lh 119 Photo by: Karen Castillo Farfán/ Brooks Institute

Local Hero

From homelessness to helping the homeless — the Hagergs

By Karen Castillo Farfán 01/19/2012

Steve and Laurie Hagerg understand how it feels not to have a stable home life. For a year, they turned a relative’s living room into a place where their children did homework and they converted it into the sleeping quarters for the whole family. Ten years ago, the Hagergs were homeless.

When they moved to Fresno in 2001, they were ready to start a new life. But when they arrived, their job situations did not materialize as planned, forcing the Hagerg’s to seek shelter with family.

Steve has an undergraduate degree in history and biology and a graduate degree in Christian thought. His wife, Laurie, has a bachelor’s in English as well as a California teaching credential and a master’s in education. Even with their educational backgrounds, the Hagergs still became homeless. “Homelessness does not discriminate,” Laurie said of their previous situation.

“When you’re transient like we were, it’s easy to lose essential things like socks or school supplies,” explained Steve.

Today the Hagergs’ children are grown and in college. Steve and Laurie have careers teaching at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, but they haven’t forgotten about life without a home. In their off time, they are volunteer tutors for School on Wheels, a nonprofit tutoring organization that provides homeless families with free tutoring services and school supplies.

They began doing so two years ago after Laurie read an online educational newsletter that featured the purpose of School on Wheels. Laurie mentioned it to her husband and they decided to volunteer together.

They were matched with a single mom of three kids — her two sons, Mekhi and Jaden, and her 3-year-old daughter. The two boys, ages 8 and 13, were the Hagergs’ first students and have been for two years. “Mekhi had problems reading, so we began with easy books,” said Laurie of the first challenge she faced in tutoring Mekhi. Laurie wanted to focus on reading because it is a critical part of all scholastic subjects. After two years, Mekhi’s level of confidence increased, even earning him the Student of the Trimester Award at school. “He went from being afraid to participate in the classroom to having confidence with reading out loud,” explained Laurie.

Steve’s student, Jaden, is a naturally gifted boy, which meant Steve’s goal was to encourage Jaden to see possibilities, such as college, outside of what he knows. “Tutoring is sometimes about providing the emotional support that a child may lack because of their living circumstances,” Steve said. Jaden is currently enrolled in honors courses.

Mekhis and Jadens mother, Jocelyn, said she learned about School on Wheels while living at a motel two years ago. “The motel [where] we lived housed many homeless families.  School on Wheels visited the motel and offered us their services.”

Jocelyn immediately accepted the opportunity. She wants her children to have as many advantages as they can. “Just because we’re homeless doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a good education. They [Steve and Laurie] helped my boys with things I couldn’t help them with,” said Jocelyn. “Sometimes a parent alone isn’t enough.”

Steve says School on Wheels is always willing to take new volunteers. “They need people who want to make a difference. An hour a week may seem like [a] small amount of time but it is a lot of time for a child in need. We are giving them bigger horizons beyond what is their world and peers, and establishing some goals.”

Jocelyn and her children recently moved into their new home, a bittersweet time in their lives because this also means they no longer qualify for the free tutoring program. But the Hagergs developed a close friendship with Jocelyn and her children and want to continue tutoring them on their own time. “We’ll be there for them until they no longer need us,” promised Laurie and Steve.

Local Hero is an ongoing project, featuring local residents who have made exceptional contributions for their communities. If you know of someone you feel should be featured as a Local Hero, please e-mail at editorial@vcreporter.com or kcfarfan@yahoo.com. For more on the person of the week, go to vcreporter.com.

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If you are interested in helping kids and volunteering with School on Wheels, here is their web site:
It's easy to volunteer, everyone is welcome -- you don't need to be a teacher, just someone who wants to spend time with kids, encouraging them as they work on homework, and offering them one more source of support. Visit School on Wheels web site to learn more! :)

posted by laurielh on 1/19/12 @ 06:13 p.m.
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