Startled by the alarming increase in homelessness in the past year, 12 Latina girls from San Fernando High School have taken it upon themselves to search for ways to help the homeless. These students are part of a program called DIY Girls, which “empowers girls to be confident makers and creators of technology,” according to the DIY (Do It Yourself) Girls’ website.
On a daily basis, these girls witness homelessness on the streets. They wanted to help the homeless families; however, donating money was not an option for their own low-income families. Despite their inability to contribute money, the girls weren’t about to let this obstacle prevent them from helping those who are less fortunate.
“With all the already existing programs in place to help end homelessness, we felt as if something more needed to be done to provide temporary relief to those who are displaced,” Paola Valtierra said in an email interview. Valtierra is a senior at San Fernando High School, and this will be her second year in the DIY Girls program.
Motivated to help the people in their community, the DIY girls got to work. They came up with the idea to create a solar-powered tent that could also function as a backpack. This one item could efficiently serve multiple needs and conserve space. The team of girls met frequently to work on the solar-powered tent, and a year later, they finished designing their prototype.
At times, the competition in the STEM field was intimidating for young Latina women. Evelyn Gomez, the executive director for DIY girls, recalls her experience at UCLA, getting her master’s degree in aerospace engineering. “I was often the only girl in the class and definitely the only Latina in the class. It felt like kind of imposter syndrome,” Gomez says, describing a feeling of chronic self-doubt even in the midst of evident success.
Nonetheless, the girls were determined to make a difference, regardless of their gender or race. They have not only made a positive impact on their community, but they have been role models for many other girls and have inspired them to pursue their passions.“Remember that there will always be obstacles in life but push through them because the outcome will be worth it,” Valtierra said.
Eric Sarabia – Mr.Eric is a great tutor and he is nice and also helpful. He is funny and he helps me with my homework when I need help with it. He helps me when I am writing a story. Mr.Eric helps me with multiplication and he plays card games with me. Mr.Eric should be tutor of the month because he is a good tutor.
– Aisha, 3rd Grade
Region 6: Inland Empire
Gabriela Nunez – I joined School on Wheels as part of my college internship, but once my internship was over, I didn’t want to leave. Volunteering has made me expand my horizons through different tasks I’ve been able to accomplish. I feel like I’m actually giving back to my community by helping these children thrive in their education. As an educator, I strongly believe each child deserves a wholesome education to succeed in life. My student Maile has made me see the world with a different set of eyes.
Region 5 – Hollywood, Silverlake, Pasadena:
Jarred Olson – I feel that we all have an obligation to protect and empower the most vulnerable people in our communities. I was shocked to read about the prevalence of homelessness among children in Los Angeles and felt pulled to help in some way. Volunteering with School on Wheels seemed like an effective way to participate in stopping the poverty cycle that people without a support system often fall into.
Peter Knapp – It’s been a great experience tutoring and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be able to help through the online platform. I’ve been online tutoring since January of this year and have been able to work with a number of different students. It’s a fun and rewarding challenge to figure out different ways to help them understand a concept or, sometimes, just help them smile after a bad day. There are so many negative challenges that homeless students face – it’s gratifying to be able to offer some positive feedback and encouragement.
Region 4 – Long Beach, South Bay Cities:
Amber Monterosso – When I first moved to Long Beach, I was looking to find a volunteer organization to get involved with. When I heard about School on Wheels from a coworker a couple of years ago, I knew it was going to be the perfect fit for me. The perseverance of the students I have worked with is inspiring, and I’m grateful that I have had the opportunity to help foster a love of learning in them.
Region 8: Ventura County
Stephen Smith – Tutoring a homeless student has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It might sound like a cliché, but I honestly think I get more out of the experience than my student. It feels so good to see his big smile and perfect white teeth when he “gets” a concept (or one of my corny jokes), sounds out a word, takes in my compliment or feels proud of himself. To know that I had a part in making this adorable, bright, polite young boy (who is growing up in not the best of circumstances), happy is indescribable. My 16-year-old son recently asked me if it was depressing tutoring a homeless child. I replied – not at all! I explained that I was confident that he would “make it” in life, due to all the people who were taking care of him. He has a loving mother, a good supportive sister, teachers who care and of course School On Wheels to provide their services and programs.
David Salazar – My first experience in tutoring for School On Wheels was when I met Issa who taught me how important it is to help kids during difficult times in their lives and how we can help so much by just being there. I learned as much from my experience tutoring as Issa learned in being confident in his math and himself.
Region 2 – South LA:
Pamela Wrona – I wholeheartedly believe that fostering a love for learning and an appreciation for the power of education early in life is so important for a student’s future success. I became a volunteer because I wanted to help children who didn’t necessarily have that support in their lives. It’s been such a joy to help my student Marie feel more confident in her studies and to see her eyes light up when she “gets” a concept. After one session, she told me “I wish we could do tutoring EVERY day!” Of course, that little comment made my day!
Region 5 – Hollywood, Silverlake, Pasadena:
Marissa High – I started working as a volunteer because I was feeling like I wasn’t making enough of an impact. I wanted to get involved and see direct results, which is why this is such an amazing program. It does not take up tons of my time, but it is an impactful amount of time for my student. I would say my favorite tutoring moments with him have been when he finishes something he’s been struggling with, and he’s excited that he was able to accomplish it. When I see that excitement, it’s an amazing feeling.
Region 10 – South Orange County:
Chris Ruoff – About a year ago I received an email from LinkedIn with volunteer opportunities that matched my profile – and this was one of them. I was first assigned to a winter shelter and spent 6 months there until it closed in April. In May I helped open a Digital Learning Center at a school site, and just last month we started tutoring at a new shelter in Orange. This has been such an incredible journey. I feel such a great sense of purpose in providing support and consistency for our kids.
Jishnu Basu – I am thankful for the opportunity to use my passion for math to help students who need it the most. I’ve tutored multiple students and each one had different strengths and weaknesses, and each one required a change in my teaching style. This is crucial because in one-on-one tutoring, tutors have the advantage of being able to focus and mold their teaching to a specific student, which cannot be done in the classroom. One of the most interesting aspects of being an online tutor is that I learn something new each week, from new techniques to solve a problem to how to work with different personalities.
Ryan Hong – School on Wheels plays a vital role in improving homeless children’s lives by helping to narrow gaps in their education. I was looking for a volunteering opportunity where I could have a direct impact on a child’s life, and I am so glad that I found School on Wheels. It has been a truly amazing past few months to watch my student build her confidence in math before she started a new school year. I was initially nervous about tutoring because I didn’t have prior experience in teaching. However, School on Wheels provides resources that I can use to ensure that each tutoring session is meaningful. My student and I had the most productive summer together!
Region 2 – South LA:
Lina Suh – I first began tutoring with School on Wheels because I believe education is absolutely important to achieve a healthier society, and everyone deserves equal access to learn. Gabriella was having trouble in math when we first began studying, and we would preview her unit tests during our sessions. I teach her methods and tricks to solve the problem and make sure that she understands the concepts. Then I do my best to ensure that she doesn’t become dependent on my help, constantly reinforcing, “check your work,” “you know this,” “it’s all you,” “take it step by step.” She is very eager to excel and I think she has gotten more careful in her work and confident of her skills in our time together.
Madelaine Behrens – I love my experience with online tutoring so far! Although I also like in-person tutoring, the online experience is great because I am able to tutor even from here in Mozambique, and I’ve noticed that students are able to focus more consistently using the online tutoring program. My online experience has taught me the importance of being creative: sometimes it takes a few different ways of explaining something before it “clicks” for a student. I love checking in each week with my student, Myiesha, and getting to know more about her summer, and I am so grateful to be able to help the same population I loved helping while at USC. Thank you, School on Wheels!
Diana Ly – Greetings! I have been tutoring with SOW for about 7 months, and I cannot be more grateful to have stumbled upon this great organization! I love having the opportunity to spend my time tutoring and also help build self-esteem. It always amazes me how much I am able to learn about the students and, in turn, learn more about myself. I am truly blessed to be part of School on Wheels! Thank you!
Region 6 – Inland Empire:
Stephanie Swenseid – Education is something I’ve always been passionate about; in particular, I am interested in helping to remove barriers that prevent children from receiving an education. From the moment I joined SOW, I knew it was the perfect fit for me! The passion and dedication of SOW is incredible. Additionally, they provide me with so many resources that help me be the best tutor I can be. I am proud to be a part of the SOW family. SOW has enriched my life and given me tools to help educate children in need. I am grateful for my experience with SOW and look forward to positively impacting the children we encounter through our work together.
Region 8 – Ventura County:
Stacey Millet, Tutor Coordinator – When I discovered School on Wheels, I was in search of a meaningful volunteer experience, an organization where I could do something small to better society and my local community. I found those things and more with School on Wheels. As a volunteer, I feel part of a great village of other volunteers, staff members and families that inspire me with their tenacity, strong hearts and willingness to use education to help the lives of children. In return, my time volunteering has made me want to give more. Sure, it can be difficult with a full-time schedule and busy life, but seeing the success and change in my students has made it all worth it.
Region 5 – Hollywood, Silverlake, Pasadena:
Theresa Sterling – I’ve been a teacher for over 20 years. I love helping students learn. I also love volunteering. So when I heard about School on Wheels, I thought it would be a perfect fit. SOW is a wonderful organization for so many reasons: the dedicated individuals running the program; the many volunteers; and of course the children and their families. I can only imagine the difficulties and challenges these students experience, so anything we can do to give them confidence and a love of learning is a benefit that can’t be beat.
Kimberly Kutz, Khan Academy – I think the most surprising thing for me in online tutoring has been just how incredibly sweet and eager to learn the kids have been in general. I came in expecting that the students would have a hard time concentrating because they experience so much adversity in their lives, but with very few exceptions the students I’ve worked with have been confident, energetic, and really excited about learning. My favorite part of online tutoring has been seeing kids feel proud about how well they know the material and helping to build their confidence in school and in life. And I love that I can tutor online all the way from Northern California!
Skid Row Learning Center:
AmeriCorps VISTAs – This summer, the Learning Center is honored to have three amazing AmeriCorps members helping with big projects. We welcome Colleen Guzman, Jose Mendoza, and Adriana Toranzo-Rivero. They are excelling at improving our coding and virtual reality curriculum, designing and finding new worksheets for our Academic Program, organizing all games and activities by standard for easier access, and recruiting for volunteers and partnerships through local business outreach. Their impact is immeasurable, and the amount of students they help will make the future better for all!
Region 3 – Westside:
Armin Szatmary – I have been volunteering for 18 years and heard about School on Wheels through the social justice program at my Temple and through another tutor. I believe getting an education is a really big deal and feel strongly that children should get the best education they can. After working as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for many years, I know how hard it is for kids that move around and don’t get the education that they deserve. I really enjoy my time tutoring with my student, Mickey, and he is a really nice kid and fun to be with. I enjoy our hour together.
Armin always puts so much time and thought into his sessions and comes with a folder of activities and worksheets for him and Mickey to work with. He is a thoughtful teacher, and I can tell he truly cares about education and helping his students. Armin goes above and beyond as a tutor, always participating in School on Wheels events and doing whatever he can to figure out ways to engage Mickey in tutoring sessions, and we feel really lucky to have him as a tutor!
Rachel Bravo – Because my employer, Ventura County Credit Union, allows employees to volunteer during work hours, I wanted to do something to help kids. My son had just left for college, and I was hoping to help other kids get that opportunity. I “met” School on Wheels and loved how there was such a close connection between the tutors, families and the organization. I’ve tutored Ryleigh for almost two school years and have enjoyed learning with her. Ryleigh is starting middle school next year and I hope to be able to move on with her.
Region 1 – East LA:
Chris Webster – After moving to Los Angeles from the UK in 2015, I was shocked to see the number of homeless and displaced people having to survive in the city. Working with Schools on Wheels makes me feel like I’m doing something to support my community. Meanwhile, the time I’ve spent with my student has been incredibly rewarding. Whilst I may have helped him with his schoolwork, there’s an in-the-moment wisdom to him which I try to take away from all of our sessions.
Region 8 – Ventura County:
Ben Morgan – As a child of two educators, School on Wheels has given me an outlet for my genetic predisposition towards teaching. I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the organization as a whole. The time commitment for tutoring is modest, and yet it has been so rewarding getting to know Charlie and seeing him progress over the last school year. As a bonus, my pre-algebra skills are the best they’ve been in decades!