Category: Star Volunteers

Aug 5

Volunteers of the Month – August 2020

Liat Smener

Region 3

Liat is an incredible tutor, and has been volunteering with School On Wheels since she was in high school! Liat now attends UCLA, and in addition to volunteering as a tutor, she has been instrumental in helping us relaunch a School On Wheels at UCLA club!

Alex Toutant, Coordinator

I started volunteering to help students become motivated and hopeful of pursuing higher education than they thought possible. One experience with a student that makes me smile is when I taught the five-year-old I am tutoring how to spell the words “apple” and “lizard.” Seeing their faces light up when they finally understand something melts my heart.

Jannah Jakvani

Region 6

Jannah is an amazing and dedicated tutor. From the first day I met her, she demonstrated a very natural ability to understand and connect with her student, Dominic. Jannah is very upbeat and encouraging with her student and is always such an incredible champion for him… she’s his biggest cheerleader! Jannah’s love for helping others shines bright when she’s tutoring. I had the pleasure of sitting in on her first session and was so impressed to see how quickly she connected with her student and the two became a really great team. I’m so grateful for what she does. Jannah is a shining star indeed!

Stephanie Swenseid, Coordinator

I started volunteering with School on Wheels because education has always played a huge part in my life. I believe every student should have access to educational resources to excel in school. This is why I am pursuing a career in education. I recognize the privilege I had growing up of having access to tutoring and other educational opportunities that often require financial means that not everyone has. School on Wheels recognizes the importance of providing the educational support that a lot of students need and often are unable to receive. I love volunteering with School on Wheels because of the values it stands for and the mission it is accomplishing.

During a recent tutoring session, my student Dominic and I were discussing empathy and going over scenarios in which we would express empathy to another individual. In the scenario we were dealing with, a girl was sad about not being able to go to prom because she did not have the money to buy a ticket and a dress. Dominic’s immediate response to the scenario was to help the girl out by contributing to buying her dress and ticket. This experience stayed with me because it showed how big Dominic’s heart is and really speaks to his character and personality. As a tutor, your responsibility is to provide support to your student and help them with their school work. However, more often than not, I find myself learning something new from the student I tutor every single session.

Ingrid Hoyos

Region 5

Ingrid & her student have faced many obstacles in tutoring online since COVID began. Her resilience and continued efforts made it possible for her student to catch up with homework over the summer!

Jesse Pasquan, Coordinator

I was looking for volunteer opportunities in my community and when I came across School on Wheels, I was surprised to learn that so many children in Southern California do not have a home. I found that to be so heartbreaking and unacceptable. I started to inform myself on all of the work School on Wheels does to help break the homelessness cycle for these kids and I wanted to be a part of that. Children are the future of our world and I really do believe it is our responsibility, as members of this community, to help them forge a better future. They cannot be left behind. When I work with my student, I can see just how intelligent and perceptive she is. Her math skills are outstanding but she has a bit of trouble with reading – it is her least favorite subject.

One time, we were reading at the library during our tutoring session. The hour was up and I told her I would see her the following week to read some more. To my surprise, she didn’t put the book down! I was very happy about that because she had not shown much interest in reading before. As I was leaving, I saw that she was actually trying to read the book to her mom. That really put a smile on my face; I am a writer, so stories are super important to me. I am so hopeful that my student will discover just how magical books are and I know it’s only a matter of time before the stories she reads really start to come to life in her imagination and reading will no longer feel like hard work. Being a tutor feels so rewarding. It is remarkable when you start to see that the hour you dedicate to your student each week, as little as it seems, can actually make a big difference in their lives. They can go from feeling completely lost or uninterested in school to feeling confident and motivated to keep moving forward.

Mel Sakurada

Region 2

I knew Mel was going to be an amazing tutor the day I met them! They displayed true dedication and commitment to their student from the beginning. From working on arts and crafts to creating an additional homework packet, Mel has always gone the extra mile for their student. I can always count on Mel to be consistent and advocate for their student.

Carlie Whittaker, Coordinator

I was specifically looking for ways I could use my past experiences working as a Literacy Mentor and spending weekends with friends distributing resources to displaced communities in the Bay Area. I found a listing for School on Wheels & thought it’d be a great match, and I was absolutely right! I’ve always wanted to continue bolstering my repertoire of experience to follow a long-time dream of curating positive, self-affirming spaces and opportunities for systematically disenfranchised populations. I had this one excellent student — my first after joining School on Wheels — who had difficulty adjusting to weekly sessions because he would be tired after a full day of school.

During one session, I noticed his attention was more difficult to maintain than usual. I decided to spend less time on curricular activities and focus more time on figuring out what subjects actually piqued his interest. That session was the first time I had seen him light up. He told me about all these things he loved doing but never got around to (most of which I was entirely unfamiliar with). He loved video games, science, chemistry, space, physics, finger boarding — the list went on and on! After that session, I completely changed the way I divided up our time and prepared for our sessions. A combination of Ivan feeling heard and seen mixed with taking risks as a tutor completely revolutionized not only our tutor-student relationship but also the way I saw what tutoring could look like and how learning could be made accessible to the student’s needs.

Moira Nelson

Region 4

Moira is one of the kindest, sweetest, and most gentle souls I have ever encountered during my time at School on Wheels. Every time I talk with her about tutoring her student, she brings nothing but excitement, positivity, and enthusiasm! Moira is a breath of fresh air and I love having her as a volunteer. She and her student have a special bond and I am so happy that these two have each other.

Kristina Rakosh, Coordinator

Just a year ago, a friend of mine who knew that I had recently retired and was thinking about volunteering as a tutor invited me to a School on Wheels presentation at the Hermosa Beach Rotary Club. I had already been volunteering as a Rolling Reader at a local grammar school, and I thought tutoring with School on Wheels would be a good way to build on what for me is a great source of satisfaction. Before retirement, I worked for over 30 years as a developmental editor of college science textbooks. I am a learning junkie and love especially to explore the world through the eyes of young people who are just beginning to get acquainted with it. A picture my student Nathalie recently drew makes me smile — the sweet expression, arms reaching toward two butterflies, and the upward tilt of the feet are all perfect representations of Nathalie’s spirited, upbeat personality.

Jul 8

Volunteers of the Month – July 2020

Robin Vanneman

Region 5

Robin’s tutoring story is nothing short of inspiring! She was the last tutor to start in-person tutoring before COVID-19, and we drove around for 45 minutes before her first session trying to find parking! Robin was also my first tutor to start online. None of this has discouraged her in the least, and she goes above and beyond for her student!

Jesse Pasquan, Coordinator

I made a resolution at the beginning of the year to complete 100 volunteer hours in 2020. I did some research on different tutoring organizations and programs and it was apparent School on Wheels was a great place to be. I wanted to be a part of it! I’ve been volunteering as a tutor since I was in high school — almost 15 years now — and I spent most of that time as a literacy tutor. When I moved from Virginia to Los Angeles about 3 years ago I realized this was something I missed doing. One of my favorite memories so far is when my student Ariana and I were working on ratios; at one point, Ariana suddenly blurted out “this is easy!” and it was both funny and rewarding to hear. I was so proud of her and happy that she was getting the concepts down. Volunteering as a tutor is incredibly rewarding. You get to see your student’s grades improve, and their confidence grow right along with it. Don’t second guess on whether or not to do it — sign up today, you will not regret it!

Nhi Ha

Region 1

Nhi is an outstanding tutor, Tutor Coordinator, and Ambassador. She is kind, compassionate, smart, and always ready to help. Nhi has volunteered with School on Wheels in every capacity possible. She is currently tutoring two students (siblings) who simply adore her. Her students told the shelter staff that they never want a different tutor again, she is the only one they want to be with. The testimony speaks for itself!

Manmeet Sodhi, Coordinator

School on Wheels is a wonderful organization to work with. I’d been interested in becoming a teacher for some time and wanted more experience working with children in an academic setting. Now I am considering becoming a pediatrician as children are such a joy to work with. Additionally, I wanted to help teach homeless students because a past college student of mine was greatly affected by their housing situation. No child should be left behind, and working with School on Wheels helps me empower them to reach new heights. My first student struggled in math, but with practice, she got through the problems faster and faster. One day, I presented her with a challenge problem and her eyes lit up. As a reward for tackling it, I gave her an extra sticker of her favorite animal, the lion. At the end of the session, she walked over and gave a sticker to her brother, who was also being tutored. She gave me hope. Tutoring these kids is such a unique experience; you will meet families of varying walks of life and get to know their stories. As a tutor, our primary goal is to provide academic assistance, but School on Wheels also trains us to help students work through their emotions and allow us to mentor them, so we are having a positive impact on their lives, often in ways not traditionally thought of as a regular tutor.

Anthony Estrada

Region 1

Anthony is simply an amazing tutor. He tutors three students and is able to effortlessly connect with each one of them. He is always ready with games, activities, and worksheets for his students. Anthony is a great communicator with lots of patience and a heart of gold. I admire his dedication and flexibility for his students; no matter when they need him, Anthony will show up.

Manmeet Sodhi, Coordinator

I have had my own struggles with school. I know the hardships and difficulty that academics entail. I had trouble staying focused in class and have felt the anxiety and stress that comes with not knowing if you have what it takes to graduate. Without the support of those around me, I don’t know if I would have gotten to where I am today, on track to graduate from CSUF with a major in Physics. Knowing that there must be others experiencing these anxieties, I looked for tutoring jobs and came across School on Wheels. Realizing there are children who must go through the same classes I did, but with less sleep and other issues because of their living situation is what convinced me School on Wheels was the right opportunity for me to give back to my community. For me, the best moments involve breaking down any walls separating us; I get this chance with all my students, and it is a blissful moment every time. One example was a very dismissive student who started out ignoring me to play video games — and ended with him excitedly retelling and discussing a short story we read together. All my students have had this change and it always warms my heart to see them willing to meet me halfway and really get serious about their academics. It puts everything else into perspective and is the closest thing to a magical experience.

Pamela Gripp

Region 9

Pam has been a rockstar advocate for our students, especially in the midst of COVID. Pam has taken the extra step to get in contact with all the students at her after school group site to see how she can help and make sure they do not fall through the cracks. I cannot thank her enough for her advocacy for our students.

Genesis Torres, Coordinator

When I found School on Wheels online, I was instantly drawn to it and it’s mission. After retiring from teaching elementary school for 25 years and relocating, I realized that I really missed the kids. Working with these children has been an incredible experience for me and my family this past school year. I had the pleasure of tutoring a family in Starbucks in a Target store, and also after school in a homework club, but the pandemic has wreaked havoc on families struggling with homelessness and I lost touch. Fortunately, School on Wheels was able to locate one of my families, and I was able to provide support throughout the spring despite each of their 3 motel moves. These kids are so resilient! One of my favorite memories is when one of the sisters told me that she sets up a little office in the bathroom of their motel room to work on math when her brothers get too loud. She wants to grow up to be a brain surgeon, “for kids!” In these trying times, kids need volunteer tutors more than ever to help them to continue learning. It is very stressful not having a physical classroom to go to or the necessary technology to learn remotely, while their parents are dealing with job loss and worrying about how to feed their children.

Anisha Singh

Region 10

Anisha has been so dedicated since the moment she started with her student. She continuously goes above and beyond to make sure that her student is supported and celebrated. I think Anisha may get more excited for Jasmin’s accomplishments than Jasmin herself! She effortlessly supports Jasmin both academically and as a mentor. She truly exemplifies how fun learning can be and it has been a complete joy watching her and her student grow together. I feel grateful to know such a kind, intelligent, and empowering young woman.

Katie Philipson, Coordinator

I started volunteering to try and help more children learn to love learning as much as I do, especially Math. I volunteer with Schools on Wheels specifically because I agree with their core values and message. One memory that stands out for me is when there was a big math test coming up. My student Jasmin and I were reviewing the content and Jasmin felt very prepared for the test when she left the session. And the next week, she told me that she got a really high score! It made me smile because I was so proud of her, but also Jasmin was very proud of herself and she felt like she did her best on the test and really understood the material. I loved seeing Jasmin believe in herself and prove to herself that she could do anything she put her mind to, especially in a subject that was challenging for her. Anyone who is even slightly thinking of volunteering, I would say go for it! It is one of the best feelings to know you are making a positive difference in someone else’s life, and it’s even better when you see that difference is being made. To watch someone blossom into a confident person in front of you is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have.

Andrew Chung

Online

Though he’s only in 8th grade himself, Andrew has so much energy and support to give to his student Selena. He is consistent, dedicated, and motivated to help Selena do her best. His positive energy and nurturing spirit really shine through and have had a huge impact on his student. His mom, Ellen, is also an absolute joy and does everything she can to support Andrew’s tutoring.

Emma Gerch, Coordinator

My mom and I were looking for volunteering opportunities for me, and when we came across the School on Wheels program, I absolutely loved the idea of tutoring those children in need. I always wanted to make an impact in our community by helping others, and I’ve discovered that there are so many ways to contribute. One wonderful experience I had with my student Selena was when she passed her post assessment. We were both extremely happy that she did so well on it and that all of her hard work finally paid off. Becoming a volunteer tutor is a big step in contributing; it’s an amazing way to be able to help our community and others in need. Creating bonds with students is a big part when tutoring, and helps both the tutor and the student grow together.

May 27

Volunteers of the Month – June 2020

Lynn Johnson

Region 8

I nominated Lynn because she is not only dedicated to helping School on Wheels in any way she can, but she is incredibly dedicated to her student, as well. Lynn is a one of our volunteer ambassadors and she has gone above and beyond to help us transition to online tutoring. As a retired educator, she has reached out to school districts in her area to spread the word about School on Wheels and get information about their distance learning programs. But her main focus is her student and the connection they have made together. She is an incredible volunteer!

Chris Walsh, Coordinator

My neighbor is a CASA volunteer and she recommended School on Wheels to me. Being a retired educator I wanted to continue contributing. One memory that stands out is when I took my student and her mother on a field trip to a CLU Women’s Volleyball game. Her excitement grew as we walked into the gymnasium and grew even more so as she watched the girls play! Her smile never left her face, she looked around so often with her eyes wide open and joined in with the cheering! As a tutor, I benefit from this relationship as much as my student. This experience is so very rewarding!

Rami Izadyar

Region 4

Rami is simply the best volunteer. She is also one of our ambassadors for Region 4. Rami goes above and beyond to help her student and SOW; she jumps right in there, helping with everything from tabling events to admin support. I can always count on her.

Kristina Rakosh, Coordinator

I was doing research online about a charity organization to volunteer with and after a ton of research came across School on Wheels. I was hooked from the start. I was not happy with the state of inaction at national and state level about basic issues such as homelessness, education and health. The ramifications of these issues are so huge that no society can afford to not deal with them. So I got tired of waiting and started acting on it at a personal level. One day when I was tutoring my student in the library, classmates of my students stopped by to say hi and he very proudly introduced me to them: “This is MY Tutor”! If you are looking for a volunteer opportunity with a far-reaching impact, this is it. The child you tutor is going to carry this good will for all of his/her life, and most probably pay it forward.

Phillip Chung

Region 6

Phillip recently became a Tutor Coordinator in the region. All the students love Phillip! He has an incredible ability to relate to any student he encounters and pours his attention and dedication into all that he does at School on Wheels. I’m incredibly grateful for Phillip and all that he gives of himself to his students and to School on Wheels.

Stephanie Swenseid, Coordinator

I was raised with a strong emphasis on education, so I believe it is my duty to leverage this background to help these students reach their highest potential. One student I have been tutoring struggled to read and avoided every chance to do so. I would incorporate math and reading lessons into every session, along with a wild-card lesson of his choice. Without fail, he chose non-reading lessons for his wild-card — but I noticed he was gradually improving. In a recent session, I was overjoyed when he opted to read for his wild-card lesson! It showed how he’d become more confident in his abilities, willing to take challenges. If you have a passion to serve, I think you will find School on Wheels incredibly fun and rewarding. If you don’t have any teaching experience, that’s okay! Your passion and intuition will kick in to guide the way as you grow alongside these incredible students.

Dana Altschuler

Region 7

I nominated Dana because she is an AMAZING advocate for her student and his family. She is constantly looking to enhance her tutoring sessions with fun and diverse activities to help her student look forward to learning. Dana is creative and immensely passionate about ensuring that her student succeeds. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, her resourcefulness, kindness, and patience have stood as a consistent and reliable component in her student’s life.

Maxine Faustino, Coordinator

I started volunteering with School on Wheels because I love to read…it’s an escape into an imaginary world. I wanted to help kids enjoy reading (and school)! My student and I sometimes make faces over our video call screens. He can make really funny faces! Thinking of that makes me smile. I would tell any person who is considering volunteering with kids to recall how they were as a child, what they thought of school, homework, math etc., and with that in mind, go for it! Bring some peace and joy to someone else who REALLY needs it.

Apr 29

2019 Volunteer Appreciation Message and Volunteers of the Year

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

Congratulations to volunteers of the year:

« top of list

Sasana Kachirsky
(Region 1)

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

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

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Pamela Wrona & David Salazar II
(Region 2)

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

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

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

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Elizabeth West
(Region 3)

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

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

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Marina Straziuso
(Region 4)

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

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

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Matt Haze
(Region 5)

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

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

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Wendy Nguyen
(Region 6)

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

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

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Elyse Stelford
(Region 7)

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

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

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Elizabeth Huang
(Region 8)

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

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

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Steve Tiso
(Region 9)

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

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

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Barbara Bauer
(Region 10)

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

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

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Debra Shrout
(Region 11)

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

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

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Kate McNeil
(Region 11)

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

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

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Julliana Tabuada
(Online)

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

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

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John Reece
(Online)

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

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

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Mar 3

Volunteers of the Month – March 2020

Suzanne Rizzolo

Online

Suzanne is an absolutely incredible online tutor. She uses all the tools available to her to expertly meet the needs of her students — even putting together her own lesson plans and presentations. As a professional educator, she brings invaluable expertise to our program. She has such a nurturing spirit, and is great at making our students feel seen and appreciated.

Emma Gerch, Coordinator

I was a middle and high school English teacher for many years. Since I am no longer in the classroom, I found that I was missing the kids. Also, I thought that working with School on Wheels would be particularly rewarding at this stage in my career as an educator. One evening when I happened to mention the strategic use of repetition (the rhetorical device “anaphora”) in regard to something we were reading, my student Zyarre said, “You mean like when Martin Luther King, Jr. keeps repeating the phrase “I have a dream”? Zyarre had read the speech in school and very perceptively applied the new term I was introducing. I would tell any potential volunteer that working with a School on Wheels student will brighten your day and enrich your life.

Phillip DeSautell

Region 7

Mr. Phillip goes above and beyond to help the students at the SRLC. Phillip volunteers multiple times a week and works efficiently and effectively. The students look forward to receiving his help every week!

Jason Wright, Coordinator

My wife told me about volunteering opportunities she had seen in the monthly AARP Magazine, and School on Wheels was one of the ones listed. It appealed to me, because it was for children with a background somewhat like mine. I had a teacher that took special interest in me and helped “boost” me along in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Grades. Sometimes kids just need a little “boost” to get them on the right learning track. I want to be that boost for one, or some, of these kids if I can be. One memory that stands out for me so far is when I questioned the ability of a student to read at her grade level. She looked me straight in the eyes and said “No I can’t, but I can learn.” That simple sentence will be with me for the remainder of my life, and it makes me smile for what ALL of us tutors do for these kids. Bringing tutoring help to these students will add far more value to your life than you can ever add to theirs! It is an honor.

Tony Estrada

Region 1

Tony has been with us since 2012 and is always going above and beyond for the kids he tutors. In 2019 he transitioned from one-on-one tutoring sessions to group tutoring, starting with one group session a week. Now Tony hosts three sessions every week to help as many kids he can. He is extremely patient, non-judgmental, and friendly but firm with his students. It is a treat to observe his sessions.

Manmeet Sodhi, Coordinator

A few years ago I was at Comic Con and found myself thinking about what it took to be a “real super hero.” A week later, I was listening to a podcast and an actress was talking about how great it was to be tutoring for School On Wheels. When I thought about it, I realized that helping kids in need was a way to actually make an impact. I remember when I was helping a little girl who was literally years behind in school. She had a bit of an attitude. She was very tough and sassy with me. We doubled my hours, PLUS we had another tutor helping, and gradually, her Fs and Ds became As, Bs and Cs. On the last day of tutoring, I thought she was going to be sassy with me like usual, but instead she thanked me for helping her succeed in a way she never thought she could. Her mom sent me the nicest text I have ever received. It was all so touching that I still get teary eyed about it after all these years. Helping these kids has literally made me a better and happier person.

Jan 27

Volunteers of the Month – February 2020

Charlotte Kim

Region 2

I nominated Charlotte for Volunteer of the Month because she consistently shows her dedication to her students and School on Wheels. I can always count on her to be attentive, patient, and kind at her sessions. Charlotte demonstrates true passion and professionalism, and we are lucky to have her as a volunteer!

Carlie Whittaker, Coordinator

I found School on Wheels while looking for service opportunities on VolunteerMatch. I am interested in social justice and working with people at the community level. Tutoring students sounded like one of the best ways for me to give back because, of course, the public school system was something I had plenty of experience with. I have so many favorite experiences, but I was meeting a new family one day when I asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew older. They started jumping up and down, shouting that they wanted to be “just like me” — even though I had only known them for an hour! You should always be flexible and patient as a tutor. However, you might be surprised at how loving the students are, and how much they will come to appreciate even a little bit of your time.

Gloria Brooks

Region 7

Gloria is such a great example to her student and exemplifies patience, consistency, and generosity. She takes the time to get to know every student she works with and creates impactful relationships with them. Gloria provides so much positivity and faith in her students. Her encouraging and supportive manner aids her students in believing in themselves and helps them reach their goals! 

Maxine Faustino, Coordinator

I feel that getting a good education is part of the solution to breaking the cycle of poverty. I joined School on Wheels as a volunteer tutor because I wanted to be a part of the process that enables children to have that opportunity. A favorite memory of mine is from a time I was working on an art project with my student. She revealed a side of herself that I had not seen before; she relaxed while she worked and began sharing her thoughts, dreams, likes, and dislikes, and so on. She was enjoying the project so much that she asked me to stay longer until she was finished, and I ended up spending a least a half-hour after my scheduled time ended. That really warmed my heart. To anyone thinking of becoming a volunteer tutor, I would say do it! You can make quite an impact on the students academically and in other ways, and you will feel so rewarded when you see the positive results.

Derrick Stephens

Region 10

Derrick has been dedicated to not only his student but the entire family since the day he started. Derrick has a way to make everyone around him (including other tutors) feel completely welcome and safe to be themselves. This has allowed his student to be completely transparent with him, which allows him to be an even more incredible tutor. In addition, Derrick took it upon himself to work with his student’s brother whenever the assigned tutor isn’t able to make session. From the moment he joined this organization, Derrick has shown how dedicated he is and how big his heart is. I feel truly lucky to know him.

Katie Philipson, Coordinator

I’ve always enjoyed teaching and I wanted to give back in some way. My student’s honesty always puts a smile on my face. When we first met she admitted to me that she could do better. I thought that was extremely mature of her and extremely open. I’d say it’s changed me in a lot of ways for the better. It’s more than tutoring. It’s trying to affect someone’s future in a positive way no matter how small it might be. You may think one hour per week is not enough time to make a difference, but you’d be surprised. Plus, I’m getting just as much out of it as the kids are.

Martha Doran

Region 8

Martha is an exemplary tutor who is dedicated to her student, CeCe, and to School on Wheels. If we need anything at all, Martha is the first to volunteer…wrapping Christmas presents, helping out at a holiday party, attending a training, volunteering to be part of the Ambassador program, she is there! She also brings such a positive energy and warmth to everything she does. We are very lucky to have her as part of the School on Wheels team!

Chris Walsh, Coordinator

I wanted to be a part of a young person’s life in his/her discovery of who and what they are — to help them bring forth all they have to offer. Hearing my student read to me always makes me smile; we have read various books together, and her voice, her inflections, how I can picture what she says… all of these things make me smile. If you are thinking of volunteering, I would say it is rewarding, and puzzling, and rewarding, and frustrating, and rewarding, and filled with discoveries… you get the drift! My biggest takeaway is how rewarding it is to volunteer as a tutor. I have seen someone else grow and develop, and I have grown as well, being more patient, more curious, and more open to learning what it’s like to be in middle school in the 21st century. I am impressed with how much School on Wheels offers, how many talented people give their time and love to helping the students in our community. It’s a great organization; come and see for yourself!