Business & Economy

Nonprofit helps homeless children succeed in school

Volunteer and student.
Volunteer and student.
Courtesy of Sinead Chilton/ School on Wheels
Volunteer and student.
Courtesy of Sinead Chilton/ School on Wheels
Volunteer and student.
Courtesy of Sinead Chilton/ School on Wheels


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Students are back in school, and for many, stressful mid-term exams are just around the corner.

They're even tougher for the tens of thousands of homeless kids trying to keep up when access to a backpack or even pencils is a challenge. School on Wheels, which has a learning center on L.A.'s Skid Row, is one of the nonprofits trying to meet their needs, helping homeless children stay on track by providing supplies, scholarships, and tutoring and other services.

Founded in 1993, the nonprofit wants children living in places like motels, shelters and group foster homes to feel no different from their peers who may not face a similar economic struggle.

"I think people tend to forget that kids are all the same and they want the same as their peers," Sinead Chilton, marketing director for School on Wheels, told KPCC.

"Sometimes it's very difficult for a homeless student to assimilate in school if they don't have the right gear," Chilton said. "Having a new backpack and school supplies is a very powerful, tangible thing for a student experiencing homelessness."

According to Chilton, nearly 64,000 children in L.A. County have been identified as homeless.

Last year, School on Wheels worked with nearly 2,000 students and provided backpacks and school supplies to over 6,000, Chilton said.

Through one program, volunteer tutors as young as 12 go to shelters, libraries and after-school clubs to help homeless students.

"The idea is that the wheels on our bus are our volunteer tutors that come from all backgrounds and walks of life to help mentor homeless children and help them succeed in school," said Chilton.

Volunteers become role models for the children, helping them focus on education and provide hope.

"We can measure academics, but it's also social and emotional, and just showing kids, giving them a bit of hope and focusing them back on school work and studying," Chilton said. "There is something they can do in this situation that is out of their control [and that is] that they can go to school and learn and hopefully by doing that their future can be brighter."

Listen to the full interview by clicking the play button above.