School on Wheels is an organization enhancing educational opportunities for children who are experiencing homelessness from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
- 1/3 of unhoused people are under the age of 18
- 1:20 children in CA don’t have homes
- 64% of children experiencing homelessness do not graduate high school
Guest Contributor: Lynn Stransky
There’s a myriad of worthy nonprofits where you can volunteer, but there are only a few where you have the opportunity to mentor the young people in your community who need your support the most.
In California, where School on Wheels is based, one in every 20 children is experiencing homelessness. For these students, their eduction is often precarious, as housing instability and lack of technological access create seemingly insurmountable barriers to success. Unhoused students are nine times more likely to repeat a grade, and they are four times more likely to drop out of school entirely.
While we await appropriate government intervention in the housing crisis, we must do all that we can to support those most burdened by it: youth experiencing homelessness. By helping unhoused students stay in school and succeed, we hope to improve their educational outcomes, and, hopefully, to break the cycle of homelessness.
Mentorship can have several notable benefits for youth experiencing homelessness: increased school attendance, improved attitudes toward academia, and better academic performance - all of which contribute towards providing these individuals with the greatest chance of succeeding despite their circumstances.
For School on Wheels student Gabby, her connection with her tutor came at a pivotal moment: college deadlines were rapidly approaching, but Gabby was unsure about the application process. Gabby turned to her tutor Tazin, who has a Master’s degree, for guidance.
Tazin believes, “Education is of the utmost importance and something we can carry with us, no matter what life may throw at us. It’s the one thing that can’t be taken away from us, and, if need be, it can be used to start all over - whether we have to change states, countries, or continents.”
Inspired by Gabby’s tenacity, a spark was lit inside Tazin’s heart, and she enthusiastically guided Gabby through college preparation, completing applications for several universities and FAFSA. Gabby ultimately chose to attend UCLA where she will study marine biology to pursue her dream.
But as much as providing mentorship for youth benefits them, connecting with a young person is often a surprisingly fulfilling experience for our volunteers. School on Wheels volunteer Chris was grieving the loss of his parents when he moved to Los Angeles. Despite his new surroundings, he was feeling stuck and stagnant, so his wife encouraged him to volunteer, believing that helping others would inspire him. She was right.
Although Chris was nervous when he first met his student Diego, he “didn’t want to let anyone down,” and the pair tutored every Saturday at the shelter every weekend for two years. Chris even learned some Spanish to better communicate with the family. “I didn’t set out to become anything other than just a tutor, but I ended up making one of the most meaningful connections I’ve ever made in my life,” said Chris.
When Diego and his family found permanent housing and became ineligible for services, instead of getting another student, Chris left our nonprofit to continue working with Diego for the next four years. “It’s a relationship I never thought I’d have,” Webster says. “Everyone I knew up until about the age of 22 looked like me and sounded like me. To walk into a quinceañera with my wife and to be invested and welcomed into part of a much bigger world has been truly amazing.” Now, they continue attending each other’s family gatherings and special events. They even go on outings around L.A. where Chris brings his son who is now nearly the same age as Diego was when they started working together.
Volunteering might only occupy a few hours at a time, but a genuine connection can last a lifetime. If you believe that students experiencing homelessness deserve the support they need to succeed against the odds, please considering becoming a volunteer with School on Wheels or supporting our work.