California State University East Bay

Bay Area group educates homeless children

April 9, 2014

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A homeless child’s painting depicting the love between the homeless and their pets.

A homeless child’s painting depicting the love between the homeless and their pets.

Photo | Marina Swanson

Photo | Marina Swanson

A homeless child’s painting depicting the love between the homeless and their pets.

For the past year, the Bay Area non-profit group Community Education Partnership has worked to educate a group of young people often overlooked: homeless children.

CEP started offering their tutoring services at shelters in Oakland and Berkeley at the beginning of the school year in 2011-2012. “It really makes sense for us to be here because there’s nothing really like this in the Bay Area, particularly the East Bay,” said Erica Mohan, CEP’s director.

Mohan refers to CEP as a “kitchen table non-profit,” because she leads board meetings from her kitchen table. She hopes to open an office in the near future.

Mohan has a M.Ed. and Ph.D. in Education from the University of British Columbia in Canada. In 2008 Mohan volunteered at an organization in Los Angeles called School on Wheels, which has been tutoring homeless children since 1993. Once Mohan decided to move back to the Bay Area she vowed to start her own similar organization in the Bay Area.

CEP finds volunteers mostly through word of mouth, and then trains volunteers to educate homeless children. The people that volunteer come from a variety of backgrounds: they are students, graduates, retirees, and some high school students. They go into the homeless shelters throughout the Bay Area and pair up with a student. Volunteers aim to function both as a tutor and also mentors, Mohan said.

Tutors meet students at homeless shelters or often meet at a local library or café but the tutor always goes to the student. Tutors see their students for an hour a week for three months. “If the tutoring is shorter then three months it’s because the child has moved. Some of our volunteers help out at the emergency shelter so it makes it hard to stick with them for three months,” Mohan said.

Mohan and her volunteers stay in touch with some of the parents, who often live with their children in the shelter, to see how they are progressing. Tutors set clear learning goals for each student. Once they get to that goal, students receive a prize, an award, or a field trip to get ice cream.

“Sometimes the hardest part for our volunteers is the relationship, so many homeless children do have some kind of attachment disorder,” Mohan said. “The little kids do seem to be overly attached but some of the older kids can be very difficult to get through to.”

CEP raised around $9,000 through donations and a silent auction at a fundraising event March 8 in Berkeley to support their work. Fenton’s Creamery partnered with CEP in February and raised $1,824.53 for the organization.

“I read this series in the New York Times about a homeless family, how they have been in and out of shelters and then I saw this stuff about CEP and I got inspired to volunteer there,” said Diane Clock, who is currently working on her teaching credentials and has been a CEP volunteer for a few months, working with a student from the Oakland Shelter.

“In the little amount of time I’ve been there I think it’s been great. After talking to Erica I really felt like it would be a great organization and fit for me to work with,” said Clock.

For more information, visit www.calcep.org.

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