By Kristina Pritchett
Inside one of Dana Hills High School’s classrooms, a group of students gathered around laptops, cellphones and notebooks making a list of what phone numbers to call and what supplies they need for an upcoming event.
They’re part of a group called Kids Helping Kids, an organization run by students to help other kids in the community in any way they can.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit began at Dana Hills two years ago as another branch to the original Kids Helping Kids group founded at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara in 2002. The Dana Hills group is currently the only organization of its kind in Orange County.
Since forming at Dana Hills, the students—comprised of seniors and four juniors—have been looking for ways to reach out into the community and help any kid they can.
“We’ve largely been focusing on community outreach; the branch in Santa Barbara raised over $2 million, so we’re trying really hard to match that,” said CEO of the group, Miranda Wolford. “We’re also trying to raise awareness in our communities by having fundraisers like restaurant night.”
Since the organization started, they have held tutoring sessions at the high school, held bake sales and various fundraisers, and were able to work with the Princeton Review to donate Advanced Placement test prep books to students who were not be able to afford them.
In the fall, they worked with Hobie Surf Shop and held a concert where local kids performed, and the proceeds went to the organization.
Currently the high schoolers travel to R.H. Dana Elementary School twice a week to tutor the younger students.
“The high school tutors have been a welcomed gift for our students,” said R.H. Dana Elementary principal Christina Portillo. “The teachers have commented how fantastic the high school tutors are and appreciate that the tutors are so willing to share their knowledge with the students.”
Portillo said they assist in a variety of ways such as provide one-on-one help to students, monitor and help during whole group instruction, and pull small groups of students to work on a specific projects.
For group member Sheila Abazari, the tutoring is especially important.
“It’s not just a buddy system,” Sheila said. “It’s not just sitting down and saying ‘let’s read a book,’ it’s teaching them. And it’s important because some of the kids don’t speak English that well, it’s not their first language. I went through that in kindergarten; I didn’t speak English well and it wasn’t my first language.”
The group is constantly looking to see what they can do outside of the schools to reach more kids.
“We’ve tried to identify community needs rather than going in and saying ‘we want to help.’ We want to see where help is most needed,” Miranda said. “That’s one of our major goals for this upcoming year, to make sure we’re the foremost organization that kids can turn to when they are in need.”
They’re also focusing on fundraising because they want to be able to provide financial help to Blind Kids Learning Center and other organizations in Orange County.
“We have to make sure we have enough funds to source out before we actually support them,” Miranda said.
Last year, the group felt like they didn’t grow as much because they felt like they needed more money in their account.
“This year we really branched out and focused on more of our individual talents and capitalized on that,” Sheila said. “This year, we’re learning not just what we can give other people, but what we ourselves have gotten out of it. I know last year it was more us trying to focus on an individual cause or trying to hit everyone; this year everyone here has grown, and that has allowed us to help more people out there. I think that’s really important for our development.”
Sheila said when the group walks into a room and sees the kids smile; it’s worth all their hard work.
The group said they spend a lot of time focused on the elementary school levels because they believe they can benefit younger kids the most.
“We realize that they might not be getting the same privileges and resources we all had when we were in elementary school or even in middle or high school,” Sheila said.
For the students, it’s not just something to put on their college resumes, and it doesn’t fulfill any of their high school course requirements. Instead, it’s something they believe in and hope to see grow to the status that the Santa Barbara branch has reached.
“We’re able to spend time with these kids and see what they go through and we are able to go through it with them,” said group member Grant Shobar. “That’s one of the things that is so fantastic about this organization.”
The group said they also are learning how to run a successful business, financial fundamentals, how to hold meetings, how to raise money and how to network.
This, they say, is what sets them apart from other school clubs and nonprofits.
“The big [nonprofits] target the children, but they’re run out of large corporate offices. We’re run out of a conference room, and we’re the kids on the ground,” Miranda said. “We see what change we can have on our community, and I think that’s what makes us different. We’re the students running the nonprofit; there’s no behind-the-scenes of adults, where parents are helping the teachers who help the kids. It’s kids helping kids.”
Ken Nedler, the group’s advisor, said the team is self-governing and very dedicated.
“Being a 501(c)(3), all I can do is advise them,” Nedler said. “I can’t direct, they have to do it. It’s not just a club; clubs come and go.”
The group plans on reaching out to middle schools in the surrounding areas to begin early involvement with the middle school grade levels.
“Most of us are seniors, and there are four juniors, so we want to make sure we have people who are willing and dedicated,” Miranda said.
The seniors say they’re sad to leave the group in the summer, but know it will be successful because the people involved are dedicated.