Alexa is the middle child of three sisters. Her parents emphasized doing well in school, but were very supportive of whatever she wanted to do outside of academia. Alexa’s older sister had been volunteering with Wise Readers to Leaders, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps elementary school students who have been historically underserved increase reading comprehension.
Their parents suggested that Alexa follow in her sister’s footsteps, so Alexa started volunteering with the organization in ninth grade as a Teacher’s Assistant, helping students develop reading confidence. She quickly fell in love with volunteering and has continued to volunteer with Wise Readers to Leaders for three years. She even expanded her volunteering to other organizations that work to bridge the educational gap.
What inspires you to volunteer?
It’s not fair that some people have access to great educational opportunities but others don’t. I think it’s important that everyone has equal access. I have been working with Wise Readers to Leaders for three years and I also volunteer at other programs to help bridge that gap. The kids that I tutor are primarily under-resourced elementary school kids, ages 6 to 10. Since I don’t live in Los Angeles, where Wise Readers to Leaders is based, I volunteer virtually.
Describe your volunteer role with Wise Readers, Halford Young Women’s Leadership Program and Peninsula Bridge.
With Wise Readers to Leaders, I tutor elementary kids in reading. My main objective when I sit down with kids is to develop reading comprehension, but because I grew up loving to read, I want to instill the love of reading in them. Reading opens up worlds to them that they would otherwise not experience. Confidence in reading is so important because throughout school you’re going to have to do it a lot and you may as well learn to like it. Reading also improves your writing and vocabulary – and most of all it’s nice to sit down and enjoy a book. I work one-on-one with my reading buddy. We read books, I ask questions about the book and we discuss what we read. I volunteer with Wise Readers to Leaders once a week.
I also volunteer with a mentorship program at my school called Halford Young Women’s Leadership Program. I’m one of the leads this year. The mentors are high school students and the mentees are motivated fifth-grade girls from underserved communities. Our goal is to build relationships between the mentors and mentees and increase their academic and social-emotional skills. I’m in charge of organizing activities and recruiting high school mentors. Typically, we have about 20 mentees participating throughout the school year, and about 15 high school volunteers, so it’s almost a one-to-one ratio of “big sisters” to “little sisters.” I volunteer with Halford twice a month on Saturdays throughout the school year.
Finally, I volunteer for Peninsula Bridge, an intensive summer program that identifies high-potential elementary students from under-resourced communities and helps these students bridge the education gap so they can excel academically and attend the college of their choice. It’s an intensive five-week summer program where student leaders teach math, English, robotics, theater, art and other subjects. I volunteer for Peninsula Bridge over the summer, every day for six hours for the five-week session.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
I love seeing the kids become more confident in their reading abilities. I also love seeing the kids open up to me. By the end of the year, we often spend a lot of time talking like friends because we have gotten to know each other. Many students are shy at first and it’s beautiful to see them blossom and come out of their shells by the end of the year. Many kids come to the program with a predisposed dislike of reading because reading requires patience which in this day of technology is hard to come by. Sometimes the kids are nervous because they’re not sure if they will mess up, so I help boost their confidence as readers. I always see their potential and do my best to inspire them. I’ve noticed big improvements in most kids’ excitement and appreciation of reading.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Everyone needs support in their life from someone who believes in them. The smallest things can make a big difference. Just talking to people, asking them questions about themselves, listening to them, making them feel important can be life-changing. Helping them learn to be good communicators can help them achieve their goals.
Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?
Some people are fortunate to have many opportunities. Because they have them, they should give back and share with those who don’t have those opportunities. Volunteering helps to level the playing field. I believe it’s important to try new things and see what sparks your interest. There’s always more that can be done in the world to help. Volunteering has also opened up my own future. I realized I love working with and motivating children and I’m planning on pursuing a career in education.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I started volunteering with very little knowledge about education inequality. This experience has definitely opened my eyes. Helping underserved kids find their voices is life-changing – not only for them but for the volunteers.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Alexa? Find local volunteer opportunities.