On Thursday, Jan. 17th School on Wheels along with 12 other local nonprofits were awarded grants totaling $105,000 by the Ojai Women’s Fund.

School on Wheels is a local nonprofit that celebrated its 25th anniversary last year providing educational assistance to children and youth experiencing homelessness.

The $10,000 grant from the Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) is to continue and expand their program in the Ojai Valley by recruiting, training and matching volunteer tutors with students living in shelters, motels, cars, on the street and in group foster homes. This funding will specifically support their program in regards to a group foster home for sexually trafficked youth (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children) ages 12-18. Catherine Meek, Executive Director of School on Wheels is a resident of Ojai and also one of the newest members of the OWF. In 2018 they provided one-on-one tutoring and mentoring to over 3,500 children. Sinead Chilton, Director of Development and Marketing, accepted the award on their behalf,

“Our hope with the funds you have given us is that we can recruit, train and match volunteers in Ojai that are willing to work with older students and be positive role models for kids that have experienced trauma that most of us cannot even begin to comprehend.”

The number of homeless children in our region has doubled over the last 10 years, and families are falling into homelessness faster than ever before due to the lack of affordable housing.

Homelessness has a devastating impact on children’s educational opportunities. Students experiencing homelessness typically change schools frequently: 28 percent of homeless students will attend three or more different schools in a single year. They have to adjust to new environments, new curricula, and new teachers and classmates, all while still learning the same information other students are expected to learn.

Too, the loss of a home can be traumatic, leaving children and youth with tumultuous feelings that can impact their social and intellectual wellbeing, resulting in behavioral problems that interfere with learning at almost three times the rate of other children. Limited access to food, medical care, and basic school supplies can also impact performance in the classroom. In all, homeless children are nine times more likely to repeat a grade, three times more likely to be placed in special education, four times more likely to drop out of school entirely. 

School on Wheels also works with children and youth residing in group foster homes, many of whom have been sexually exploited. Human trafficking is a $32 billion global industry, involving over 100,000 children in the U.S. After drug trafficking and counterfeiting, it is the world’s most profitable criminal activity. It is estimated that an exploiter may earn as much as $650,000 in a year by exploiting as few as four children. Over the past decade, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Congress and countless community-based organizations have recognized and exposed human trafficking as a major problem within the United States. And yet, despite current national, state and local efforts, the number of children who are exploited is increasing.

In 2018, School on Wheels hosted 2,321  remarkable, dedicated and amazing volunteers who then went out into their communities in six counties in Southern California to tutor and mentor students at over 350 locations, spanning more than 2,500 square miles. They tutored over 3,624 students, distributed 5,500 backpacks, school supplies, uniforms and bus tokens, awarded 71 scholarships.

School on Wheels encourages readers to join the fight to end homelessness through education and support their amazing volunteers who go out to shelters, group homes and public places to meet and mentor Ventura children and youth experiencing homelessness and provide hope and support to our most vulnerable citizens.

For more information about the program and to apply to become a volunteer, visit www.schoolonwheels.org. Sinead Chilton is the Director of Development for School on Wheels.