By Claire Harlin
Catalina Beltran remembers getting picked up by a church bus and taken to Casa de Amistad when she was in junior high school in the late 1990s. There were only about 10 students in the bilingual tutoring program at that time, a number that has grown to 185, not including those on the waiting list.
Beltran, now 28 and the assistant director at Casa, attributes her completion of college to the mentoring from her tutor, Stacy, and the help she received at Casa.
“Back then, college wasn’t a big important thing,” said Beltran, who went on to attend Cal State San Marcos after six years of going to Casa de Amistad. “In our community, a lot of people hadn’t attended college. I give my mentor credit for helping me understand the importance of college.”
Casa de Amistad has definitely grown since Galdino Don Juan started the learning center at the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church (SBPC) in 1997, but it has especially grown in the past two years.
The program is fueled in part by a yearly fundraiser, which raised $40,000 last year, compared to $8,000 in 2010. This year’s fundraiser, “Una Noche Brilliante,” is set for March 31 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Lomas Santa Fe Country Club. Tickets are available at www.casadeamistad.org.
“Our organization has really grown, both in terms of volunteers and respect in the community,” said program director Nicole Mione-Green. “Casa has developed a lot of community partners and people are just becoming more aware about what we are doing.”
Casa de Amistad began as just one man at SBPC tutoring kids who needed help with homework.
“More and more students needed help, and it eventually became a nonprofit in 2001,” Mione-Green said.
Most of the students speak English, however, the service is geared toward dual language learners, many of whom have Spanish-speaking parents who may find it difficult to help their kids with homework due to the language barrier.
The program has grown by word of mouth, and its board of directors has capped enrollment at 185 to keep tutor-student ratios low and not outgrow the space.
“The goal is to have one-on-one tutoring,” said Mione-Green, adding that there is always a need for more volunteers and donors. Currently, about 120 volunteers help in some capacity at Casa, many of whom have been involved with the organization for many years. There are more than 40 kids on the waiting list to participate in the program, and therefore a stringent attendance policy for students — if you don’t show up, you go back on the waiting list.
“We take on a role as advocates for the kids,” said Mione-Green. “Our tutors treat students as if they are their own kids. If a student always comes with no homework, we contact their teacher, for example, and make sure they have something to work on here. It’s like a school, after school.”
Beltran said the relationship between tutors and students is so strong that the kids look forward to coming to Casa.
“It’s like coming to see a family member,” she said.
For more information about Casa de Amistad or volunteer opportunities, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (858) 509-2590.