With a mission to reduce the setbacks in education homeless children face, School on Wheels is the only nonprofit of its kind in Southern California, with over 1,800 volunteers who help homeless youth succeed in school.
“Our program serves as a consistent support system to homeless students at a time of great stress and fear,” said Sinead Chilton, marketing director of School on Wheels, Inc.
The nonprofit works with homeless students living in shelters, motels, cars, on the street and in group foster homes, serving more than 163,000 students across 6 area counties.
“Homeless children are four times more likely to repeat a grade or drop out of school altogether,” Chilton said. “We provide an opportunity for volunteers to go out into their community and make a positive difference in the academic life of a homeless student.”
Last year, School on Wheels provided after school one-on-one tutoring to over 3,000 students with the assistance of dedicated volunteers.
“Our volunteers come from all backgrounds and walks of life — stay-at-home moms, lawyers, accountants, actors — we even have a rocket scientist,” Chilton said. “They all have a love of learning and understand the importance of education to lift young people out of poverty and homelessness.”
School on Wheels provides one-on-one weekly tutoring with a volunteer, as well as backpacks, school supplies and school uniforms, assistance in entering school and help in locating lost records.
The nonprofit also offers guidance for parents in educational matters for their children, a learning center located in the heart of Skid Row, two digital learning centers and online tutoring.
“Volunteers are the heart of the organization,” Chilton emphasized.
“They provide consistency and a positive role model to the students we work with,” she said. “100% of students surveyed said their School on Wheels tutor helped them with school. 90% said their grades had improved as a result of having a School on Wheels tutor.”
Volunteers commit to working with a student for one hour a week for a minimum of one year. Volunteers must apply online and undergo an online orientation, followed by in-person training and a background check.
“Once these steps have been completed volunteers are matched with a student based on their location, schedule and grade preference,” Chilton explained. “We encourage families to volunteer together.”
School on Wheels was inspired in 1993 by a retired Santa Monica school teacher, Agnes Stevens, who saw first-hand how children experiencing homelessness struggled to keep up with school work and their studies.
While Stevens died in February, “Her legacy lives on,” Chilton said.
Today, the nonprofit relies solely on donations to survive.
“We survive through the donations of people who believe that every homeless child has potential,” Chilton said. “92% of every dollar donated goes directly to our program.”School on Wheels is slated to expand its one-on-one tutoring services, with an ultimate goal of providing academic assistance to every homeless child in Southern California.
“In order to achieve this goal we need more volunteer tutors and supporters,” Chilton said.
“If homeless children didn’t exist there would be no need for School on Wheels. Unfortunately, we know that this is not a reality yet, and therefore we will continue with our mission to help these children succeed.”
For more information, visit www.schoolonwheels.org or call (800) 923-1100.
—Alicia Doyle, Brand Publishing Writer