Along with offering resources and enhancing skills for area residents, the nonprofit Tahoe Family Solutions provides rewarding opportunities for those looking to give back to the community.
One of those opportunities would be tutoring students as part of Tahoe Family Solutions’ Homework Help Club at Incline Elementary School.
“We always need more volunteers,” said Leslie Blunden, program director for Tahoe Family Solutions. Now in its 17th school year, the Homework Club currently has three volunteers and two TFS staff members working with 22 students this semester, Blunden said.
For Homework Club, teachers assign students who are struggling and do not have resources at home to help with homework.
Volunteers must be cleared by the Washoe County School District prior to working with children, but no training is needed to tutor with Homework Club.
Tutors help first through fifth grade students with reading and math. Sessions last 75 minutes and are held immediately after school, Monday through Thursday. Incline Elementary lets out at 3:20 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and at 2:35 p.m. Wednesdays.
Blunden said the tutoring focuses on what’s being taught in the classroom. A challenge is that with Covid, most of the first graders getting help are very far behind. “Many don’t know letter sounds or what numbers look like. With these students, we assist with homework, but our main emphasis is on learning the basics so they can begin to read,” she said.
Homework Club Students “are probably like any given group pulled from a classroom. A few are excited every day, a few drag their feet, but all are proud of themselves for accomplishing something they’ve had trouble with before,” Blunden said.
The hope for Homework Club is that it gets young students back on track for greater success in school.
“The National Research Council has determined that high school graduation and success in the workplace can be predicted by reading scores at the end of third grade. Students who are not proficient in reading by that time are unlikely to graduate high school,” Blunden said. “So we test the students at the beginning and end of the program with the Fountas & Pinnell Reading Assessment.”
Blunden said Tahoe Family Solutions wasn’t able to hold sessions from March 2020 to September 2021, during the school lockdown phase of the pandemic, in large part because of computer access use issues at homes. These days, all participants wear masks and use copious amounts of hand sanitizer.
Getting volunteers is challenging, Blunden said, due to the afternoon times the tutoring sessions meet and the time commitment involved. Typically, volunteers are retirees or high school students, who Blunden said are dedicated, patient, and enthusiastic about helping children learn.
Volunteers have told her they’ve learned patience, a love for tutoring and how to do division problems 20 different ways as core curriculum changes. Also rewarding, Blunden said, is that the program gets 8-10 high school students a year who come back to thank those involved with Homework Club for helping them in elementary school.
TFS helps adults too.
The nonprofit provides adult support via language, tax prep and mental health programs. Adult ESL classes are currently held via Zoom, with the hope to be face-to-face again sometime this year. And since it’s tax season, TFS is also offering free tax preparation service Wednesday and Thursday evenings, from 4 to 8 p.m., by appointment.
Tahoe Family Solutions also offers mental health programs, which includes therapy and psychiatry. With the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Blunden said that they have seen a huge rise in the number of community members seeking services.
“Anxiety and depression surrounding financial instability due to the pandemic has risen dramatically nationwide,” she said.
To help fund all of these efforts, TFS operates a thrift shop at 797 Southwood Blvd. It had to close for six weeks in 2020 when all non-essential services were ordered to do so, but has been operating normally since then.
“In this economy, thrift stores are the ideal place to purchase needed items for affordable prices,” Blunden said. There has been a wide variety in donations, from t-shirts and socks to Italian marble tables, rare artwork and one time, even a deactivated hand grenade.
“Truly something for everyone,” she said.
To become a Homework Club tutor and for more information on Incline Village-based Tahoe Family Solutions, see tahoefamily.org or call 775-413-5145.