Casa de Amistad in Solana Beach seeks more volunteers to spark students’ learning

By Kristina Houck

While students are getting ready for their first day of school, Casa de Amistad is also preparing for the new school year.

The Solana Beach organization, which is dedicated to fostering education and character development for local underrepresented children, is seeking volunteer study companions to serve as tutors and mentors.

“Every person, regardless of their socioeconomic status, can use a mentor and a positive person in their life,” said Program Director Nicole Mione-Green.

Last year, Casa de Amistad’s 125 volunteers served 165 students. Sixty children are on the waiting list.

Mione-Green expects a similar number of students this year, mostly from the Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas school districts.

“Our vision and goal is to eliminate our waiting list,” she said. “We can do that by recruiting more volunteers.”

To help reach that goal, Mione-Green is hiring a program coordinator who will help recruit volunteers. Solana Beach Presbyterian Church has also donated additional space to Casa de Amistad.

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“This is a program that brings everybody together,” said Mione-Green, a Carmel Valley native and Encinitas resident. “It’s all based on educating and creating a safe space for kids.”

Casa de Amistad started in 1997 as a Solana Beach Presbyterian Church outreach program.

Catalina Beltran was one of the program’s first students. Now 30 years old, Beltran serves as assistant director of Casa de Amistad, which became its own nonprofit in 2001. The church still donates space for the program on its campus in Debin Hall, and recently granted Casa de Amistad use of its new Children’s Ministries Center.

“I think that’s why Casa is really good at what it does — it began by meeting a need,” Mione-Green said. “It grew out of a real solid need in the community.”

Casa de Amistad students meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays during two sessions, at 4:15-5:45 p.m. and 6-7:30 p.m.

The organization’s goal is a 1:1 student-to-tutor ratio for participants in grades K-6, Mione-Green said. Middle school and high school students meet in small groups on a variety of subjects.

Students work with their mentors on homework. If there is time after they complete their work, they read or do other educational activities. Students also have access to a computer lab, stocked with a dozen donated Dell laptops from the Current Wisdom Foundation.

Although the tutoring program runs September through May, Casa de Amistad held a summer program in August that focused on art and hands-on activities in math and science.

In June, Casa de Amistad received a $5,000 grant from the Solana Beach Fund to support its science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program. The grant helped send students on field trips to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and UC San Diego in August.

“Everybody is here for one reason: to improve the lives of these kids and their families through education,” Mione-Green said.

Because Casa de Amistad works closely with the local school districts, there is never a need to find more students, but there is always a need for more volunteers, Mione-Green said.

Volunteer tutors have a variety of backgrounds.

Last year, the organization incorporated more STEM-based activities into its programs, from inviting the Torrey Pines High School Robotics Team to the campus, to recruiting mentors with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math. A retired NASA astronaut, retired oceanography professor, an oncologist and several engineers were among the new recruits, Mione-Green said.

High school students are also welcome to volunteer. Student volunteers need at least a 3.0 grade point average or higher, as well as a letter of recommendation from a teacher or counselor.

“Help make a direct and immediate impact in a child or a teen’s life,” Mione-Green said. “If everybody’s educated, it makes the community stronger.”

Volunteer training will begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, in Solana Beach Presbyterian Church’s Debin Hall. The training session will feature a presentation by Anthony Ceja of the San Diego County Office of Education.

The first day of Casa de Amistad’s tutoring program is Tuesday, Sept. 9.

For more about Casa de Amistad and volunteer opportunities, visit www.casadeamistad.org. All applicants must undergo a background screening.

Interested volunteers can also contact Mione-Green at 858-509-2590 or director@casadeamistad.org.

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