Volunteers are the heart and soul of School on Wheels. School on Wheels volunteers work throughout Southern California to remove the barriers that stand between homeless children and their education. Our tutoring program stands at the center of our work: our volunteers come from all backgrounds and professions to teach, mentor, and assist the educational life of a homeless child. Once they have been through their online orientation and our additional training (designed to maximize the impact of their time with the children), volunteers are carefully matched with a homeless child with whom they meet at least once per week. This one-on-one time provides the highest impact of all our work; it constitutes the core of our focus. Last year, these amazing volunteers provided more than 95,000 hours of focused educational support to 3,129 homeless children. Approximately 300 of these students met their tutors at our Skid Row Learning Center, some 2,800 more had their tutors come to where they live in a service area that, while concentrated in Los Angeles County, spans more than 2,500 square miles.
What do you enjoy most about working with volunteers?
Volunteer tutors are positive role models who provide consistency and educational assistance to a homeless child through weekly one-on-one tutoring. School on Wheels is a volunteer based organization that seeks out committed people who are passionate about social justice and equality for all. A person engaged in volunteering with School on Wheels will benefits from increased self-confidence in their power as an individual to influence change and inspire others. Our volunteers act as a bridge between organizations and the communities that we serve and can inspire change in behavior and attitude in a wider group. They encourage the collective responsibility that enables solid outcomes, such as stability and consistency for the homeless students that we serve.
How has VolunteerMatch helped you to recruit volunteers?
It takes an enormous amount of work to attract, train, manage and retain more than 1,800 tutors and supervise more than 95,000 volunteer hours over the course of a year! Volunteer Match gave us an opportunity to have continuous recruiting of new volunteers throughout Southern California, while allowing us the time to focus our efforts on volunteer management, retention and support.
School on Wheels began in 1993 when Agnes Stevens, a recent retiree who had spent 30 years of her life as a schoolteacher, read a book that changed her life. The book was about homeless families in the U.S. Agnes was shocked to learn that hundreds of thousands of children were homeless (a figure that has since surged to 1.6 million) and that many of them did not attend school. She learned that there were many other barriers that stood between these children and their education and that they needed a wide range of specialized services to remove those barriers – they needed help getting back into school, they needed help in catching up on the subjects they missed, they needed help accessing uniforms and supplies. Unfortunately, because of their circumstances, homeless children often have no one in their lives who can help them access these services (at a time when a family’s focus is on basic needs like shelter and food, it can be difficult to pay attention to things that don’t seem to ensure survival – like a child’s education and future). Agnes began teaching homeless children in a park in Santa Monica, encouraging them to stay in school and keep up with their grades and school activities – and recruiting others to join her.