On the corner of 7th Street and San Pedro in downtown Los Angeles, 23-year-old college graduate Chynna Lloyd remembers what its like to be homeless as a child.
"Am I somewhere safe? Do I have somewhere to eat," she said.
Lloyd had attended nine schools by the time she and her undocumented mother moved into a shelter for domestic violence victims. Lloyd was only 9 years old.
"I really needed help," she said.
An afterschool program known as School on Wheels changed her life after giving her a tutor named Katie.
"We bonded over like Alicia Keys and Beyonce music," Lloyd said. "And reading books because I loved to read a lot of books. If I needed help, I knew that I could call her."
Katie became like a second mother to Lloyd. She attended her parent-teacher conferences, took her on tours at college campuses, cheered her on in sports, watched her graduate high school and helped her move into her dorms.
"I'm a black woman. She's a white woman. So I just called her my white mom," Lloyd said.
She majored in public health after being inspired to get the same degree as her tutor.
"To be that voice," Lloyd said about what she wanted to do with the degree. "Because a lot of people I've known who worked in public health, they haven't seen this life. They haven't even understood or seen some of these hardships."
Lloyd is just one of the many success stories of the School on Wheels, which was founded in 1993. Its volunteers provide free tutoring and mentoring to children from kindergarten through 12th grade. All of these students are either living in shelters, motels, cars, group foster homes or on the streets.
According to the nonprofit, homeless students are nine times more likely to repeat a grade and four times more likely to drop out of school entirely.
"Currently we have 163,000 homeless kids in Los Angeles County," said former Miss USA and School on Wheels ambassador Rima Fakih Slaiby. "That is not an easy number to take in."
The school is located in Skid Row, which has the highest concentration of homelessness in the United States. After the school closed because of the pandemic, it reopened with a remodeled look.
"What we did is we remodeled it so the kids feel like they can have daylight," said Fakih Slaiby. "It closes up for safety."
At the campus, volunteers serve 20 kids all of whom have access to computers and a music room donated by some of the biggest names in the industry and Grammy Award-winning producers.
Outside of the campus, the program works with 2,000 other students online and in person. School on Wheels has helped more than 50,000 students in its nearly 30-year history. Despite its success, the program is facing a shortage of volunteers and is urging people to sign up as tutors.
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