“When I saw your booth at the event I was attending for work; I had to come over and say ‘Hi’ and ‘Thank you!’ I was homeless with my two daughters in 2008 and School on Wheels was one of the first agencies that provided us with support and helped us get back on our feet.” Valerie has three teaching credentials and is now an associate with the government helping rehabilitate serious offenders back into society. She knows what it’s like to be ‘down and out’ (her words) even if her clients and boss don’t know that she used to be homeless. Valerie said that School on Wheels helped her during a very tough time. She had left her husband after he became violent because of mental illness and was ‘couch surfing’ – moving from place to place with her two young girls. School on Wheels provided them with books and school supplies, and they met their tutors weekly at a local coffee shop.
“You don’t realize how much organizations like yours change lives,” said Valerie.
“Access to resources that come around and assist families in such dire straights really helps you to keep going. Knowing that you are cared about, having one-on-one personal touch and that continuation of care, is what helped me and my girls get out of a rut and move forward. Having gone through what we did as a family and getting the help that we needed, I can’t believe we are where we are today! My youngest daughter is almost 18 and getting ready to start college in the fall, and my eldest daughter is 25 and running her own business.”
Region 8 – Ventura County:
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!
Ryleigh (Grade 5) I enjoy learning things that I don’t know. I enjoy doing art projects, especially drawing and painting and lots of color. I have worked hard on learning fractions and multiplication. I would like people to know that I am very capable when it comes to doing schoolwork. When my little sister starts school, I will tell her to pay attention so she will know what to do.
Diego (1st Grade) is a very intelligent young man with a wicked sense of humor. When it comes to schoolwork, he is particularly gifted at math – and takes pride in solving sums as quickly as he can. A lack of confidence in his own reading ability has sometimes slowed him down, and so we’ve spent a large amount of time reading together. As a consequence, over the past year I’ve watched Diego’s reading skills grow exponentially and his level of interest in reading books has also surged – which has been a real delight to see. – Chris Webster, Tutor
Charlie (9th Grade)
Tutor: “Why do you like this t-shirt?”
Charlie: “I love pugs; pugs are too cool for school”
But Charlie isn’t. When we first started tutoring together, Charlie did not like school one bit. His grades were not good and he hated homework. It was a huge struggle to get him to focus on any school work at all. He was failing most subjects.
It wasn’t easy but Charlie, to his credit, and despite many struggles in his life, kept coming to tutoring every week. Now, we read books together, his homework is always complete, and his grades are significantly improved. In fact, his recent grades included an A for science; and, B in math and language arts. It was one of the very few times I saw him genuinely proud of himself.
Tutor: “Why is school different for you now? Why are your grades so much better?”
Charlie: “Tutoring helps me focus. It makes me want to work harder because you believe I can. I even like to read now!”
Taree is one of 2.5 million homeless children in the USA. They live in shelters, in cars, in shabby old hotels, or on the streets. The children’s families have ended up there for different reasons, but they all dream of a home of their own. “I’ve been homeless since I was nine,” explains Taree. “For a few years we moved around a lot, but now we live at Union Rescue Mission. This place is home to thousands of homeless people who don’t have anywhere else to go.” Taree, his mother, and five brothers and sisters live in one room and share a toilet and shower with others. “The worst bit is probably having to get up at five in the morning when breakfast is served in the dining hall.” Taree’s family live in downtown Los Angeles, in the homeless area. Thousands of people live on the street here. On his walk to school in the morning, he has to pick his way between tents, shopping carts, and sleeping people. But Taree is not afraid.
“The people who live on the streets are kind and helpful towards us children.”
Hardly anybody at school knows where Taree lives. He has only told his very best friend, because many people are prejudiced against homeless people. “The worst thing about being homeless is moving around and changing school so often. I worry about the future a lot, and how I’ll be able to help my family survive. Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated. But my mother supports all of us. She has helped us grow strong, although things have been tough. Luckily I like school. Math makes me happy!” Taree gets help with his homework from School on Wheels, an initiative started by child rights hero Agnes Stevens, who received the World’s Children’s Honorary Award in 2008. “Without their extra tuition I wouldn’t have done so well at school,” says Taree. “Now I help the younger kids there with their homework!
Click here to see the article from Worlds Children’s Prize.
In 2003, Tony was in 5th grade and struggling to learn a new language as well as understand his math homework. His family had moved to the United States from Vietnam.
Tony was matched with a School on Wheels tutor and remembers breaking down one day because of the stress of it all. His family had been evicted, and they were living in their car. He was struggling with school and was feeling overwhelmed. What his School on Wheels tutor said in that moment stayed with Tony and became his mantra: “It’s going to get better. You can get past this. It’s not going to be like this forever.”
Fast-forward to 2017, and Tony is about to graduate from Cal State Fullerton with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies. His biggest challenge – learning to speak English – became his biggest achievement! With gratitude to School on Wheels, Tony is now training to become a volunteer tutor, wanting to pass on some of the positivity he received when he was 10 years old and homeless.
These past couple of months have been filled with events for our students, honoring our volunteers and the recent release of our annual report. We kicked off the month by taking some of our students to One Gun Ranch in Malibu where the students got to learn about biodynamic farming techniques, how to grow fruit and vegetables and got to meet some wonderful animals. School on Wheels spent the last couple months honoring the wonderful volunteers who dedicate their time tutoring homeless students, 250 volunteers received Presidential Service Awards. One of our students, Taree Mayfield, 13, visited Sweden and met Queen Silvia last month. Taree is a new jury member of the World Children’s Prize, Taree represents children who are homeless and children who help homeless children. Lasty, a huge thank you to our monthly donor, the group from Brea Olinda High School who are raising funds for School on Wheels. How great it is to see kids helping kids!