Category: In The News

Jan 9

Angela Sanchez, a blossoming L.A. writer, was once homeless – L.A. Times

Scruffy Dog of the children’s book “Scruffy and the Egg” was not always scruffy. He used to have well-groomed chestnut fur and a bright blue collar with a shiny gold tag. He used to be Fluffy Dog.

In her debut as an author and illustrator, L.A. native Angela Sanchez tells the story of the dog’s transformation as he loses his family and home, navigates life on the streets and befriends and adopts a lost egg.

The cohesive, expressively drawn book, which Sanchez crowdfunded and self-published last year, has a surprisingly optimistic tone considering its exploration of difficult circumstances and homelessness.

The book is also partly autobiographical.


Sanchez, 26, grew up in Glendale, where she shared a two-bedroom apartment with her father, an architectural draftsman by trade.

For a single dad with no safety net, familial support or four-year degree, the Great Recession was a devastating financial earthquake.

Sanchez was a junior at Herbert Hoover High School in fall 2007 when an eviction notice appeared on the door of her apartment. A week before Thanksgiving, police officers came knocking.

“At the time I didn’t fully understand what the prospect of going homeless meant,” Sanchez recalls. “My dad had lived in that apartment for 25 years. I had lived there all my life. It was home. To lose it was a big blow.”

Sanchez and her father spent the 2007 holiday season hopping from one motel to another. By January their credit ran out and they landed in an emergency church shelter. The rules of the shelter were strict and comforts minimal. They slept on military-style cots a few feet from strangers. There was no privacy, no shower and no breakfast.

The high school junior kept her homelessness a secret from everyone at school except a supportive principal and a handful of advisors who helped her with her college admissions essay.

“I didn’t tell my teachers because I wanted to be treated like every other student,” she says. “I didn’t want to drag homelessness with me into the classroom. At school I got to be the smart kid. That was my identity. I didn’t have to worry about anything else.”

On the weekends, Sanchez and her father had nowhere to go during the long hours when the shelter was closed.

You don’t realize how much time you spend in your home until you don’t have one anymore.Angela Sanchez

Jan 9

Vittorio’s Ristorante Brings Joy to Homeless Children – Palisades News

For 62 homeless children who live in shelters in Long Beach, Torrance, Sylmar, Los Angeles, Canoga Park and Venice, December 18 was one of their happiest days in 2017.

After the kids were bused to Vittorio’s Ristorante on Marquez Avenue and served a lunch of pizza and garlic rolls, Santa came with wrapped gifts for each child. In addition to the toys, each youngster left with a large decorated cookie.

Marie Steckmest, who organizes an annual Holiday Spirit Toy Drive through Palisades Cares, sees that half of the toys collected go to these children. “This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said the former Citizen of the Year.

Hank Elder, a member of the Sons of the American Legion (SAL), said that his organization paid for the buses.

“For the first time, SAL members decorated Vittorio’s with Christmas decorations in anticipation of the Homeless Children’s Christmas party,” Elder said.“I saw a miracle. I cannot think of anything in Pacific Palisades as special as this event this time of year.”

Elder said that each age-appropriate gift is chosen for a child and then wrapped. The goal was for each child to receive four gifts.“These were most likely the only ones the children would receive for Christmas,” Elder said.

Steckmest and Elder pointed out the two people truly responsible for this event: Vittorio’s owner Mercedes Pellegrini and her daughter Vanessa, who have sponsored it the past seven years.

“We are so blessed and grateful to everyone who comes out to help wrap gifts, give gifts and volunteer that day,” Vanessa said.

This celebration came out of pain, after Vanessa was diagnosed with CNS (central nervous system) lupus in December 2010 and hospitalized for two weeks.

“We weren’t sure I was going to pull through, since the disease was attacking the blood vessels in my brain,” Vanessa said.“ My mother, being a devout Catholic, prayed to Nossa Senhora de Aparecida in Brazil. She performs miracles, according to local legend, and so my mother prayed.”

(Her mother was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and met her husband Ron while he was traveling to Rio de Janeiro for Carnivale. The couple married and Mercedes came to the United States, where she started Mercedes’ Continental Delights, a bakery in the San Fernando Valley. In 1984, she opened Vittorio’s Ristorante with a partner, but when Giovanni Mazzola left to open a new restaurant in Malibu, Mercedes kept Vittorio’s.)

Mercedes’ prayers were answered and after a few weeks of intensive care in the hospital, Vanessa was sent home, well on the way to recovery.

“As an offering, we both promised to give back to the less fortunate children, who are innocent and often times are the victims of circumstance,” Vanessa said. “I had worked with School on Wheels since 1999 and I was intimately involved with kids who were living in abused homes, homeless shelters and transitory houses. These were the children that were forgotten, and so, the Holiday Luncheon was born.”

School on Wheels provides academic tutoring to children living in shelters, motels, cars, group foster homes and on the streets with the hope of having them achieve educational success, so they can break the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

Vanessa, who attended a parochial school in the Valley and then graduated from Pepperdine, told the News in a December 26 email, “I’m still fighting the battle [with lupus].” She works with her mom in the restaurant and at the Palisades office of Pacific Union Realty (formerly Gibson International). She has two sisters, Sabrina and Pia.

“The luncheon is an amazing day for us, for the kids and for the community!” Vanessa said. “We have no plans to stop this wonderful tradition.”

Read the article on Palisades News here.

Dec 12

Important Safety Information for Tutors

Dear Tutors,

It seems that media reports about sexual harassment and assaults continue on an almost daily basis. While this horrific news is mainly about adults, we know that children are extremely vulnerable to abuse and assaults. This is even more common among children who are living in at-risk situations, such as homelessness, because offenders target children who seem more defenseless and are less likely to tell.

At School on Wheels, we do everything we can to protect our students – the most vulnerable children in our society. We also want to safeguard our volunteers from potential accusations. We have several mandatory policies to help ensure the safety of our students, as well as our volunteers:

Tutoring Policy

  • Tutoring has to take place in a public area and has to be scheduled so that two or more tutors will be present at the same time and place. For smaller locations, libraries or other public locations with only one tutor, the tutor must work with their student within sight and earshot of another adult (shelter staff/ residents, library staff or parents).
  • Tutors must refrain from initiating physical contact with students and must report immediately to their coordinator or School on Wheels staff if they feel uncomfortable in a situation.
  • Tutors are required to wear their School on Wheels badges to identify they are tutors and so that our students become comfortable with our name and logo. Please let your coordinator know if you need a new badge.

Field Trip Safety Policy

Tutors who wish to take students on field trips must consult and follow the SOW field trip policy. Tutors cannot provide transportation outside of this policy. If tutoring takes place outside a shelter, the parent/guardian is responsible for the student’s attendance and transportation. All parents/guardians must stay at the location for the duration of the off-site session.

Logging Policy

Volunteers are required to log all tutoring hours via the School on Wheels database. Logging is a critical and a mandatory part of being a volunteer in our program. This policy is first and foremost for the safety and security of our students, but also to protect our tutors. With accurate logging, we can identify exactly who, where and when tutoring takes place.

The vast majority of our volunteers are complying with our safety policies – thank you so much. However, it seems that not all volunteers understand the importance of these policies or we have not explained them enough. The news coming from the media has refocused my attention on our safety policies. So I am asking each of you make sure that you are complying with these policies. The safety of our students is a sacred trust. We cannot compromise that. I know you agree.

Thank you so much for being a wonderful volunteer and ensuring the safety of your student. If you have any questions, please contact your coordinator.

Kind regards,


Catherine Meek
Executive Director | School on Wheels, Inc.

Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.
– Nelson Mandela

Dec 4

Mayor Garcetti visits Skid Row Learning Center

School on Wheels students who attend our after-school learning center were treated to a surprise visit from Mayor Garcetti yesterday

Mayor Eric Garcetti visited School on Wheels’ Skid Row Learning Center (600 E 7th Street, Los Angeles) to find out more about the center.  The children knew that someone from the city was visiting and had prepared questions in advance but did not know that it was their mayor who would be the VIP visitor!

Questions from students to the mayor… How do we stop trash going into the ocean? Where do people that are on the street go when there is an earthquake?  What are sidewalks so [sic] rumboled? How can we stop graffiti? Why do people have guns? And why do people live on the streets?

When asked by a student “Why are shelters used instead of homes,” the mayor said,
“We want shelters to be a place where people go in an emergency, not where you grow up.”

Sadly for the students at School on Wheels, many are growing up in shelters. The mayor offered hope by saying that they were building extra housing and that homelessness was his priority, but he noted these things take time.

The mayor also talked to the children about libraries, parks, water and the 2028 Olympic games. He told the students that all sports for kids would be free in the city and that they could be the next Olympians.

After a tour of the center, the mayor was interviewed by local media and was then whisked away for his next appointment.

“The kids, staff and volunteers at the center were thrilled to have met the mayor, “ said Catherine Meek, Executive Director. “Our students are really smart and they kept him honest with the questions they asked him!”

View PDF Press Release



Oct 27

Good Shepherd Champion Award

On Sunday, October 22, 2017, School on Wheels was honored at The Good Shepherd Shelter’s 40th Anniversary Gala with their Champion Award. Catherine Meek, Executive Director of School on Wheels, was presented with the award. You can watch her acceptance speech here.

School on Wheels has been providing tutoring services to The Good Shepherd Shelter for over 10 years and recently opened a digital learning room at the site. This is what they had to say about our partnership:

“As you can imagine, with the turmoil of a violent household, many of our children who enter our shelter program are below grade level and often have emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities. We wouldn’t be able to address the unique learning needs of our students so effectively without the ongoing support from School on Wheels tutors who offer after-school support to our students including a homework club and other enrichment activities. In addition to receiving tutoring support, which helps them significantly improve their grades, our students also create a meaningful relationship with the volunteers they work with daily and build a great deal of trust towards them. It is our pleasure to honor School on Wheels with the Good Shepherd Shelter Champion Award for all the tireless and much-needed work they do for our students.”