Kids Club at Richstone Family Center is a place where any child has the chance to learn something new.
- Written byKelly Dawson
In the far corner of a long room, Kimberly is working quietly on a homework assignment that’s testing her vocabulary. Her favorite subject in her fifth-grade class is language arts, and she’s confidently filling in the blank spaces on the page.
Surrounding kids are hunched over their assignments at other round tables, while adults and older children seek out those who may be stuck on a question. For now, Kimberly says she’s fine.
Aside from a few exclamations and giggles, the place is quiet—or as subdued as a room with dozens of children can be. Set inside Richstone Family Center in Hawthorne, a nonprofit offering aid for child abuse and domestic violence, Kids Club is a haven for first- to eighth-graders who may or may not be facing hardships at home.
Volunteers can decipher a tricky math problem or advise on the vegetables growing outside. Many of these helpers are students themselves, and they often come in after school from more affluent cities in the South Bay. As they teach they also learn, and the miles that separate their lives shrink into a collaborative space.
“Richstone is like a family. We take care of each other,” says Mike, a 12-year-old who has been coming to Kids Club for two years.
Past the vegetable garden closest to the club and down the sloping pathway engraved with the names of some well-known donors sits the small building where Richstone began 40 years ago. Since that time, its staff has grown from fewer than 10 to more than 100 people, and its services are available to six school districts. Last year Richstone provided care to nearly 3,000 children and their families—the majority of their households had a yearly income of less than $17,000.
“It’s a very tough neighborhood,” says Roger Van Remmen, president and CEO of Richstone. “You have gangs; you have drunks on the streets. But they’ve been very respectful. They know we do good things. We’ve never had any issues here, and we’ve seen it all.”
Roger was born in Manhattan Beach and has worked with Richstone for about 30 years. He has stories about a board meeting ending at the sound of gunfire, and when police escorted him into the building. When development director Allison Tanaka enters his office with news of a child receiving straight A’s after years of work, they both smile with excitement.
“I’ve been here for almost 10 years, so I’ve seen a lot of the kids grow up in Kids Club,” says Allison. “I would say that the percentage that end up wanting to go to college is much greater within the program, and that speaks to the volunteers who have come through here.”
Allison says that there are eight to 10 volunteers per week—two, on average, are new—and most fall between high school and college ages. They come from Mira Costa High School, Manhattan Beach Middle School, Vistamar School, Sandpiper Juniors and Girl Scouts, among others, to assist with everything from long division to holiday festivities.
“It’s really fun. You get help with your homework from people who are older than you,” says Ofelia, a second-grader whose favorite subject is math.
Olivia, a senior at Vistamar School, was a volunteer at Richstone for 1½ years before becoming its student ambassador. She’s given lessons on geography and multiplication with her mom, and she tutored two girls on her own. She’s also played her guitar for the kids.
“I live in Manhattan Beach, and those girls live a few miles from me, and maybe they live in a different culture,” Olivia says. “But you realize that just because they live in a different culture, they’re not different from you. I think that being around them for so long made me realize that life is not this little bubble, and people are kind wherever you go.”