April 20, 2014 00:43 UTC

Audio / Education Report

Mentors Try to Improve Lives of Homeless Children

An instructor shows a slide show during a class at the Homeward Bound Camp in Bear Mountain, New York. The Coalition for the Homeless operates the camp.
An instructor shows a slide show during a class at the Homeward Bound Camp in Bear Mountain, New York. The Coalition for the Homeless operates the camp.
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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

A mentor is someone who teaches or advises a younger person with less experience. January is National Mentoring Month in the United States. This is a time for calling attention to the value of mentoring.

Some mentoring programs connect adults with children who need guidance. Researchers say mentoring can reduce drug and alcohol use and violence among young people.

In Southern California, a nonprofit group called School on Wheels has volunteers who tutor children from homeless families. Experts estimate that one in every fifty children in the country is homeless at some time during the year.

They might live in shelters or weekly hotels or abandoned buildings or even on the streets. Anywhere except a permanent home.

Sinead Chilton is marketing consultant for School on Wheels. She says she was surprised to learn the extent of the problem when she moved to the United States from London.

SINEAD CHILTON: "When I first moved here ten years ago and I heard about School on Wheels, I didn't even consider the fact that there were homeless children in America. And then when I realized that there was 1.6 million homeless children in America, it just floored me."

Ms. Chilton has worked with School on Wheels for more than six years. She says she still remembers the first student she tutored. She met with her every week at a local church. The church provided shelter for people on winter nights. The girl slept on the floor.

SINEAD CHILTON: "It just struck me as just so devastating and just how can you focus on school and how can you even think about homework when those are the circumstances that you're living in."

A retired teacher named Agnes Stevens started School on Wheels eight years ago. She wanted to help homeless children stay in school. The group now has more than one thousand volunteers.

Each year they tutor as many as two thousand students. The group also provides services to other children, including backpacks and school supplies.

Sinead Chilton says School on Wheels also helps parents to put their children in school and advises parents about the education system.

SINEAD CHILTON: "A lot of time homeless children's families are in chaos and homework is the last thing that parents want to be worrying about."

The Harvard School of Public Health and the National Mentoring Project launched National Mentoring Month in two thousand two. Ms. Chilton says she hopes more people will volunteer to help children.

SINEAD CHILTON: "I think it's so important for people that want to make a difference in their community to look at where the needs are. And the most vulnerable members of our community are homeless children."

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by June Simms. Have you ever been a mentor or had a mentor? Write about your experience at voaspecialenglish.com or on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.

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