Retired teacher fights childhood poverty, provides free tutoring in a repurposed airport van

LOVELAND, Ohio -- Evangeline DeVol turned her retirement from teaching into a crusade against child poverty. In a tricked-out RV dubbed the NEST van -- that acronym stands for Nutrition and Education in a Safe environment equals Transformation -- she began traveling to low-income suburban communities to provide children there with safe places to play, eat a snack and receive tutoring after school.

She knew the need was real before she started, she said, but the scale of it quickly outmatched the resources she had available.

"We are packed in here like sardines," she said in March. "We're having to send kids away now, which is heartbreaking for me."

As of this week, her students aren't sardines anymore. Instead of an RV, DeVol now has a repurposed airport van in which to host NEST programming

"I couldn't be more excited," she said. "It was a God thing for us."

The larger mobile classroom means she and NEST volunteers such as Trevin Sluss, who came to Loveland with a church group to help tutor NEST kids, can set up tables for a quiet study space and welcome more children inside.

"We can now bring on more tutors and we can now help our high schoolers in a way we couldn't do before," DeVol said.

As temperatures cilmb, she said NEST is especially concerned with staving off the "summer slide" that causes children to lose knowledge gained during the previous school year as they go months without formal education. For low-income children, the slide can be "killer."

That's why she and volunteers such as Sluss focus on reading with the children and reviewing their multiplication tables to keep them fresh and engaged for the fall.

"It's my favorite thing in the world," Sluss said. "I would love to be able to do what Ms. Van does. There's so much that's going to come from this that we aren't even going to see, and I'm just so thankful I get to be a part of it."

As NEST expands, the need for volunteers will continue to grow. Anyone interested in helping the program can learn how to do so at NEST's website.

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