School on Wheels helps educate homeless children

Sally Bindley started program in 2001

INDIANAPOLIS - One woman is helping homeless children continue to learn after their school day ends. Her program, School on Wheels , aims to inspire learning, empower kids and end homelessness.

Sometimes learning just doesn't add up for a child in school, so tutors help kids with lessons at their homes. But what if a child doesn't have a home? That's where School on Wheels and Sally Bindley step in.

"I had been a school social worker and I was so aware of the kids who were living in homeless shelters and in transitional housing that they had very different needs," Bindley said.

Bindley discovered there was an education gap that wasn't being filled for homeless children.

"There was a lot of anxiety, a little bit of embarrassment with their housing situation ... and so I just started talking to shelters and talking to service providers and asking how are these kids getting additional help? And what I found out was... they were not," Bindley said.

So Bindley stepped up. In 2001, she founded School on Wheels, a program where volunteer tutors go into Indy's homeless shelters to help educate kids.

"The basis of our programming is one-on-one tutoring and we work with the kids, we make sure their homework is complete, we make sure they are ready for school the next day, we make sure they have studied for tests and are able to work on school projects," Bindley said.

Every child gets a new backpack loaded with donated supplies including new paper, pencils, folders and more. The program makes sure the kids have all of the materials they need. There are even shelves full of donated school uniforms.

"So that when a new kid comes into the shelter, we give them a new uniform immediately so that they're ready for school the next day," Bindley said.

Bindley believes that new uniforms give the kids a lesson in self-confidence.

"When the kids put on and get dressed for school, it’s like me and you getting dressed for work, they need to feel confident in those clothes. They need to feel ready to learn because they look good and they feel good about themselves. All of those little pieces are a big part of the School on Wheels solution," Bindley said. "When we started this... it was just me and my best friend going out, and helping some kids on a volunteer basis and it grew from there."

In its 13 years, School on Wheels has trained more than 3,000 community volunteers, served nearly 4,000 homeless children in Indy shelters and provided countless hours of free tutoring and a priceless emotional boost. 

"They also provide those attaboys and you can do it, and I’m here for you because you’re special and we're going to learn together," Bindley said.

With School on Wheels, the learning rolls on.

"We're just kind of trying to really set the foundation that when the school bell rings at the end of the day, the learning is going to take place outside of school and that's a really important thing for these kids," Bindley said.

Click here to nominate a volunteer for a Jefferson Award -- http://bit.ly/1bB8Cmg

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