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 SOAR Academy Students Give Back at Ronald McDonald House

​Far from the usual confines of Camp Barrett, a group of five court school students huddled around a stove last month. They had come from rural Alpine — near Descanso — to the Ronald McDonald House next to Rady Children’s Hospital in Kearny Mesa. They weren’t injured or in need of medical attention. In fact, that day, the students were the ones offering help, in the form of good old-fashioned cooking.

Ronald McDonald and SDCOE employees outside Rady Children's Hospital

The San Diego SOAR Academy students, accompanied by Momentum Learning staff members and probation officers, put their culinary arts training to work, fixing a sumptuous feast for 150 families staying at the Ronald McDonald House. The menu included spaghetti with meat sauce, fresh garlic bread, salad, and cookies.

“It felt good to help people by serving food and making them happy,” said one student. 

“This event was amazing and I’m glad I got to help people,” said another.

The day-long event was the result of a collaboration between the Momentum Learning Career Readiness and Technical Education program and San Diego County Probation. The San Diego County Office of Education runs the school at the camp, which is operated by Probation for students referred by judges for committing serious crimes or repeat offenses.

The two organizations work together to help students there learn through positive reinforcement as often as possible, with a goal of providing committed youths with the training and skills necessary for successful reintegration into society. In this case, the students, school staff members, and probation officers “had a chance to experience community service together, build positive partnerships, and change lives,” explained Momentum Learning School Counselor
Justin Littrell.

The culinary arts program at Camp Barrett started 11 years ago as a way for students to get real-world experience.

“You don’t learn unless you’re actually doing it,” said Matt Russo, who works one day a week with students at Camp Barrett. 

SDCOE employees who participated in the event included Littrell, Frank Caramagna, Bryan Glasrud, Art Cruz, Rodney Van, Sonya Moreno, and Ashley Rodriguez. There were also several probation employees who attended the event to help students prepare, serve, and collaborate with families. 

Ronald McDonald House provides a place to stay, meals, and the necessities of home so families can focus on caring for their critically ill or injured child being treated at a San Diego-area hospital. 

The families of ill and injured children left with smiles and full bellies. The students left with the satisfaction of helping others. In at least one case, that was a novel feeling. 

“This event brought a smile to my face,” one student said. “It was a new experience helping others.”


Posing with Ronald McDonald are SDCOE employees, in back, from left: Rodney Van, Art Cruz, Justin Littrell, and Bryan Glasrud. In front, from left, are: Sonya Moreno and Ashley Rodriguez.