to have Jaslyn on my team.

Manmeet Sodhi, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I’ve always loved learning, teaching, and kids! I thought I would combine some of my interests and give back to the community by sharing what (little) knowledge and skills I do have. My first-ever job in high school was tutoring young kids from ages 4 to 14. I remember using all of my paychecks to buy popsicles/snacks and activity books for the kids just because I truly found joy in enriching their lives!

The “breakthrough” moments are always so, so rewarding! This is especially true for the moments that required some grit, tough love, and hard work to achieve. But, by far, my favorite moments are the day-to-day interactions that I get to have with the students. Whether it’s a bonding moment over a hip new video or finding similarities in our humanness, I feel so very honored to be able to interact with and inspire the younger generation. (You would be surprised to know how many students get awestruck when they find out that their teacher/tutor also enjoys eating pizza or visiting the local fast food joint or taking part in a viral TikTok food trend!) 

I think any time we are working on “tough stuff” is when I find tutoring to be the most memorable. It’s always a magical process to see Max transform from having a super hesitant and skeptical attitude to having more of an “oh this isn’t as bad as I initially thought” attitude. I remember one time we were working on some visual spelling techniques with the word “which”. He was arguing with me that I was using the wrong “which”. (He thought that was how you spell “witch”.) After trying different methods of explaining it to him, we found a saying that helped him remember which was which! The saying was “Which ‘h’ is your favorite in ‘which’?” 

If someone is considering tutoring, do it! You might think you’re not qualified to be a teacher or you might be apprehensive about not getting along with your tutee, but I promise you that you will find something in common. There has never been an encounter or session where I regretted showing up. I always feel rejuvenated and full of life after a tutoring session! Being a tutor is more than just teaching; it’s being a friend/mentor/role model for your tutee! The impact you can have is always so humbling. 

Chloe Wells

I nominated Chloe because she is dedicated and committed to her student’s education and personal growth. She helps instill confidence and determination in her student. Chloe’s passion for School on Wheels is evident and is demonstrated each and every time she meets with her student. 

Maxine Faustino, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I have spent many years working as a piano teacher and organic chemistry tutor. I love helping people nail challenging concepts and have so much fun working with students. School on Wheels presented a perfect opportunity for me to follow this passion while contributing to a super awesome cause! Everything I teach has been something that I struggled to learn at one point in my life. I find fulfillment in being able to help people through the same struggles that I faced when I was in their position. 

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your student excel at something that they once struggled with. Amy and I have been working on building a strong foundation by practicing with fractions. After a few weeks of practice she has improved significantly and seems a lot more confident! 

Aarij Gora 

I decided to nominate Aarij because not only does he have a great relationship with his student, Alex, but he is also one of my tutor coordinators! Aarij is always willing to go the extra mile for our students and tutors. He does a great job of making his fellow tutors feel supported and can always be counted on!

Aeriell Woodhams, Volunteer Support Coordinator 

The reason I joined School on Wheels was actually my younger brother. I saw how hard online school was for him as a special needs teen and I really enjoyed helping him out with his homework and classroom activities. It helped me realize that I really enjoy spending time with kids and helping them out in different activities. The aspect of tutoring I have found most memorable is knowing that I am doing this for someone else. Not only have I developed a relationship with Alex, but also with his mom and his younger brother. Tutoring has allowed me to develop a relationship and connection with a whole family, which I think is really great and rewarding.

A memorable experience I had when tutoring was when Alex and I were playing a math game. It was amazing to see how much he progressed just during the middle of the game. He picked up on the patterns and the trends of the game very quickly to the point where he was sometimes saying the answer before I even read him the question! He has improved a lot in recognizing patterns and doing addition problems quickly. For someone who wants to volunteer as a tutor, definitely do it and stick with it! It is a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience where you can develop a relationship with a student and even their family. You may even make a new friend for life in the process. 

Julie Martel

Julie is an incredible tutor who has a gift for working with all students, and teenagers in particular. She possesses a beautiful ability to connect instantly with her students, helping them recognize their talents and abilities and how they can share them in the world. Students love working with Julie because she is fun, but also because she listens to them. Her students always know that she has their best interests in mind and cares for them. Julie is such a wonderful and caring person and makes a big difference with her students.

Stephanie Swenseid, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I wanted to be a tutor because as an older person I have learned much from living all these years and I wanted to use my knowledge to hopefully make the life of a young person better. The most rewarding aspect of tutoring is the friendly relationship that has developed between Anthony and I. I also love watching his self-confidence grow through the tutoring process. A memorable experience was when Anthony was moving to a different home and he asked me if I would keep tutoring him. It made me feel like he really appreciates me and the help I have been giving him. Helping young people is very rewarding. I know it is a cliche but you get as much as you give.

Geneva Tripp 

Geneva is a consistent, reliable, and resourceful tutor. She has been tutoring Freddy long-term and they have a great relationship. They have worked together on Freddy’s shoe business and she helped him win a School on Wheels scholarship. She wants the best for Freddy and is a truly positive role model for him. 

Yesenia Ontiveros, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I wanted to be a School on Wheels tutor to give students the opportunity to succeed at school and beyond, and to help them feel supported and confident in whatever passions they choose to follow. It’s very rewarding to see the progress my student has made over time: becoming motivated and passionate about their path, taking initiative, managing multiple classes and assignments on their own, and improving their grades. I loved seeing my student use the skills they learned from the BUS Program—budgeting and managing finances—for their business! I can see how it gave my student direction and motivated them to work hard in that area of life. It’s a great thing to be able to pass on whatever skills or knowledge you have to kids in the younger generation to help them recognize their potential.

John Pham

I nominated John for his dedication to his student, Sergio. I have seen John log tutoring sessions that exceed the required 1 hour a week and feel that he has gone above and beyond for Sergio! John is also a part of region 9’s CASA Youth virtual group tutoring team and also assists our region with delivery drop-offs. I am so thankful for the time and dedication that John has given to School on Wheels! 

Genesis Torres, Volunteer Support Coordinator

In the past, I had a great experience as a tutor at my local library. I later came across School on Wheels and read about its mission of improving education for students experiencing homelessness. The tremendous educational barriers that these students face made me want to help them. With my interest in the mission and joy for tutoring, I became a School on Wheels tutor. It has been very fulfilling to see how confident my student has grown in his academic abilities after working with him over the school year. I remember when he used to get discouraged doing mathematics. While accurately plotting points on a coordinate plane one session, he joyfully told me that he was starting to like this subject a little more. 

One day, my student suddenly told me that he wanted to learn how to count money. I taught him the value of a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter. He was already familiar with the different dollar bills. I remember taking objects from my room, putting a price on each item, and having him tell me the combination of coins and dollar bills he planned on using to pay. Though it was difficult doing all this virtually, we both had fun and he was able to give me the exact amount for each item. 

For those who are considering volunteering as a tutor, I would say that this is a meaningful and worthwhile experience. As their tutor and mentor, you will be helping students overcome tremendous educational barriers so that they can better pursue their dreams.

May 25

Volunteers of the Month (5/21)

I’ve been tutoring kids in stable housing for years and I know even small obstacles can feel huge to kids, much less something as daunting as homelessness. Seeing the impact of just a little bit of consistent individual attention has been so humbling. My current student was a very reluctant reader when I met her. A few months ago I treated her to a game she loves as part of her session, and a few minutes in she asked, “can we read a story now?”

I love reminding children that education and growth are exciting and fun. Seeing a shift in attitude and perspective towards education is the greatest and most rewarding gift. Using a digital learning platform can be difficult, but the drawings that my student and I have created together are amazing!

If someone asked me why they should become a tutor I would say, “Do it! It’s fun, it’s important, and it’s rewarding. Doesn’t everyone want those three things?!”

I’ve always loved tutoring and working with kids, and done so for years—this combined the best of best worlds! Virtual tutoring can be challenging, but it’s so rewarding to have been a part of my student’s lives over the past year. It’s been a hard one for all of us, and they’ve been a light in mine. One of my students told me she didn’t know how to do the math problems they were working on in class. We went through the steps, and within fifteen minutes she was teaching ME how to do the problems! It was fun to see her catch on so quickly.

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.

Mar 1

Volunteers of the Month (3/21)

Helen Kwon

Region 10

I decided to nominate Helen because she always goes above and beyond with her students. Helen is currently matched with 2 students at one of our sites in Tustin and she meets with these students a total of 6 times a week! She puts so much passion behind the work she does with her students and it is truly inspiring.

Aeriell Woodhams, Volunteer Support Coordinator

As a former high school English teacher I can supplement my own children’s education, and I wanted to do that for others. I was troubled by the disparities in education, especially during the pandemic. I could see the lack of education my own children were receiving.

I’ve mostly worked with older children and I enjoy the rapport with them, but sometimes I don’t necessarily see the academic improvements as readily. Today I’ve been working with my current 1st grader for just over 2 months and I can already see huge gains in her literacy. She’s actually reading!

If tutoring a child in need sounds interesting, try it — one on one tutoring really works! Just devoting one hour per week makes a real difference in that child’s current life & future possibilities.

Tazin Yunis

Region 10

I nominated Tazin because of the impact she is making on the high school students she works with. Tazin is currently working with four high school students and helping with college applications. All four have applied to their respective colleges and completed their FAFSA. The impact Tazin is making is amazing and is going to make a lasting impact on the students.

Aeriell Woodhams, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I have been a “volunteer” all my life; in my faith community, voluntary service is heavily encouraged and regarded as a responsibility and obligation to our fellow citizens on this Earth. I believe education is of the utmost importance and something we can carry with us, no matter what life may throw at us. It’s the one thing that can’t be taken away from us, and if need be it can be used to start all over, whether we have to change states, countries, or continents.

By volunteering with School on Wheels, I can use my skills, time, and energy to help at-risk students improve and excel in their studies and make strides towards changing their futures. After tutoring students in math, reading, science, and English for over 7 years, in the fall of 2020 I started helping high school seniors with their college and FAFSA applications. After researching and going through the process with my own daughter, I felt experienced enough to help advise our School on Wheels students with putting their best foot forward on their applications. I am a CPA by trade, so helping our students obtain financial aid to make their college dreams a reality is very rewarding. I am excited to see them enter the next phase in life and blessed to have been a small part of their journey.

No matter how busy or stretched you might feel you are, there is always time to give back. Find a cause that is important to you and dedicate some time to it. If supporting students experiencing homelessness speaks to your heart, I highly recommend getting involved with School on Wheels. One hour a week is easy to give and could make such a difference in a student’s life. During COVID, volunteering is as easy as logging into an online platform and meeting with your student virtually, you don’t even need to leave your home! Get involved and make a difference!

Raya Smith


Raya has demonstrated patience, dedication, and persistence in supporting her student, who has special needs. Raya tutors twice per week, regularly researches resources to help Marcos thrive in school, and always models care and understanding in her sessions with him. We are lucky to have Raya in the School on Wheels family!

Emma Gerch, Digital Learning Specialist

After COVID-19 hit the U.S. last spring and we were all sent home from college, I was seeing a lot of stories online about younger kids who were struggling with keeping up in online learning. After doing a bit of research, I found School on Wheels online. I fell in love with the mission and wanted to do my part to help tutor those in need!

I always smile whenever Marcos gets really excited about learning or sharing something with me about his life! He loves to talk about animals, and we always learn about a new animal after doing math during a session. One time, he pulled a guinea pig out of his hood and it surprised me so much I couldn’t stop laughing! He definitely loves his animals 🙂

If you’re considering volunteering with School on Wheels, do it! The staff is super supportive of their tutors, and the kids are awesome to work with! School on Wheels provides a fairly low-time-commitment way to make a difference in a student’s life!

Judith Seki

Region 8

Judy is one of the most patient, kind, and helpful tutors I have met. She has an amazing way of connecting with and relating to her student. She understands the struggles our students face and is always willing to be an advocate for their rights. Working with Judy is an inspirational experience!

Manmeet Sodhi, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I learned about School on Wheels in 2015, while I was a teacher at Soledad Enrichment Action Charter High School. I was reading the L.A. Times and saw the obituary for Agnes Stevens, the founder of School on Wheels. Impressed with her story and the organization’s mission, I decided that volunteering for them would be one of my retirement projects. I retired in 2016, and soon thereafter joined the School on Wheels family. I love teaching and have a special appreciation and love for students who have experienced barriers that have prevented them from having an ideal educational experience. Although I retired from my teaching job, I never want to stop teaching!

Through the years, I have had so many experiences that made me smile! Some are funny, and others are pure joy in students’ accomplishments. I recall an essay written by a high school student who had to name one fictional character she would like to meet, and what she would like to do with that person. She chose Cinderella, and stated that she would like to do chores with her!

It is a very rewarding experience to see how you can make a difference in someone’s life by tutoring. I always feel that I end up learning the most!

Shant Khamo

Region 9

Shant had my region’s second-highest number of sessions held last quarter! He went above and beyond, meeting with his student two times a week. Shant hit the ground running, tutoring in any way possible, and continues to make sure his student has the opportunity to complete his work when they are able to meet together online!

Genesis Torres, Volunteer Support Coordinator

I was inspired to start volunteering because I felt that School on Wheels offered me an outlet where I could make a genuinely positive influence on the upcoming generation.

I have found it most gratifying when Amari had a moment of realization where he obtained a better understanding of a subject. One memorable experience we had was during the beginning of tutoring, working on his math skills with an online math game. Amari truly enjoys games in general and loves to compete!

For anyone considering volunteering with School on Wheels, I would tell them to immediately sign up to start tutoring because it truly has a very positive effect on both myself and my student. I am extremely happy with this program, and I have made a new friend in my student, Amari.