Apr 13

Volunteers of the Year

Congratulations to our volunteers of the year!

Phillip DeSautell

Amidst the great challenge of reopening the Skid Row Learning Center this past year, we knew we could always count on Mr. Phillip. He is as consistent as he is kind and showed up three times a week ready to lend academic support to our students and an encouraging word to our staff. He is present and warm, always willing to go the extra mile, patient in the face of difficulty, and always good-humored. The whole staff smiles when he arrives and looks forward to his return. Mr. Phillip is an SRLC champion and the center would not be the same without him.

– Leigh Beaulieu, Regional Coordinator

Phillip DeSautell

I was a slow learner when I was younger and I had a teacher who took me under her wing. If she hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have learned the way I did. So I want to offer the same kind of help to children who need support.

Interacting with the children is so rewarding. When I was tutoring at the Mission in the evenings, there was a little girl (Kayla – 3rd grade) that was really having difficulty in reading and I was working there with her each time. The first time I talked to her I said, “You’re having difficulty; you can’t read,” and she responded “No but I can learn!” That touched my heart. When I first started working with her, she would always pull her hoodie over her face to hide. By the end of our time together, though, she had built her confidence so that she would pull it down when I arrived.

I also tutored a little boy (Shawn – 2nd grade), and he and I just bonded with each other. One time when I was going on vacation, he said “bye” and I told him “I never say bye, I always say Merry Christmas because it’s happy.” Later, he was going to be leaving the center as he and his family were being placed in an apartment. He asked for my phone and I said, “Shawn, you know we’re not supposed to do that,” and he said, “Please hand me your phone.” So I handed him my phone and he opened the camera to record himself singing a song about going away, that he would miss me, and ended it with “Merry Christmas.”

If you’re considering volunteering as a tutor, do it. Just do it.

Joy Taira

Joy has been such a vital and influential part of her student’s lives as well as the success of School on Wheels. She exudes light and eagerness to help change the lives of students. She is the true definition of what it means to be passionate and dedicated to her student!

Cynthia Gonzalez, Regional Coordinator

Joy Taira

I was a literacy tutor when I was in college, and I truly believe in education equity. School on Wheels allows me to make a positive impact on students that need the most help.

My student has opened up to me about interpersonal relationships at school and in her life. Gaining her trust has been the best part of my tutoring experience. When my student tells me she got a good grade, it makes my day! She just showed me her progress report — it’s all A’s — and I started crying at work! One memorable moment was while peer editing one of her essays. She said, “I am going to come to you all the time for these questions and edits!” Seeing her improve and our relationship grow has been such a joy to be a part of!

I would say if you are looking for a way to give back and also help inspire a young mind, this is one of the easiest and best ways to do that! It is the most impactful thing I have done!

Catherine Comrie-Picard

Catherine has been working with her student Ivie for just over a year, and they have been an excellent fit from the very beginning! Ivie is always excited to see Catherine’s face when she logs on. She does a beautiful job of engaging Ivie with schoolwork and encouraging her to take on the more challenging concepts. Ivie and her father have expressed how thankful they are to have Catherine as a tutor!

Cassandra Parker, Regional Coordinator

Catherine Comrie-Picard

Learning about the injustice of education with the homeless population made me want to find a way to help. Having school-aged kids (5 & 7) myself, I have seen the advantages they have in terms of education. Volunteering with School on Wheels allows me to give back to the underserved communities who do not have the resources to help fill in the gaps in their education.

Being a part of a child’s growth in education is very rewarding. During our last session, my student Ivie and I played word games; watching Ivie’s progress, I could see that Ivie had gained more self-confidence.

Becoming a Schools On Wheels Volunteer tutor is inspiring, educational, and fun. If any of this sounds interesting to you, give it a shot!

Darlene Oliver

I nominated Darlene because she has demonstrated a genuine commitment to all of the students she has worked with and has helped them tremendously! She is a stellar tutor who truly puts her heart into her work. School on Wheels is fortunate to have her as part of the organization.

Ashley Cazarez, Regional Coordinator

Darlene Oliver

I saw my mom volunteer a lot growing up, and that’s where I get this desire to help. Having a job prevented me from being able to do volunteer work in the past; my career was in the nonprofit field, and when I retired, I wanted to work with children and try to help. When I found School on Wheels, I thought it would be perfect! It’s a well-run organization and a good program that helps tutors feel like they’re not on their own. It has been a wonderful experience, and I think I get a lot more out of it than they do because helping people really is its own reward.

It can be so satisfying, getting to know each child and helping them where they need help. Whether they have trouble with math, reading, or whatever it is, I love being able to help prove to them that we can do anything we set our minds to, working and developing their self-esteem by helping them see that we can overcome obstacles and succeed.

It’s great to see my student David improve and start to have confidence in sounding out big words as well as the clues around the words. When he got one the other day, I felt so wonderful inside, knowing that I played a part in helping him to have confidence in his ability to figure things out.

I tell people about School on Wheels and encourage them to get involved. This is a wonderful organization to volunteer for. They put you directly in touch with students who are truly in need, and the program is well-structured and supportive. I find it so gratifying that the one-hour commitment once a week makes such a difference in a kid’s life; you really will enjoy it.

Jay Cramer

I nominated Jay because he always has a smile on his face when he is with his student. He is super flexible and has always been super understanding, and never complains about any changes that are made in his sessions. Jay has been committed to School on Wheels since pre-COVID. His dedication is admirable but his love for our mission is inspiring.

Sandy Cervantes, Regional Coordinator

Jay Cramer

After retiring from teaching, I was looking for a way to apply my profession and help children from challenging socioeconomic backgrounds succeed in education. I discovered School on Wheels and applied to be a tutor as its mission of helping homeless children appealed to me.

After going through the orientation, I tutored my first two students, Andy and Angy, for 3 years. Being a part of their success as they grew and excelled academically was incredibly rewarding. Their parents and teachers shared with me that Angy, clearly dealing with ADHD, was improving with each passing month with the help and support I provided during our tutoring sessions, noting, “Every time you were there for them after school, it was always nice to hear her tell her friends with pride ‘This is Mr. Jay, he is my tutor!’”

My most memorable experience with Andy and Angy was during a time when tutors were able to take the kids on field trips together. There were 3 of us tutoring during the same time slot with different students at the school each week and we bonded as well. We decided to take our students on an outing to the beach, since none of them had ever been before, even though they all lived in Santa Ana. The joy on their faces as they ran together to the water is a memory I will always cherish. Not only are you a tutor, but you are also a mentor to these young people, helping them explore new aspects of their world. Every student brings their own rewarding moments, including my current charge. It is incredibly gratifying when I see her running ahead of her mom to get to the tutoring room and shouting with glee, “This is my favorite thing to do!”

I was told during my orientation to School on Wheels that the most important facet of being a tutor is to be reliable in showing up every week for the students. During the past six years, I have come to appreciate how powerful that act of being present is. These homeless children experience so much uncertainty in life, including housing and food insecurity and often disappointments from familial instability. Having a steady, reliable adult presence in their life, someone who is there for them alone and committed to helping them be successful, grounds them in so many ways. You do not need to be in the educational field to be an effective tutor; you just need to care enough to want to help a young child who needs some structure in their life; you just need to make the commitment to being there when you tell them you will be.

Stacey Millett

Stacey is reliable, thoughtful, and creative in her approach to tutoring. She is a committed volunteer who always comes prepared with creative ideas for sessions with her student. She goes above and beyond to make them feel appreciated and heard. On top of that, Stacey helps the School on Wheels marketing team and the Regional Coordinator with facilitating first sessions and helping problem-solve with other volunteer tutors.

Sarah Fraza, Regional Coordinator

Stacey Millett

For me, the 2016 election created a lot of concern and negativity, and I wanted to put my energy into making one small positive change. I wanted to make a change in my community and found School on Wheels through VolunteerMatch. Working with children has always been important, and this felt attainable.

Being a consistent figure in Junior’s life has been most rewarding. The weekly connection with my student Junior and how excited he is to see me at the beginning of the session, being committed to him, bringing joy to him and him bringing joy to me in return. When he first started he had no interest in reading, but after just three sessions, his outlook shifted from, “I’m not a good reader” to “I can do this,” and “reading is fun!” Seeing him feel empowered was and is simply amazing.

If/when you become a tutor for School on Wheels, my advice is to come prepared. There will be days when sticking to the curriculum is just not realistic, so bring creative solutions for days like that so the student enjoys their time with you and feels understood. I like to bring a bag of different activities and is flexible in each session. If the student is quieter, you can bring a journal. This allows you to connect with even a more reserved student.

Elyse Stelford

Elyse has so many great qualities that we look for in a tutor. She demonstrates compassion, kindness, and empathy for the students in our program. She continues to touch the lives of many students, both in her 1-1 sessions and in group settings. She believes in the power of education and mentorship and will do what it takes to help our mission. As an educator herself, she is always willing to share her knowledge and skills with the rest of the tutors she comes across. Her vibrant and cheerful attitude helps kids feel comfortable and ready to learn! She is truly an amazing tutor who deserves this nomination.

Yesenia Ontiveros, Regional Coordinator

Elyse Stelford

I came across an article about homelessness in Los Angeles. I read about how many children are affected, and I was shocked. In that same article was a link to School On Wheels. I was a classroom teacher, so I felt like I could help. I remember it was about 1 in the morning, but I was so impacted by what I had read that I started my application to be a tutor right then and there.

I love the one-on-one aspect of working with students. As a former teacher, tutoring is so different because you get to do a deep dive into the specific needs of one student. Even in a group setting, the opportunity to work with students and address their specific needs is incredibly rewarding. Showing them a strategy or skill that fixes a problem or helps them understand something they were struggling with, and seeing them feel successful using something you taught them, is really special.

I’ve been with School on Wheels for 4 years now, so it’s hard to pick just one memorable moment, but one of my favorites was during a middle school group tutoring session in which most of our students spoke Spanish. None of the tutors were Spanish speakers and we were heavily relying on Google Translate. I was trying to learn some Spanish on my own, and I told another tutor, “Yo quiero aprender Español.” Three of the students immediately snapped their heads up from their work, and their smiles were so big! They were so excited that I said something in their language. It was obvious it mattered to them that I was trying to learn Spanish, even though I was very clearly a beginner. After that, they would spend time with me at the end of our sessions teaching me Spanish vocabulary. It was awesome to learn from them, and it was so fun that they had the opportunity to be the expert and “teach the teacher.”

You can do this! You don’t have to be a teacher. You don’t have to be a perfect tutor. In fact, showing kids that it’s ok to not know, to use resources to find answers, to struggle but keep trying, is really important. Showing up and being present for our kids is 90 percent of the battle. You have something to offer our kids, even if you don’t think you do.

Ana Leandro-Ramos

Ana has shown exceptional dedication and commitment to tutoring her two students. She goes above and beyond the call of duty, and her unwavering support to help them succeed has not gone unnoticed. She is both creative and innovative in keeping her students engaged in learning.

Candice Carrasco, Regional Coordinator

Ana Leandro-Ramos

Before joining School On Wheels I tutored independently as a way to help family members and friends, but I wanted to help more students. Then I found School On Wheels, with the incredible mission of connecting tutors with students in unconventional and yet the most real situations. Here I found the opportunity I was looking for: to help students within my community who needed it the most.

I love meeting new students all the time, but what I find most rewarding is seeing students improve and become confident learners who will prefer a challenge over an easy task. It is the most amazing feeling to have students go from “I cannot do this!” and “I am not good at math!” to “With practice comes improvement!” and “I can do and be what I set my mind to!”

The most memorable experience for me was receiving a photo of my student with the equipment she received through a scholarship and hearing her say that she felt heard, seen, and motivated to learn to skate, hoping that maybe one day she could be a performer.

For anyone considering being a tutor, this is an opportunity to help students, to help children within their community that deserve an opportunity to learn. Through this experience you can be a role model, and you can be that individual that brings positive energy into a student’s life. You can be that person that the student feels supported by. Think about those educators that were passionate about you, the impact they had on you; you can have that impact on students you meet through this program.

Juanita Bigelow

Juanita is a retired school teacher who came to our organization looking to help students with their academics. She loves teaching so much that the idea of retirement wasn’t settling right with her. She wanted to do more, found School on Wheels and began volunteering immediately. The amount of love, time, and mentorship she provides each student goes above and beyond. She is considered family by the students and parents she supports. Juanita is a tremendous advocate for all that School on Wheels does and always shares her work with others to inspire them to volunteer. She has several students and provides them with incredible quality time full of learning and fun. Juanita is more than deserving of recognition as a volunteer of the year at School on Wheels.

Stephanie Swenseid

Juanita Bigelow

I was inspired to become a School on Wheels Volunteer when I watched a segment on Channel 4 talking about children who were 2 years behind in their academics because they were living in an unstable life environment. The aspect of tutoring that I have found most rewarding has been observing how the student’s confidence in themselves develops as they experience success.

One memorable experience was when my student and their parent shared their joy about an event that had happened at school. The student beamed with confidence, and the parent was so proud that her child had been named Student of the Month.

I would like to tell anyone who is considering volunteering as a tutor at School On Wheels to be ready to accept the student and family unconditionally and with all your love. Tutoring means teamwork: student, parent, and tutor, and includes being accepted by the student and family. If you feel that you are ready for this challenge, then volunteer.

Scott Choi

Scott is one of the most committed and responsive volunteers I have worked with. Since I started working for School on Wheels, he has been one of the most consistently present volunteers in terms of offering to help when needed. He is involved with one-on-one tutoring and group sessions, both online and in-person. Scott does it all with love, care, and passion, and has a contagious positive energy. He is the type of volunteer every organization wishes to have. School on Wheels is lucky to have him and I am honored to be able to work with him!

Lara Akl

Scott Choi

Having grown up in Southern California, being with my sisters in San Francisco and New York, and going to college in Colorado Springs, I was always aware of, and increasingly concerned about, the vast issue of homelessness in our communities. It seemed to be a growing yet overlooked problem with no solution in sight. I took opportunities to aid adult shelters in high school and college, but when I realized there are students trying to get through school without consistent housing, I felt a calling to do more. I found School on Wheels and immediately wanted to contribute to its mission. I felt I could apply my passion for mentorship and helping youth, compassion for the displaced, and abilities as a private tutor, to serve my community as a volunteer tutor, with the hopes that I can empower students to gain confidence in their academics and build hope for their futures.

I have been blessed to be matched with students who are motivated to improve every week. That makes tutoring engaging and productive, and I know I’m making a positive impact on their education and perspective. Through CASA group sessions I’ve had the same pleasure, although there are students in positions where their academics and personal goals are understandably near the bottom of their priorities. It is those stuck and uninterested students that I strive to reach before the session is up, to impart encouragement and remind them that they have strengths and are very capable. That is when I feel most fulfilled.

One of my first students, Dayvid, was a sixth grader who never had a full semester at one school for as long as he could remember. He didn’t have the confidence to read things that weren’t comics, and often even misspelled his own name. It was challenging to teach phonetics, reading, and writing from the ground up, while making it fun. However, seeing Dayvid’s humility and excitement as he made progress and hit milestones gave me hope that I can help Dayvid see what he is capable of. My proudest and most memorable moment as a volunteer so far was Dayvid reading a full paragraph without stumbling, then getting shushed by the librarian as we literally jumped for joy. I will never forget how encouraged and proud Dayvid was of what he overcame and accomplished.

Volunteering as a tutor teaches you as much, if not more, than what you can teach students. It challenges you to think outside the box, to develop ways to reach and meet students where they are that day, and to be humble. There must be an understanding that you may not be there to harvest the fruit of your labor, but to contribute to your student’s overall growth. Volunteering focuses on education, but you have a valuable opportunity to be a dependable, consistent presence in a student’s life, which in itself can be healing and productive for building their confidence in academics and other aspects of their lives.

Christopher Changprai

Chris has stayed dedicated to his student for two and a half years. It is evident that Chris takes a vested interest in his student, and knows him not only in an academic sense but on a personal level as well. With this understanding of him, Chris tailors sessions to his student’s interests, advocates for resources that will most benefit his student, and provides support wherever and whenever he can.

Eden Ettenger, Regional Coordinator

Christopher Changprai

Before I joined School on Wheels, I was the primary caretaker for my 10-year-old niece. It was a very fulfilling experience to teach her and experience her curiosity for knowledge.

As a volunteer tutor for School on Wheels, I find it most rewarding when I see students start to grasp a subject and gain confidence in their own ability to work through a challenge. My student Alex wants to be a game programmer, so we work on programming game exercises together on occasion, and I am very impressed by how quickly he understands the various programming loops as we work through them.

Volunteer tutoring for School on Wheels is a very gratifying experience. You’re not just a tutor, but you’re also a mentor that has a positive impact on your student’s life. If you’re curious, check it out.

Casey Hoeschler

I decided to nominate Casey because of the progress she has made with her student, Mario. She is incredibly dedicated to his educational journey and progress which I think is admirable.

– Aeriell Woodhams, Regional Coordinator

Casey Hoeschler

My original goal was to become a schoolteacher, and even though that’s not the direction my career has taken, I want to stay involved with kids as much as I can.

During my years volunteering with School on Wheels, I’ve been lucky to work with some truly amazing students. Their excitement and willingness to learn is both rewarding and inspiring. In our last tutoring session, I told my student Oliver that he’s been doing a great job and that I’m so proud of him. He was quiet for a second, then said, “I’m proud of you too!” It was so sweet and such a special moment; both his dad and I thought it was adorable.

I tell everyone I can about School on Wheels! I tell them how great of an organization it is and how meaningful it is to work with students who are in need of mentors. I’ve formed really special connections with the students I’ve worked with, and it feels really good to know you’re making a positive impact in their lives. If you’re reading this and curious, go sign up!