WILMINGTON, CA — The LAUSD closures over the past year have resulted in students falling further behind academically and parents struggling to manage work obligations without access to consistent childcare. To meet the needs of students and parents in the Los Angeles Harbor area, United Way of Greater Los Angeles with the generous contributions of Valero Wilmington Refinery is supporting learning pods at community organizations Boys & Girls Clubs of Los Angeles Harbor, Strength Based Community Change (SBCC), and YMCA of Wilmington.

“Every child has the right to a quality education, and the pandemic amplified the existing inequity in our school system,” said Elise Buik, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “While we continue to build long-term equity in the education system, children and parents alike need support today. We are proud to partner with Valero and community organizations like SBCC, YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs to facilitate quality learning environments to students in the Harbor area.”

These learning pods allow students to gather in small groups at recreation centers and other program centers. Despite many schools reopening next month, parents have decided to continue to take their children to the learning pods, and they will remain open until the end of the school year. 

Program staff help students get online and provide additional help with subject matter, and the program offers time and space to socialize with peers while enforcing social distance guidelines, as well as providing daily health checks. From kindergarteners to high school seniors, students can see one another, play and talk, and receive free breakfasts and lunch, while parents can work—many in essential, in-person jobs—without worrying who will care for their children.

SBCC opened their Learning Pods Program in the fall in response to the challenges parents and students in the community faced. “Our mission has always been to listen to the needs of the community,” said Colleen Mooney, Executive Director, SBCC. “When distance learning became a struggle to parents we took swift actions and turned our parking lot into a Learning Pod. Once again showing how innovative and inclusive we are towards the needs of our resident partners.”

“Without the grant we would not be able to provide as many opportunities for all students to succeed in a safe and caring environment,” states Eros Cortes, SBCC Youth Support Specialist. “The goal is to focus on each student’s individual strengths, interest, and style of learning, to make an impact on their education and career pathways.”

YMCA of Wilmington Executive Director, Yolanda De La Torre recognized the challenges posed by the digital divide long before COVID. “As you may know the digital divide problem existed pre-Covid, but the pandemic made this a greater challenge for families in our community,” De La Torre states. “At the Y we are able to provide our youth a quiet and safe place for families to drop off their children and adequately connect to their virtual classroom. Our program provides technical support as well as tutoring. Youth are also provided with breakfast and lunch meals.”


“This is a safe haven for our families,” stated De La Torre. “Thank you United Way and Valero for investing in our Wilmington Community and allowing us to bring peace of mind to our families and especially our youth during this unprecedented time.” 

Boys & Girls Clubs are able to provide children with access to distance learning support and tutoring, including a focus on college readiness. The College Bound program is currently helping more than 600 high school seniors in the hurdles to higher education.

“Providing all youth with the programs offered at the Club enables those who need us most to have access to distance learning support and tutoring, that is often only available to their more affluent peers,” said Mike Lansing, CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of LA Harbor. “Thank you to Valero and United Way for partnering on our ‘Success by 6’ collaboration in Wilmington. Because of this support, we can sponsor our full day and College Bound programs for the youth and families of Wilmington.”

Parents often count on these community pillars year round, but many Wilmington families found them even more critical for support amidst the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. 


Jazmin, of Wilmington, with three children in SBCC’s program remarked: “As a mother, the support that this program gives us is very satisfying and I feel happy with the people who are in the program.”

Graciela Serrano, a YMCA of Wilmington parent states, “I am so grateful the Y has this program. My daughter Lupita enjoys coming to class every day. At home we did not have internet, and I don’t know how to use an iPad. Lupita is doing well and I know she’s in a safe place.

“The program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor has helped us a lot,” said Miguel Garcia, whose children attend the all day program. “With both parents working, it’s hard to find the time to help our kids focus in class especially now that everything is virtual. At the Club, they have tutors and staff making sure that the kids have the help they need.”


“Thank you to our community partners who work hard every day to ensure children in the LA Harbor community thrive especially during this challenging time, and we are thrilled to support through our sponsorship,” said Mark Phair, V.P. and General Manager, Valero Wilmington Refinery. “While many of our employees miss the various volunteer opportunities in the community especially during our annual Read Across America event in partnership with Wilmington schools, we are grateful to partner with United Way to help the Wilmington families who need us most through facilitating the Learning Pods program.”

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About United Way

United Way of Greater Los Angeles is a nonprofit organization fighting to end poverty by preparing students for high school graduation, college, and the workforce; housing our homeless neighbors; and guiding hard-working families towards economic mobility. United Way identifies the root causes of poverty and works strategically to solve them by building alliances across all sectors, funding targeted programs and advocating for change. 

About Valero

Valero Energy Corporation, through its subsidiaries (collectively, “Valero”), is an international manufacturer and marketer of transportation fuels and petrochemical products. Valero is a Fortune 50 company based in San Antonio, Texas, and it operates 15 petroleum refineries with a combined throughput capacity of approximately 3.2 million barrels per day and 13 ethanol plants with a combined production capacity of approximately 1.68 billion gallons per year. The petroleum refineries are located in the United States (U.S.), Canada and the United Kingdom (U.K.), and the ethanol plants are located in the Mid-Continent region of the U.S. Valero is also a joint venture partner in Diamond Green Diesel, which owns and operates a renewable diesel plant in Norco, Louisiana. Diamond Green Diesel is North America’s largest biomass-based diesel plant. Valero sells its products in the wholesale rack or bulk markets in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland and Latin America. Approximately 7,000 outlets carry Valero’s brand names. Please visit www.valero.com for more information.