Category: Star Volunteers

Jan 6

Volunteers of the Month – January 2020

John Almeida

Region 11 – SRLC

John has been a consistent help with all of our students, but has really given attention to our older students. We can always count on him to be present, positive, and a genuinely caring person. John has also gone above and beyond by helping us recruit more tutors for our program.

Jason Wright, SRLC Instructor

The reason I started volunteering at School on Wheels can be traced back to my childhood. At an early age, my mom stressed the importance of using education to assimilate and achieve the American Dream. Success for me is remembering where I came from and helping those in need. I’ve had many awesome experiences at the Skid Row Learning Center, but there’s one that reinforced my purpose of being there early on. After one of my first sessions, an elementary student asked me to play Jenga with him. I was afraid and didn’t know what to say while we were playing, so it was a good thing that he was a chatter box. He told me about the last school that he went to and how he missed his friends, the playground, and the monthly student store. As he continued, I kept thinking that his descriptions of the school sounded like the one I had gone to, and his eyes lit up when I said the school name. He asked if I could read minds. We were both excited about the discovery and were able to establish a hometown bond that day. Volunteering at School on Wheels has been one of the greatest privileges I’ve had. I encourage anyone who is thinking of tutoring to lean in and give it a shot— you’ll be surprised what you learn about yourself in the process. The impact you’ll have on a child’s educational and emotional development will radiate through all parts of your life.

Diane Lopez

Region 1

Diane is currently tutoring three students. She started with one and stepped up to tutor two more when I was desperately short on bilingual tutors. Diane goes above and beyond for each one of her students. She is amazingly devoted to them, and each one has made great progress. She not only finds time for them, but also regularly finds time to give me updates regarding the progress they have made.

Manmeet Sodhi, Coordinator

I found School on Wheels while looking for tutoring jobs. I have a degree in Child Development and wanted to use it in a way that showed that I understood them and cared. I have a student who is a Native Spanish speaker and sometimes I forget how to translate certain words for him; many times I’m scrambling, trying to remember the words, and he thinks it’s the most hilarious thing! I can’t help but laugh with him. If you are thinking of volunteering, I’d say do it. Just remember, this isn’t for some shiny medal or people congratulating you on social media; this is for the kids. They need someone who is there to support them, to make them smile, to be consistent in showing they care. No medal could take the place of a child’s smile.

Vicentica Valdes

Region 5

I nominated Vicentica because of her ability to connect with students in group homes & her passion for helping our students on a larger scale. In addition to attending crafting events for student supplies, she is always willing to take on challenging tutoring placements. Her ability to easily connect with our students makes her a natural go-to for building successful rapport!

Jesse Pasquan, Coordinator

I found School on Wheels after trying out a few different volunteering experiences using Volunteer Match. School on Wheels’ mission spoke to me in a way that the others didn’t, and they provided me with a more consistent opportunity to volunteer, one that allowed me to focus on my immediate community. Being able to show these kids that there are caring people in the world who can and will help others means a lot to me. My favorite experience so far during tutoring has to be the time my student had no homework and I had no materials; we ended up using a white board to work through multiplication problems together. Initially, he was shy about working out a problem on the white board but we made it into a competition and wound up laughing and challenging each other with new math problems. The next time he didn’t have homework he specifically asked if we could work through math problems because he had so much fun and it made my heart melt a little.Volunteering as a tutor has been incredibly rewarding for me. When I first signed up, I wanted to stick to administrative and behind the scenes type volunteering; I was a little intimidated by the tutoring aspect! But now, I’ve been tutoring for over a year and I love it. I would tell anyone who is thinking about volunteering to stop thinking and just do it!

Cynthia Zapata

Region 4

Cynthia is an outstanding volunteer and was very recently made a Tutor Coordinator. She goes above and beyond to help the kids at her shelter. She attends group tutoring twice a week and does a great job bonding with all of the kids and other volunteer tutors. Cynthia is a true gem!

Kristina Rakosh, Coordinator

I learned about School on Wheels while seeking out new volunteer opportunities. The second I had read about their purpose and what they truly care for I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. Something I have come to notice is that my students like to help each other, either with homework or just some random activity we’re doing. They help each other and it brings a genuine smile to not only my face but the other tutors as well. These kids are so bright and their love for creativity is something I always look forward to seeing every week. If someone is considering tutoring with School on Wheels I would encourage them to do it whole-heartedly! The kids may be a little tough to get through to at first, but once you get to know them, they’re some of the best kids you’ll ever meet!

Wisdom Ibole

Region 2

I nominated Wisdom because he exudes a passion for education. Recently, I had the opportunity to observe him working with his students. He is patient, understanding, and motivates them to work hard. Although he has only been with School on Wheels for three months, I can see his drive and the commitment he has to his students. He is a great tutor, and the kids are always excited to see him!

Carlie Whittaker, Coordinator

I learned about School On Wheels through my local NPR station, KPCC. I believe I have so much to learn and to give! Recently I was going over multiplication with one of the students and initially he stumbled with some of the problems, but I was astounded and elated at how quickly he came to understand the concepts. He was basically performing expansions! To anyone considering volunteering as a tutor, I would first commend them on wanting to help out, then try to tell them how rewarding my experience has been. The students might not always be responsive, but slowly, with patience, they do warm up to you. You get to help them have those “aha!” moments. You come to see their potential. You slowly learn how best to get them engaged. When you get them going, it is such a beautiful sight! They are children, after all, and just like us they want someone to be there and be proud of them. In this way, you get to be a positive influence in their lives.

Nov 18

The Most Rewarding Volunteer Work You’ve Never Heard Of

Guest post by School on Wheels Ambassador Victor Maldonado

There are enough children without homes in Los Angeles to fill Dodger Stadium. Yet, when we think of homelessness, children aren’t who we typically imagine. With over 65,000 students without homes in Los Angeles County alone, why does child homelessness go so grossly unnoticed? The answer is simple: out of sight, out of mind. These are children who are living in shelters, motels, group foster homes, vehicles, and on the streets. The common thread that connects these children is a lack of consistent education. 

I am proud to volunteer with an organization that bridges these gaps in education, giving children experiencing homelessness a fighting chance at a stable life—School on Wheels. Their approach may seem modest: tutor a child for one hour per week. However, the impact on that child’s life is incalculable—it provides these children with the structure and consistency they need. That hour reiterates to them that they aren’t forgotten, that they do matter, and that they can change their circumstances.

And once a child believes in themselves, the hope and optimism they carry is truly inspirational. In January 2018 a student of mine was struck in the crossfire of a drive-by. In the weeks following, I recall trying to be sympathetic to his condition by telling him we could just play games until he felt better. Knowing he had the SATs coming up, he responded, “Games won’t get me into college. We’ll work on math sections.” To contextualize things, this was a student who, not even a year prior, would constantly vocalize that he might as well “pick out a box to live in now” because he felt he had no chance of attending college. It was at that precise moment that I realized how much of an impact that hour a week can have on the self-esteem of a child in need.

School on Wheels is the only non-profit organization in Southern California that focuses on the education of children experiencing homelessness. As such, its’ success, as well as the success of the children it serves, is directly related to its number of volunteers. Sadly, that number is often limited by people’s misconceptions on whether they’re “qualified” to volunteer. In reality, the only obstacle is a person’s willingness to volunteer. 

Regardless of your age, background or level of education, your mere presence in a child’s life can be transformative. They will never forget that someone cared enough to show up once a week during the most turbulent time of their lives. Get started today.

Nov 12

Meet Adam, Yalda, and Naz

Guest post by School on Wheels volunteer ambassador Stacey Millett.


Recently Yalda published a book of her poetry to raise funds for School on Wheels. It includes drawings from School on Wheels students as well! You can buy the book here and on November 16th, 2019 there will be a public book launch party in Ventura


Adam, 16 years old, started with School On Wheels in March 2018. He describes his experience with his tutors as being “positive and helpful in creating a template to reach his goals.”

When Adam came to School On Wheels his main aspiration was to work on increasing his SAT score. Adam’s current goal is to score within the top 1 percent of students on the PSAT, which will make him eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program. He would like to attend USC and study biology and design. 

School On Wheels worked to facilitate a personal relationship that would support Adam in achieving his goals. Yalda,16, and her mother Naz tutored Adam together. Adam says, “they are both very helpful and have different points of view. Perspectives from both the mother and daughter help in different areas and provides a balance in learning.” 

The three met each week, and sometimes their sessions lasted over two hours. If they were unable to meet in person they did Skype sessions on the computer. Adam was very grateful to School On Wheels for providing a computer so that his learning has no boundaries.  

Adam and Yalda are the same age. Yalda has benefited from the tutor sessions as well, as she was studying to take her SAT test soon. Typically, when one of them answered a problem incorrectly, the other will have answered correctly, and vice versa. Naz, in a truly parental fashion, made sure they took breaks outside of the library: getting fresh air and even going for a quick jog around the building. 

This unique tutoring template they have created “worked working wonderfully,” Naz explained. When Adam began his School on Wheels tutoring sessions with Naz and Yalda, his score was 1170. He’s now at 1450! “This was a big turning point”, Naz continued, “when Adam scored so high, it made all three realize their hard work and dedication was really showing results and it gave them all more trust in each other and the process.”

Adam’s advice to other School On Wheel students is this: “Find a goal and dedicate yourself to your goal. If you are struggling to find something to focus on, ask others what they think you are good at, see if that is a good fit, and keep your head down and work hard. If things get hard along the way, believe that it will get better.” 

Adam adds that “when he achieves his success he will have three to credit: Yalda, Naz and School On Wheels for helping him get there.” Yalda believes 100% in this possibility, saying “Adam has a bright future ahead of him and can do anything he commits to.”

Nov 6

Volunteers of the Month – Nov. 2019

Christina Schoellkopf

Region 4

Christina is a dedicated tutor! She tutors one-on-one at the same time and place as several other School On Wheels tutors. I have received a lot of feedback about her from those other tutors and it is all incredibly positive. She does a great job and has made such an impact with her student.

Kristina Rakosh, Coordinator

As a journalist, I had been overwhelmed by the hate and misconduct I had been reporting. When the #MeToo movement reached a tipping point in 2018, I realized I couldn’t control how other people treated members of their community. But I felt compelled to do more to add goodness to mine. So, I started researching ways I could give back and help people. I think what’s special about School on Wheels is that we are more than tutors, we have the power to be advocates.

For example, I learned that my student DeAndre wanted to earn his driver’s license, but didn’t know where to start. I contacted his social worker and asked how he could start this process and if there was a way I could help, and when I relayed back to DeAndre about it, he said something like, “Wow, you really care,” and this meant a lot to me! The one hour a week I give of my time brightens my entire week. We may be called tutors, but we do a lot of learning on this end, too.

Shreya Mardia

Region 9

Shreya is an absolute rock star of a tutor! She comes to group tutoring every single week with a huge smile on her face and a passion for the students she works with. She is pure joy and sunshine and the students love working with her.

Rachael Christenson, Coordinator

Initially I was volunteering at my local library to help my community, but I wanted to help out where it was most needed. When I found School on Wheels online, it seemed like a perfect fit, as I had prior experience working as a tutor.

Not long ago, I was working with a very young student who was trying to learn how to write his name. After I helped him learn how to write the letters and he was able to write his name all by himself, he was so excited and proud about this accomplishment. He even turned to another tutor and showed it to them, saying that I had taught him how to write his name correctly. It made me happy that I was able to make such a difference in someone’s life just by spending little of my time every week. I’m truly glad that I was able to be a part of its wonderful volunteer program. If you are thinking about volunteering, definitely become a volunteer tutor for School on Wheels. It’s only an hour a week and you could change someone’s life for the better!

Eden Ettenger

Region 8

I had a chance to get to know Eden at an Advanced Tutor Training and I was so impressed with her dedication, her enthusiasm and her commitment to her student, Anthony. She followed up that training with a wonderful email asking how she could become more involved and now she is taking on a new program at Transition House as a Tutor Coordinator! We are so lucky to have her in Region 8!

Chris Walsh, Coordinator

I am actually from the same town as Agnes Stevens, the founder of School on Wheels. My mom knew her and I remember doing volunteer events for School on Wheels when I was younger. The organization has stayed in my mind ever since. Homelessness and education are the two social issues that are of most importance to me. I have always loved School on Wheels’ mission and I think it addresses an issue that is too often neglected: the effects homelessness has on one’s educational experience. I feel very lucky to be a part of School on Wheels’ work. Whenever I do science experiments with my student, I love seeing how curious he is to learn more; he is incredibly intelligent, and seeing our work together pull that out of him is a very special experience. For anyone considering becoming a volunteer tutor, I would say definitely do it! It is nothing short of a life-changing experience.

Nivitha Kandula

Online

Nivitha is an incredibly consistent and positive influence on her student. She is always thinking about the best ways to support him.

Emma Gerch, Coordinator

I learned about Schools of Wheels through personal online research. I was interested in trying to be a part of something new and help others even when I may not necessarily be in the same location. I think that knowledge is something that everyone should have, and I wanted to take a small part in spreading it, one step at a time.

It always makes me smile when my student and I compete against each other in games. He’s usually better than me at some of the games, and it makes me laugh when he wins. It’s a very rewarding experience and you can form a bond with your student. You can also learn new things or reinforce topics. There is always a new experience to come and new things to try, so to anyone considering becoming a tutor, I say go for it.

Chris Smith

Region 10

Chris prioritized his student, Jacob, and his success from the second he started his first session. Chris’s positive attitude is infectious, not only for his student, but for his fellow tutors. He has a way of making everyone feel comfortable and welcome and it truly impacts everyone around him. From making sure his student is set up for success to planning additional sessions to helping with extra School on Wheels events, Chris has been so reliable and impactful, and I am so grateful for him!

Katie Philipson, Coordinator

I am grateful to the people who helped me during my early years and found School On Wheels while looking for an opportunity to give back. My student Jacob helps out his mom by getting his younger brother Jaay ready every morning. Jacob and his brother both came to the Halloween party, and it was great to see Jacob in his role as responsible big brother, making sure that his young sibling had fun and stayed in line. It’s so rewarding to give a helping hand to a young person in a difficult situation. It doesn’t take much time and it’s fun.

Oct 1

Volunteers of the Month – Oct. 2019

Rahul Kamalapurkar

Region 5

Rahul is constantly in good spirits at a fast-paced Digital Learning Center. He is invested in each of the students’ learning, and is always looking for ways to help out & make new tutors feel welcome. Rahul is very smart & happy to pass his math skills along to any student who wants to learn. He has been tutoring since January of 2019.

Jesse Pasquan, Coordinator

I was tutored growing up and had previously been a mentor for the foster care system. When I moved to LA I did a Google search for tutoring programs for underserved/underprivileged kids and found School On Wheels. A lucky find! I grew up with parents who had very high standards for me, but we were in a small town with a low-quality education system. I’ve seen how much of a difference educational support can make, and I wanted to be part of that effort.

The kids’ high energy is refreshing every week—so many of the students are really motivated and have a great sense of humor. In one of my first tutoring sessions, a Kindergarten student and I were reading together and making howling noises as the dog in the story howled at the moon. I still chuckle when I think about that day. I think my favorite moments are when a student is working on a tough problem (especially in math, my favorite) and sticks with it until he/she figures out the logic. I’ve truly felt like every session has been rewarding for me. So many of the kids want to be great students and just need someone to help them get over barriers; it’s amazing to be part of that journey.

Ann Buckley

Region 10

Ann has been tutoring James for over three years and has gone above and beyond to make sure he has consistency in his life. When I saw Ann with James it was clear how close they were and how much they trusted each other. Ann told me all about how wonderful James was and I could see how proud that made James feel. They have met anywhere that they are able to and Ann has really gone above and beyond to maintain that connection.

Katie Philipson, Coordinator

I found School on Wheels when I had just retired and was wanting to give back. It has been a very rewarding experience, and can also be great fun. I always encourage people to become a volunteer tutor. One hour of our time can be so precious for these children. The hour I spend with my student is definitely a highlight of my week. When my student James won the “Character Counts” award last school year, he was so proud. There are simply no words to describe how I feel… it’s so gratifying and fulfilling to know that I can have an impact on my student’s day, week, and even life.

Bernadette Baclig

Region 9

Bernadette has been such an amazing tutor at HIS House! She has been there since day one of group tutoring when we started in May of 2018 and has been a rock of support for the kids there. They love Ms. B!

Rachael Christenson, Coordinator

I first realized my love for working with students while volunteering at my kids’ elementary school. I love showing them that learning can be fun and providing them with useful skills to overcome any learning obstacles they might encounter.

I remember one student last year in our group session. Whenever he came in for tutoring, he looked like he didn’t want to be there and would always ask to play online games that were not educational. His family moved to another location, but within a month or so he was back… and very excited to be there! My Regional Coordinator informed me that he specifically asked to attend our group session, even though his family was now in another location. So even though at times it might feel like we are not getting through, something amazing is happening.

For anyone thinking of volunteering, I’d say don’t hesitate to do it. Think about all the students who are hungry for knowledge and just need someone to be there as their mentor, cheerleader, and teacher. School on Wheels makes it easy to volunteer, from their training to their support team.

Aug 29

Volunteers of the Month – Sept. 2019

Elaine Gonzales

Region 6

Elaine is an incredibly dedicated tutor who has been working with Colin for a year now. When Elaine initially began tutoring Colin, he was very withdrawn, wouldn’t talk much, and was very resistant to learning math. Through consistent tutoring sessions, care, and kindness, Elaine has been able to help bring Colin out of his shell and begin working on his academics.

Stephanie Swenseid, Coordinator

I wanted to work with children and I was pleasantly surprised when I found School on Wheels on the Internet. I wanted to help children who needed help and could not afford a private tutor. Seeing my student show up for his tutoring sessions with a smile always makes me smile too, confirming that volunteering is not only helping the students but helping me be happier as well. If you choose to volunteer as a tutor, you could be providing a positive difference in a young person’s life that will last a lifetime, one that, given the circumstances, that they might not otherwise have had.

Raquel Abreu

Region 3

Raquel has tutored with us for six years! She has worked with many students and has greatly impacted each and every one of them.

Cecilia Olivas, Coordinator

I was thrilled when my student shared with me that he won a mathematics award at school. He recognized how helpful our math sessions were and he said regarding maths: “I finally get it now!!!”

I do always encourage people to become a volunteer tutor. I just tell them how one hour of our time can be so precious for these children. That hour with my student is definitely a highlight of my week. There are no words to describe how I feel… it’s so gratifying and fulfilling to know that I can have an impact on my student’s day, week, or even life

Abheerava “Ganesh” Koka

Region 8

Ganesh is an amazing young man who is dedicated to School on Wheels and to his student. He was inspired by his grandfather to become a volunteer and to give back to his community and he is dedicating this award in memory of his grandfather. Ganesh has put countless hours into preparing for tutoring each week. He believes strongly in the mission and has devoted time to creating a proposal for a School on Wheels Club at his high school.

Chris Hague, Coordinator

At the beginning of my 8th grade, I really wanted to volunteer and give back to my community. I wanted to help the underprivileged, and do something that will make an impact. I researched online for a while and finally found School on Wheels. Every time I think about underprivileged children, I think that if I were in their position, I would want the same help in order to succeed. When I first started tutoring, my 4th-grade student told me she was being teased for not being able to solve a math problem in class. After the first few weeks of tutoring, she told me she was able to solve all the problems given in class and that kids even asked her for help! If someone is considering volunteering as a tutor, I would tell them that they should try to put themselves in their student’s position and be willing to help them as much as possible. Remember that the student you are tutoring is underprivileged and does not have access to most of the resources we take for granted.

Jordan Maranto

Region 11

Jordan is consistent, engages with every student she assists, and is ALWAYS bright! She’s a light to the students she serves and the volunteers who serve with her.

Jason Wright, SRLC Instructor

I was looking into volunteer organizations that aided the homeless, and I found School on Wheels online almost immediately. It was the perfect fit! In May of 2018 I moved to downtown Los Angeles. Even though I had been living in LA for a while and was aware of how large the homeless population was, I didn’t fully understand how bad things were until I started walking to work and passed by many familiar faces on the streets throughout my day. I work at a restaurant, and it was a pretty unsettling contrast, serving high powered executives with gorgeous office buildings, surrounded by luxury apartments, then walking home and passing by countless people who were begging for change to afford their next meal. I’m a huge believer in the motto, “None of us are well until we’re all well.” I believe it applies to the homelessness crisis perfectly.

These students can be so inspiring. I once had a sweet third grader ask me to proofread her essay. The topic was the future she saw for herself. Not only was it incredibly optimistic, well thought out, and full of self-confidence, but it ended with the sentence, “Thank you very much for reading this essay!” For me, it was definitely one of those “laughing through tears” situations. This girl faced more adversity than I could even imagine, yet walks through life with such a positive outlook and unrelenting gratitude. How can you not feel hopeful after that?