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Aly Brown Staff Writer

Miriam Velador recently became the first student from
A Place of Learning – a nonprofit, after-school tutoring
center – to gain acceptance to a university.
Many families from all walks of life have been helped by A Place of Learning (APOL) – a nonprofit, after-school
tutoring center that runs solely on donations, grants and volunteers – and one of its students has recently
soared to success.

Miriam Velador enrolled in 2007, when the center first opened its doors to serve the community’s children. She
was in third grade at the time, and she stayed enrolled until she was in high school. With a solid educational
foundation, Miriam went on to graduate with honors and a 4.16 GPA, becoming part of the National Honors
Society and California Scholarship Federation. During her high-school career, she received both varsity and
academic letters, ran for track and cross-country and was involved in the yearbook club, before landing an
acceptance to UC Santa Barbara.

Laura Ceja, APOL program coordinator, swelled with pride when she spoke of Miriam, who is the first of their
students to gain acceptance to a university. “We couldn’t be prouder of our students, and we look forward to
many more success stories like hers,” Ceja said. A girl with great ambition, Miriam plans to double major in
global studies and sociology and join the National Unity and Peace Corps after graduation, to fulfill her dream
of doing humanitarian work.

“APOL was a big part of my life as a student,” Velador said. “The support I got from my mentor Lori shaped me
for success. As a daughter of a single mom, who works countless hours to support a family of four, I feel that
the best way to help my family is through succeeding in my academics.”
APOL’s main mission has been to offer early educational intervention to combat illiteracy and jumpstart
brighter futures for children. The organization helps kids who need extra guidance in their academics, but often
come from families that struggle to afford the steep rate for extracurricular tutoring. It’s students like Miriam
who remind the volunteers and staff at the center what a difference can be made in someone’s life at such a
young age.

All of the tutoring volunteers at the center are from the community and, as the program picks up in popularity,
they are more in need of help than ever. There are currently 25 children on the waitlist, which is the longest
Ceja has seen since she began working there in 2009. Volunteers 18 and older are live-scanned, but the
center accepts tutors as young as 11.
“Some of our volunteers are former students who wanted to give back to the program that helped them,” Ceja
said. The volunteers who are under 18 teach topics and levels they’ve already mastered, like math basics or
reading, and partner with a younger child. Ceja explained that even high-school students who arrive to teach
for volunteer credit end up staying beyond the fulfillment of their required hours, because they become
attached to their ‘students.’

Free tutoring isn’t the only thing this organization provides for its students and families. Every December, the
senior community at Westmont of Brentwood – where APOL founders William and Donna Foster live – puts
together a Christmas drive with toys, food and clothing, which Ceja then distributes to the families.
APOL has already improved the lives of many children and will be needed for years to come, which is why
acquiring donations is so important to the health of this nonprofit. Sponsors can donate directly through the
center’s Facebook page or at For more information or to donate or
volunteer, visit or contact Laura Ceja at


Eva Krueger, right, helps Lupita Morales with her homework
during a session at A Place of Learning in Brentwood.
PUBLISHED: November 28, 2016 at 10:57 am

A Place of Learning has filled an important niche in Brentwood since 2007, offering free one-on-one
tutoring to students from kindergarten through high school, mainly to those for whom English is their
second language. The tutoring agency likes to think of itself as connecting two communities: those
with the gifts of time and knowledge to give and those who could use extra help in the form of a tutor
or mentor to improve their lives.

Recently one of the agency’s former students, Miriam Perez, gave cause for celebration, becoming the
first APOL alumna to be admitted to the University of California. Her success is a reminder of the type
of impact one-on-one programs can have.

Perez came to APOL starting in third grade, wanting to improve her reading and focusing on learning
and perfecting the English language.

“Going to APOL really helped me and that’s where I met my tutor Lori who was with me until high
school; at first she was just my tutor and then we became really good friends,” Perez said. “She was my
mentor and helped me through my education, helping me get good grades and stay on task by making
academics a priority in my life.”

Graduating high school with a 4.16 GPA and having taken several AP classes, Perez feels prepared for
her college courses at UC Santa Barbara, one her years at APOL helped her achieve and may have
helped set her path for the future.

“I want to be involved in humanitarian relief work so after college I know I definitely want to volunteer
for the Peace Corps,” she said. “After that I’d like to be involved in the humanitarian aspect of the
federal government like social work and I really want to work for the United Nations.”

APOL administrator Laura Ceja would like Perez to be the first of many to go to college and sees the
gains made by students at the tutoring agency to be that first needed step. For about 80 percent, their
primary language is Spanish, with others coming from low-income families where parents may not
even have a high school diploma, thus all struggle to help their children with homework.

Students come in from once to three times a week for an hour each session, depending on the number
of volunteer tutors and their schedules. The agency, running solely on donations, grants and volunteers,
is now serving about 30 students each week, but its’ waiting list could boost that number up to 60.

Tutors come from the community, many are high school students and have varied availability, helping

one, two or three students a week with homework packets, practice reading, and helping to build self-
esteem as students become more comfortable with the English language.

“Each year we end up with about 40 tutors but some don’t return so we start the next year with about
25; we always try to end with more tutors than we started and encourage them to return,” Ceja said.
“We encourage high school students to help as part of their community service and some end up
staying beyond the fulfillment of their required hours. We have some tutors now in high school that
used to be tutored who are now coming back and giving back their services and helping the young.”

Seeing progress is a measure of how APOL is helping students. Tutors attend teacher conferences,
review report cards, do parent surveys and compare scores on the California Proficiency Exam given
twice a year, expecting and seeing progress.

To maintain this program APOL needs more volunteers from the community to get children off the
waiting list. They welcome and encourage anyone to come and support them, explaining that basic
skills are all that’s necessary.

The agency gives volunteers information on how the program runs and tips on how to tutor and
familiarize themselves with the student and learn about their culture.

Donations from the community are also needed. The agency is in the process of writing two grants but
funds are very low and there is concern they might need to temporarily shut down.

“We’ve been around for a long time, we’ve really helped and we continue to help students. We’ve seen
a lot of growth in our students and want to continue that,” Ceja said. “We want our kids to have the
opportunity like everybody else and be able to go to college. I know parents work really hard for them
and came here to provide that for them so we’re giving them that extra push they need and that parents
are struggling to provide for them.”

A Place of Learning: 315 Orchard Drive Brentwood, CA, 925-240-5146. Hours are 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Monday through Friday, excluding school holidays.

Sponsors can donate directly through the center’s Facebook page or at

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