“If we do not address the basic needs of students, we are not giving them the tools to achieve their potential academic development.”
Julie White is a Paramount Unified School District School Counselor, but she is so much more.
She oversees programs at 19 school locations for foster children and homeless students. Over the past four years, she has built up a network of care offers for these students from the district office, the number of which is increasing in the pandemic.
When families are homeless, she tries to find permanent shelter for them. When the homeless and foster children need role models, she finds mentors. Families in need of food, clothing, or toiletries can collect supplies from the resource center they set up with the help of their Teachers Association of Paramount (TAP). And if she thinks that the students could be overlooked by Santa Claus, she gives out Christmas gifts through a foundation she founded.
“If we don’t address the basic needs of students, we’re not giving them the tools they need to achieve their potential academic development,” says White. “Students who live in foster families or are homeless have so many stressors. But if we can meet their needs and show them love, they will bloom. “
To help the students academically, White sponsored a partnership between her district and School on Wheels, a nonprofit whose volunteers teach homeless children in the McKinney-Vento program (from a federal law allocating funds for the homeless).
“The organization also provides a free laptop and gift cards to motivate them,” says White.
For foster children, she worked with the Los Angeles County Office of Education to offer in-person or virtual tutoring.
To help homeless families, White reached out to the town of Paramount, where officials recommended Family Promise, a national nonprofit that provides housing and other services to help families stabilize. Thanks to White’s partnership with Family Promise, seven families are now off the streets.
“I’m super proud of that. I literally cry when I think about it. I just wish we could help all of our families. “
Ariane Dearing’s family was offered a hotel room for 28 days through Family Promise. White worked tirelessly to find shelter for her while Dearing gave birth to her fourth child in the hospital.
“Julie White goes way beyond that,” says Dearing. “She tries to help the families as best she can. She is a really good person and has a good heart. “
White opened a resource center at a school where students and families could get necessities such as groceries, clothing, school supplies and toiletries, as well as medical, dental and mental health referrals. The center is now a drive-through program in the TAP office. Partners like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Own Your Own, Feed the Children, and Frito-Lay donate groceries and other necessities. She estimates that 300 families will take part.
When White told her doctor about her work, her doctor presented her with a check. The donation prompted her to set up her own Treasured Little Hearts foundation, which provides resources for disadvantaged youth and their families. TAP members generously donated $ 5,000 worth of gift cards for students to open gifts for Christmas.
White has expanded existing district programs to provide mentoring for the homeless and youth development. She interviews and personally hires the mentors, who receive a small paycheck. They provide socio-emotional support and serve as role models. When students graduate and only have two invitations to the ceremony, mentors are often invited, White says.
Your job can be stressful and overwhelming. Sometimes she receives nightly calls when school families get into an emergency.
“A lot of people hear the word ‘Paramount’ and think that we are a wealthy community because of Paramount Studios. But we are a Title I district with a predominantly socio-economic Hispanic population. “
White, the daughter of a minister and a teacher, grew up in the San Fernando Valley. She started her career as a primary school teacher. During this time, students came to her with their problems – and there was never enough time to listen.
“I always said, ‘Honey, can you tell me later?’ And later never came. The pressure on the students was great. I felt terrible about it. “
She became a counselor eighteen years ago, and since then she has loved being able to say, “Honey, you can tell me this now” when students are upset. Although she is busy overseeing programs these days, White advises individual students when necessary.
She had a steep learning curve when she took over the county’s foster child and homeless student programs, but gladly accepted the challenge.
“I felt like I was going to swim or sink in this job – but instead I jumped on my boogie board. I love, love, love what I do. “