By Karen Billing
Casa de Amistad is getting ready for the new school year and is seeking volunteer study companions to serve as tutors and mentors. The Solana Beach organization is dedicated to fostering education and character development for local Latino children.
To help as many students as they can, they need as many volunteers as they can get. Last year the program served 170 students and had 45 on the waiting list.
Program director Nicole Mione-Green is expecting similar numbers of students this year, drawing from the Solana Beach and Del Mar school districts, as well as Encinitas.
Casa de Amistad started in 1997 as a Solana Beach Presbyterian Church outreach program. It became its own nonprofit in 2001 and the church still donates space for the program on its campus in Debin Hall.
Since Casa began, the number of students participating in the program and going onto college has increased.
“Casa is really special because it does become like a family and it is improving lives through education,” said Mione-Green, who is starting her eighth year as the program’s director. “The kids are so open and want help.”
Volunteers can also make great connections with the students over the course of a year.
“The homework is the hook but it goes beyond that,” Mione-Green said. “The volunteers get as much out of it as the kids do and they’re really making a difference and an impact on their own community.”
Casa de Amistad students meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays during two sessions, running from 4:15-5:45 p.m. and 6-7:30 p.m. The goal is a 1:1 or 2:1 students to tutor ratio for the kindergarten through sixth grade participants.
“It really does make a big difference,” Mione-Green said. “It’s an hour and a half where the kids have one person who is focused on them and it’s a place where everyone is working toward a common goal.”
Middle schoolers and high schoolers meet more in small groups on a variety of subjects. This year Casa is placing a big focus on partnering with the local high school districts to see how they can best support them and hold students accountable.
Mione-Green said they follow a pretty strict schedule, completing homework with mentors and if there is time after they finish, students read or do educational activities.
All students have access to a computer lab, filled with donated laptops. Students can get work done in there and Casa parents have the opportunity to access Aries Portal, an open grade book that the local school districts use. The computer lab is a valuable resource, as many families do not have computers or Internet access at home.
While Casa runs September through May, they do their best to keep the kids busy year-round. Thanks to great partnerships with organizations such as the YMCA and Kids Korps, they were able to send 60 kids to summer camp on scholarship.
Casa also had a summer program in August that focused on art and hands-on activities in math and science. Last week, students made zucchini bread and were tasked with figuring out how to cut the recipe in half.
As Casa works closely with school districts, there is never a need to find more students for the program but they are always looking for volunteers, especially with specialties in math, science, English and history.
While Casa does have a lot of retired teachers who volunteer, high school student volunteers are also welcome. High schoolers just need to have a 3.0 GPA or higher and a letter of recommendation from a teacher or counselor.
“We want kids who are invested in their own educations and that will be good role models for the students,” Mione-Green said.
Volunteer training will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 4, from 5-7 p.m., led by Fred Becker. Becker is the founder of Becker Institute Inc. and is a licensed professional educator. The first day of Casa de Amistad tutoring sessions is Tuesday, Sept. 10.
All applicants must undergo a background screening. For more information on volunteering or to make a donation, visit