Student Volunteer, Servant Leader


Emerson Martinez sporting our Cloud & Fire t-shirt with this year’s theme: Dream Big Work Hard.

This week was National Volunteer Week, and, as a nonprofit, Cloud & Fire knows the value of those who serve, especially at organizations like our own.  While we recognize and appreciate all the individuals we consider part of our volunteer base, we also want to highlight those within our student body who have stepped up as servant leaders.  One student that always comes to mind whenever teachers or staff are in need of assistance is Emerson Martinez.  Since his arrival last September, Emerson has been extremely involved with student affairs, from being a member of YouthBuild Policy Council to being a supporting member of new groups at Cloud & Fire like the College Prep Club. But more than that, he has stepped up on numerous occasions to help with anything and everything, from manual tasks like setting up and tearing down events to taking younger students under his wing.

Before coming to Cloud & Fire, Emerson never had much volunteer experience. He has always loved to “just be helpful.” He says the difference between being a student volunteer and a member of policy council is the freedom in getting to just focus on the acts of service, as opposed to having some end goal in mind. He particularly enjoyed helping at Race it Forward, Cloud & Fire’s charity run, where he was stationed along the runner’s track to direct racers and pass out water cups. Emerson’s favorite form of volunteering is directly serving other people; his ideal role would be to come back after graduating from Cloud & Fire and be a mentor and tutor to the younger students. Even now, he has taken the opportunity to start connecting with some of the teenage students (twenty-three years old himself) and knows other older students who would be good mentors as well.

Since growing as a student volunteer, Emerson has put more thought into other service opportunities around him. He’s noticed the elderly home up the street from his home, and has wondered about how he could serve there. Once he has more time, he would like to help out with after school programs like LA’s Best, and definitely return to support students at Cloud & Fire.  When it comes to encouraging our current students to get more involved, Emerson says “they need to be motivated by knowing the difference their volunteering can make.” We discussed how it really comes down to a change in mindset; genuine volunteering cannot be done solely for credit or in search of a reward. Emerson’s new understanding of service definitely came only after his time at Cloud & Fire: “I feel like I do make a difference at this school…I do get noticed and when people need help they come to me, and I like that.” Emerson reminds us that students might not realize they are making a difference unless our organization recognizes and encourages them to keep growing, thereby continuing the cycle of their service. Since volunteering is a sacrifice, there will be plenty of barriers for our students, whether that means limited time or family responsibilities. Having time to volunteer is often a luxury, and Emerson understands what a privilege it is to have such time. But Cloud & Fire is extremely grateful that he chooses to spend it here with us.


Cloud & Fire Graduate Becomes Volunteer of the Year

IMG_6340_eIn honor of National Volunteer Week we’d like to congratulate one of our very own Cloud & Fire graduates, Josue Mendoza, for receiving the Los Angeles County Volunteer of the Year Award! He received the honor for his work serving homeless individuals with The Village Family Service Drop-In Center. “Somebody in the agency nominated me for the Volunteer of the Year Award and they didn’t let me know about it ” said Josue. “I didn’t know it was going to happen and I just got it.”  A current student at Valley College, he was one of two recipients to receive this award as a result of his character and hours of dedication to the organization. Congratulations, Josue, on this outstanding accomplishment! We’re all very proud of you.

National Volunteer Week: Meet Dave Kolstad

This week is National Volunteer Week!  Volunteers play a vital role here at Cloud & Fire and their time, support and efforts are greatly appreciated by staff and students alike. Our volunteers participate in admin assistance, tutoring, handyman work, events and much more. We welcome anyone interested in helping students to survive, strive and thrive!

If you’ve ever been to Cloud & Fire, then chances are you’ve met Dave Kolstad, one of our most faithful volunteers. Dave is bursting at the seams with information and stories of his adventures from all over the world. Check out what he had to say about the time he invests in our program:

Dave cheers on a student as they successfully solve a math problem they were struggling with. Next to him is a another one of our wonderful volunteers Livia.

How long have you been volunteering with us?

Three years I think.  I’d have to stop and compute, but I’m pretty sure it’s been three years now.

How did you first hear about Cloud & Fire?

I go to Bel Air Presbyterian Church, which is a big supporter of Cloud & Fire, and so I probably heard about you through them. I also met Melody (Cloud & Fire’s Founder and Executive Director) a few times there and once I retired I thought, “What am I going to do with myself?”

What made you want to get involved here at Cloud & Fire?

Well, two things: I needed to do something meaningful with my time after retirement. The second is that I see kids who for one reason or another have had their education messed up but they’re trying to get themselves back on track and I want to help them.

In what ways do you volunteer?

The big time thing this year has been tutoring. I’m not a teacher, I’m a tutor and the difference is that I help people usually one-on-one or two-and-three-on-one. I don’t have to come up with the lessons I just follow along with what the teacher is already teaching. In years before this I would do that as well as handyman work. So if I saw some light bulbs out or something I would fix it. I did teach a woodworking class my second year but the trouble with that was coming up with something and then getting people to actually do it. I’m much better as a tutor.

What are, if any, some of the challenges you face as a volunteer and how do you overcome them?

Of course, the bigger issues are some students are still kids and they haven’t quite recognized that they have to get it together just yet. It’s harder to work with those types of students but it’s a matter working past that and at times asking the teachers for assistance. But the attitude problems aren’t significant. They do happen, but with a really small number of the students who are here. Most of them are trying to do better and are simply struggling.

I learned something maybe a year or so ago from a newspaper article. It touched on math, which is a subject I tend to assist with predominantly here. It said that if you don’t get comfortable with the basics of math early on in childhood you will likely not be comfortable later on. None of these kids are comfortable with math and giving them comfortability is a real struggle—but it’s worth trying to accomplish. It’s like learning how to swim. Once you’re comfortable with the water the rest of it comes easy, but until you’re comfortable with the water it’s impossible. And these kids are not comfortable in the waters of math just yet and I want to help them do better.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

To see kids get the material. Because most of them are fine people, but just don’t believe that they are or that they can because they don’t hear it that often. It’s good to be a part of helping them believe in themselves and know that they can get the material.

Interested in joining Dave and the rest of our wonderful volunteers–make your own positive imprint on a student’s life. Contact Claire at or visit our website for more details.