OAKLAND (CBS 5) – After years of studying about the achievement gap, a local graduate student wanted to do something more than write papers. So this week’s Jefferson Award winner started a program that takes educators, like herself, where they are needed most.

It’s easily mistaken for a classroom or community center, with all the school work and socializing going on, but Matilda Cleveland House is a homeless shelter where the kids are involved in Community Education Partnerships. It’s a program launched by Erica Mohan, a recent Ph.D. grad who wanted to put her experience to work in helping the kids who might otherwise be left behind.

“I wanted to have a program that goes into the shelters, goes into where the students are. Basically, taking the services to them,” Mohan explained. “I wanted to get out into the community and stop writing papers about it and start addressing some of these issues myself.”

From her kitchen table, Mohan recruits, trains, and vets teachers who help her bring weekly tutoring to five East Bay homeless shelters. This wasn’t the career she planned, but her own experience volunteering at a similar program in Los Angeles changed her life.

“It was such a positive experience for me and I wanted other people to have that experience,” Mohan remembered.

Along with the tutoring comes the real tools kids will need throughout the year: classroom supplies Mohan collects and distributes. But she said it’s the people that make the difference.

“I believe having somebody show up and say, ‘Your education matters to me, I am here to help you,’ provide school supplies, guide you, help you with reading and math, can make a huge difference,” she said confidently.

Ten-year-old Armani Richardson has been meeting with her tutor at the shelter for six months. She says her grades have improved and their sessions are something to look forward to.

“My favorite part about it is when the activities we do are learning and having fun at the same time,” Richardson said.

Joel Abrevaya, a director at the shelter, said the key to the program’s success is bringing mentors and educators to the children. He pointed out that “transportation isn’t easy, it’s expensive.”

“It also fosters a sense of community to bring tutors here. Kids respond so well because they are home,” he added.

In two years, Mohan has helped dozens of students ages 4-18 for free. She’s also trained 25 volunteers, all dependable role models for these kids in transition. She also connects homeless students to other services – summer programs, SAT prep courses, and community activities.

She said, “I think it’s important that people realize that what we’re doing is not filling time – it’s actually breaking the cycle of poverty.”

For supporting the community’s most vulnerable children with quality education, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Erica Mohan.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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