Our 2021 Education Celebration was a huge success. This April marked the second year in a row that we’ve had to host our biggest fundraising event of the year in a virtual setting. With over 400 people tuning in, we were able to give meaningful stories a platform while raising critical dollars to support our tutoring and academic programs for children and families impacted by homelessness.

Thanks to our sponsors, those who donated or bid on auction items, and a generous challenge match from longtime School on Wheels supporters Sue & Mike Smith, our 2021 Education Celebration raised $172,516! The funds raised ensure that we can successfully prepare for what’s ahead for our summer programming and the upcoming 2021-2022 school year.

Sarah Jones of WTHR hosted our event and was joined in studio by School on Wheels Founder & CEO, Sally Bindley, along with Special Guest, Diversity Committee Member and volunteer tutor, JR Sandadi. The three explored the negative impact of the pandemic on homelessness and education while also celebrating the obstacles our community has navigated together. Some of our amazing partners appeared on screen to help us better understand the unique challenges that shelters, schools, and families faced during the pandemic.

Candace Williams and Mignon Pryor of Julian Center sat down with Education Manager Brittany Bayles to talk about how we continued our programs there during COVID without having a staff member on site. Due to the dedication of Julian Center staff, our team, and our volunteer tutors who showed up virtually all year long, we maintained critical impact.

“The students have missed their tutors. Their tutors were not only just their tutors, they were somebody that they really got to connect with over time. When they were able to see them virtually, you can just see their faces light up.”     Mignon Pryor, The Julian Center

Cody Stipes, Principal of Cold Spring School talked with Curriculum Specialist and Education Support Coordinator Amy Gardner about the challenges teachers faced as they adapted to remote learning and how Amy’s role shifted to ensure families impacted by homelessness stayed connected to Cold Spring.

“Even set aside the academic challenges that came with having to teach and learn, I think the big thing for our teachers was trying to create that sense of community.” Cody Stipes, Principal of Cold Spring School on maintaining community and connections virtually

This year helped everyone realize the critical role schools play in our community and the crucial services they offer to so many students. We are grateful for the trust we’ve built with our families and shelter and school partners. Our staff doesn’t do this work alone though. Before the pandemic, we were supported by over 400 volunteer tutors. While we’ve had some volunteers provide virtual tutoring, hundreds more have had to wait until it’s safe to return in person. Special guest and volunteer JR Sandadi shared his experience tutoring, discussed the critical connections that technology helped us maintain this school year, and encouraged others to become volunteer tutors as we work to meet an increased need during the fall 2021 semester.

“Sometimes some of these kids develop a strong bond with their tutors and those are the types of moments where you think back as a human being, it’s probably one of the most gratifying and fulfilling experiences.” JR Sandadi

The 2021 Education Celebration celebrated what School on Wheels students, families, and partners achieved by working together, but also focused on the future. Things won’t simply return to normal once the greatest threat of the pandemic passes. The stress, trauma, instability and learning loss it leaves in its wake will take renewed community support to help all students, especially those who are homeless, get back on track. Gina Woodward, Homeless Education Specialist at the Indiana Department of Education, shared a look at what is ahead for students. While there are more obstacles ahead, she made it clear that by working together, the community can address these issues together and pave the way for a brighter academic future for children impacted by homelessness.

“The more that we can open our doors to one another, invite one another around the table for those conversations, plan together, and learn from one another, the better our interventions will be and the better our outcomes will be for our community members and youth.” – Gina Woodward of the Indiana Department of Education

Want more information? You can view the event online here, check out our online event program here, and apply to be a volunteer here!