LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) – On any given night, there are roughly 47,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, and many of them are children who simply want to be loved and to learn.
School on Wheels is a nonprofit that is working to break the Skid Row cycle by helping to keep these children off the streets and on top of their studies.
“We want the neighborhood to hear that there’s kids around, and we want the kids to feel safe, and to let them have a voice,” said Allison Maldonado, who runs the Skid Row Learning Center for School on Wheels.
School On Wheels works with homeless children to ensure that they don’t fall behind on their education, regardless their circumstances.
“Due to their current situation, they fail to see the connections between why it’s so important to stay in school and get that education,” Maldonado said. “They’re so focused on the now: ‘I need to eat tonight, where am I going to sleep tonight.’ They’re not as focused on learning for the test next week.”
The center helps as many as 45 students daily by providing a full meal and one-on-one time with a tutor. Most importantly, it provides a safe, quiet place for students to get their schoolwork done and stay caught up.
“Falling behind early has lifelong ramifications,” tutor Chris Chambers Goodman said. “So to the extent that we can at least help students try to keep up, we’re really doing a great service to the community.”
Once the kids finish their work, they get ready to make the walk back to the Union Rescue Mission, where many of them live.
“You do what you can in the time that you have them, because you don’t know how long they’re going to stay,” Maldonado said.
While it’s only a quick three-block walk, it’s full of sights and sounds that can last a lifetime. But it’s also full of hope, something that’s not lost on the students or the people on the streets. As they walk, the children yell, “kids coming through!”
“It’s letting the kids yell and get all of their anger out,” said 8th grader Ashanti, who volunteers with School on Wheels. “And it’s also letting everybody on the streets know that they can stop what they’re doing before the kids get over there, and the kids can see them.”
“On the walk to the gym it’s very supportive from people on the streets,” Maldonado said. “One of my favorite things was, a man looks up, and starts pointing at each kid; ‘future doctor, future race car driver, future teacher, future pediatrician,’ any job he could randomly think of. It was great, because, after he did that, the kids were walking and saying, ‘he said I’m gonna be this, but I want to be this.’ It was a great reminder to the kids that the streets are safe for them and people are looking out for them.”
Last year, School on Wheels worked with more than 2,200 volunteers and tutored nearly 3,500 students.
“As much as it’s hard to know that they are in this situation, the only thing we can do is remind them how to get out of it,” Maldonado said. “What they can do for themselves to grow and persevere and, most importantly, to break the cycle of homelessness.”
For more information on School on Wheels and how you can get involved, click here.