I hear a lot of people asking what can we do to combat the racism, ignorance and hatred exhibited on the streets, in leadership positions and in the hearts of many who live in our country. Over 80 percent of our students are children of color; 53 percent are of Hispanic heritage. And they are afraid. Many are used to fear, anxiety and stress – they experience those feelings every single day because they are homeless. They are used to being bullied, shamed and ridiculed.
We must let our students and their families know that the actions unfolding in places like Charlottesville are unacceptable and not reflective of who we are as a community. At School on Wheels, we value diversity, inclusion and equality. We deplore and condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis in the strongest terms. We affirm our commitment to serving the most vulnerable and fragile among us – homeless children.
We must not be defeated by bigotry and ignorance. In the midst of all this sorrow, darkness and anger, we can stand up, speak out and remind ourselves that in our School on Wheels community, we have thousands of people who believe that love and truth will win out. I am inspired by the courage our students display every day just to go to school, the generosity of our supporters and friends who sustain us, and the precious time and dedication our volunteers give to our students.
There is much work to be done, and we need your help to do it. So if someone asks you, “What can we do to help, to uphold our shared values, to demonstrate love and kindness?” tell them to use their energy and power to support organizations like School on Wheels. We can make a huge difference in the life of a homeless child. This is what we can do.
Dressed in yellow from head to toe (literally), Ian Chan, Program Administrator for local nonprofit School on Wheels, completed the Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday to raise money for the homeless children that School on Wheels serves. Chan was one of thousands who made the 26.2-mile trek from Dodger Stadium. to the Santa Monica shoreline.
Ian is running 52 marathons in 2017 to raise awareness about homeless children in California. The LA marathon was his 12th this year and Ian ran his personal best with a time of 3 hours, 19 minutes and 58 seconds. He placed 404th out of 18,864 finishers.
This is what Ian had to say about his experience so far:
“It was an incredible feeling being out there with thousands of fellow Angelenos. The love, the camaraderie, the support…just unbelievable. This was the first time I wore the full-body School on Wheels outfit for a full 26.2 miles, and I’m glad I finished in one piece! Why am I running 52 marathons this year? Over 300,000 children experience homelessness in California each year; this campaign is about giving agency and hope to a population all too forgotten and neglected. My legs are tired, my feet sore but my heart is full. Onward to the next marathon!”
In an interview with KTLA, Ian showed off his amazing costume and talked about the 3,000+ homeless children School on Wheels serves each year and the thousands of volunteers that help them get back on track with school and learning.
School on Wheels is happy to announce the appointment of a new Executive Board member. Joining the Board is Ellen Padnos: “I’m thrilled and honored to have a greater role within School on Wheels. I’ve worked with the team for years and am so inspired by them and the incredible work they do.”
Ellen has supported School on Wheels for many years, and with her group, Joyful Giving has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through their annual fundraising event to benefit School on Wheels. “We are delighted that Ellen is joining the Board. She has been an integral part of our fundraising team for several years and I know she will continue to use her talents and her passion for our mission to help School on Wheels and our students,” said Catherine Meek, Executive Director
Prior to starting Joyful Giving, Ellen co-founded and was Editor-in-Chief of Women.com which she sold with her husband in 2013. Ellen spent her early career working in Sales and Operations at Yahoo in Silicon Valley and for USA Networks in New York.
Ellen currently resides in Manhattan Beach with her young family. She loves what she does and with over 100 active members of Joyful Giving and Joyful Givings Kids (created in 2016) is changing how her community, young and old, finds out and supports local nonprofits, not only financially but through volunteering and activism too.
School on Wheels is honored to announce that President of OMD Entertainment, Susan Taylor will join the Board of Directors.
“I created The Emily Austin Project for School on Wheels in honor of a young colleague’s sudden and tragic death. The Project provided a much needed outlet to help put grief into action. In learning more about School on Wheels I knew I wanted to be part of this small but mighty organization in a more substantial way. I am excited to join their Board of Directors.” - Susan Taylor
Susan is a career veteran of the entertainment and advertising industries focusing on film, television and theater. She currently holds the position of President, OMD Entertainment, an Omnicom agency that exclusively services The Walt Disney Company, including Studios, DCP, Franchise, DATG and Home Entertainment.
During her tenure at OMD Entertainment, Susan created The Emily Austin Project which continues today. The Emily Austin Project includes a corporate footprint for tutoring throughout her company in addition to a donation portal. Susan’s parents were both educators with LAUSD and she is a passionate believer in the importance of education in providing opportunity and hope.
“Susan is a great addition to our Board of Directors. She embodies the spirit of community and will bring talent, expertise and energy to our Board. We have all been inspired not only by her fundraising efforts in memorializing her former colleague, Emily Austin, but also in allowing her employees to use part of their workday to tutor our homeless students.” Catherine Meek, Executive Director.
Why/When/Where did you start working with volunteers?
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.
Executive Director, Catherine Meek, has overseen the growth of School on Wheels from a small, local nonprofit serving 400 students with 300 volunteers to one that works with over 2,200 volunteers tutoring 3,450 students in six counties in Southern California. She started as the first volunteer in Skid Row, becoming increasingly involved in day-to-day operations with Agnes Stevens and was elected Executive Director in 2009.
Catherine believes that education is a right of every child and an economic imperative for our society, especially for homeless students if they are to break the cycle of extreme poverty and know that their lives can improve through education.
Catherine was named one of 10 Women of Worth in the U.S. in 2012 and has received the President’s Volunteer Service Award at the Gold Level for the past five years.
Catherine’s prior experience included organization planning and strategic compensation consulting roles. She spent 16 years as President of her own firm (Meek and Associates), 12 years as Vice President and Principal of Towers, Perrin, Forster & Crosby, and two years as Managing Principal at Sibson & Company.
Catherine was a designated expert resource for The Executive Committee group of Chief Executive Officers and is one of a few individuals to receive their prestigious 200 Club Award. Her articles and book contributions have appeared in a wide range of publications and she has been a frequent speaker and seminar leader.
Catherine holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.