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'It's a win-win': Local teens support students with free tutoring, volunteer hours & backpack fundraiser

The student-run nonprofit, HomeworkHub, raised over $2,000 in backpacks and school supplies for refugee and low-income students in the region

When school shifted to online at the start of the pandemic, Phoebe Luo noticed her little brother was struggling to adjust. 

A Grade 12 student at Cameron Heights, Luo and her friends also noticed that high school students were struggling to get their community service hours required to graduate because most things were shut down.

They decided to solve both problems by creating HomeworkHub, a student-run nonprofit that provides elementary students with free tutoring. This way, the high school students who sign up as tutors can log their volunteer hours while helping those struggling in Grades 1 to 7. 

“So it's a win-win situation,” said Luo, who is the co-president of HomeworkHub. “We help both the high school students get their hours and we help these younger students with the schoolwork.”

The nonprofit launched in February 2021 and has already grown to over 500 members and is expanding to the U.S. and Asia. 

Each virtual session tutoring is 45 minutes long, and can cover a variety of subjects.

“We didn’t want to make this a business venture because we knew that high school students needed the volunteer hours. And it was really difficult since all of the activities were shut down due to the lockdown,” Luo said, adding that they also didn’t want families to have to worry about paying for tutoring during the stress of the pandemic. 

With this in mind, in August the group decided to run a back-to-school fundraiser to provide backpacks and school supplies to refugee and low-income families in the region. 

“Back-to-school can be costly and stressful,” said Sammi Wang, who is the co-vice president and treasurer for HomeworkHub and a Grade 11 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute. 

When families are stressed, she said, it can impact the quality of the education students receive, because their minds are preoccupied with the stress at home. 

“Or, maybe they just don't have the proper materials to learn at their best capacity,” she said. “So by giving backpacks and school supplies, we can allow them to focus on school rather than focusing on [their stress] or how to resolve their situation.

“Since our mission at homework hub is to support all students, this was just another way that we could reach out and help our community, and help them succeed in the classrooms,” Wang said. 

They raised over $2,000 in backpacks and school supplies, which amounted to about 250 backpacks, primarily with the help of the Rising Youth grant and a donation from Kitchener Costco, as well as support from Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky.

Supplies included things like pencils, pens, erasers, and pre-packaged snacks. The backpacks were donated to the Reception House, and the Compass Refugee Centre. 

While this was the first fundraiser HomeworkHub has done to support other organizations since launching in February, they are planning to do regular seasonal fundraisers to continue helping students as best they can. 

To learn more about HomeworkHub, including how to get involved, visit their website

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