Katie and Chynna
In 2021 School on Wheels provided one-on-one online tutoring support to 1,700 students like Chynna, with the help of over 1,200 volunteers, like Katie.
“Where you are right now does not mean you will be there forever. I was homeless and even at my lowest point my tutor pushed me in a nice way to keep up with school and focus on my future. When I got the first acceptance letter to college I felt indebted to Katie, I don’t think I could have done it without her.” – Chynna.
Chynna was in 5th grade and her family had been experiencing homelessness for a couple of years. Moving from place to place, she had attended seven different schools by the time School on Wheels tutor Katie met her in 2009.
Life and school had never been easy. Chynna was embarrassed at school because she didn’t have the same things as the other kids and was teased because her clothes were old and didn’t fit. She was angry that her family couldn’t afford new clothes, but she was more upset about the fact that she couldn’t go to slumber parties or leave the domestic violence shelter she was staying in to play jump rope outside with her school friends who lived nearby. The shelter looked like all the other apartment complexes except that it had gates around it. Chynna never told her friends in the neighborhood why. She was smart and got good grades but had missed a lot of school and knew she needed help catching up, especially in math. She was determined to go to college.
At first, Katie and Chynna bonded over music, Alicia Keys, and their love of books. They also shared frustration with math; over the years they worked on mastering it together! With Katie’s help, Chynna began to focus on school instead of her living situation.
“I helped Chynna with study skills because they were a challenge for her. Especially living in a shelter. I helped her prepare for tests and gave her tips to stay organized. I also helped her to advocate for herself at school. I attended her parent-teacher conferences and asked her teachers for advice. By asking for help at school, I modeled positive behavior for Chynna and she started staying after school to ask her teachers for help when she needed to.”
Many years later, this fearless duo has weathered personal triumphs and tribulations, including the death of Chynna’s father, the births of Katie’s two children, and Chynna’s family finally finding permanent housing. Their friendship is deep:
“Chynna is a resilient, strong, and smart young woman and it’s been one of the biggest joys of my life to know her. She was one of the first people I told when I found out I was pregnant and she was one of the first people to meet my son after he was born.”
“Katie’s heart is really pure; she is a beautiful person—inside and out. She is the type of person we need on this earth.”
Katie says “being a School on Wheels tutor has helped me better understand the true challenges of living in poverty. I have a stronger sense of how important education is to help families break the cycle of poverty, but at the same time I now have an awareness of how poverty can make it so much harder to focus on education.”
We asked Chynna if she had any advice for other students experiencing homelessness:
“If you need help and you can get it, School on Wheels cares and will actually help you with school. Like Katie, School on Wheels finds the good in everyone. Take all the help you can get and don’t be prideful; tutors are expensive and this program provides them for free! I think School on Wheels is a great program. They found me the perfect tutor.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without Katie. She helped me graduate elementary school, middle school, high school and college, and her work isn’t done.”
Today Chynna is a recent college graduate from CSUN with a degree in public health and a minor in civic and community engagement. She returned from studying abroad in Ghana when the pandemic hit and currently works to help educate people about vaccinations through her work as program coordinator at Young Invincibles.
Chynna was recently on a very special panel—see the short video below. She was also interviewed on The Kelly Clarkson Show with her tutor, Katie and our executive director, Charles Evans.
Katie and Chynna are still firm friends. You can support more student/tutor matches like Chynna’s and Katies here and you can apply to become a volunteer tutor here.