Volunteers from Concordia University tutor kids, helping them overcome challenges from time spent homeless.

On a typical weekday at the Village of Hope, parents are at work, their children are in class.  It could be anywhere in Orange County.

OC Register Concordia Tutoring

But the parents and children are all homeless at the Village, a 192-bed transitional housing program run by the Orange County Rescue Mission, a Tustin faith-based nonprofit organization. And today, like all days for them, is another step in the larger mission of helping them regain control of their lives.  Since fall 2008, Irvine based Concordia University has been aiding in this goal by setting up a program to tutor the Village’s children and staffing it with collegiate volunteers.
The Village of Hope is more than just a homeless shelter. It is a campus that includes dormitory-style living quarters, a cafeteria, a health care center, a spacious courtyard fit for a hotel, a chapel and other amenities. It is also a comprehensive program that requires adult entrants to complete a job-training program, maintain sobriety and move toward self-sufficiency.  The process can take anywhere from a few months to three years.
The program also helps the Village’s children overcome developmental gaps that may have resulted from time spent homeless.  “When you’re homeless, school isn’t always your first priority because you’re hopping around,” said Sarah Bucek, manager of events and volunteer resources at the Orange County Rescue Mission. “So when they’re here, we’re taking care of the full person, and Concordia is helping us do that.”
Concordia’s tutoring program runs two hours per day, four days per week, beginning immediately after the village’s firstthrough eighth-grade students return from school in the nearby Tustin Unified School District. The afternoon sessions are part homework help, part designed curriculum.
Though Concordia professors head the sessions, 40-50 of the college’s students volunteer to tutor each semester, receiving extra credit for their service. Concordia is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  “The Concordia students are the heart and soul of the program,” said Patty O’Connor, a professor of education at Concordia who co-founded the tutoring program five years ago. “They make special relationships with these kids and support their learning.”
The program has been so well received that three years ago, Concordia extended its involvement by launching a summer learning camp at the Village, running reading, math and computer workshops every morning for several weeks.
But academic achievement is only one of the children’s challenges.  Some at the Village have emerged from abusive situations, households with drug addiction or families coping with trauma. They have lived in cars, parks and motels.
One 7-year-old girl in the summer program comes from a family that experienced hardship when the mother lost her job as a teacher. Although the father was able to work more hours, it couldn’t make up for the mother’s income loss. When the family became homeless – with four kids under the age of 7 – they began living in abandoned homes without electricity or water, where the children showered by running through neighbors’ sprinklers.
Many of the children at the Village see on-site counselors to talk through what they have experienced.  O’Connor said that as the children gain self confidence through therapy and stability, she sees their academics also begin to improve.  The tutoring program benefits Concordia students, as well.
Marissa Carnaham, a Concordia senior in the school of education, said the experience she gained at the Village would help her toward her goal of becoming a teacher in secondary education.  “I really like the kids,” Carnaham said. “They seem to get me and will talk to me.”  O’Connor said that for some Concordia students, tutoring at the Village can be eye-opening.
“We have college students who need to step out of their bubble and be exposed to people from a wide variety of cultural, academic and economic backgrounds,” O’Connor said. “This prepares them to be able to relate to a variety of populations in whatever field they enter.”
Children at the Village remain in the tutoring program and summer learning camps as long as their parents are in the transitional program. When their parents graduate to a life outside of the center, so do they.
“It gives these kids a chance,” Bucek said. “Some parents that live here, their own parents taught them to use drugs, so they didn’t have a chance to begin with. But our kids aren’t getting that, so it’s breaking the cycle. They know they have something better for themselves.”
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Anna Valazza, a Concordia University student, left, helps Alexandria Ramirez, 7, during summer classes at the Village of Hope. Volunteers from the university tutor at the Village, which is run by the Orange County Rescue Mission.