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Benji joined Breakthrough as a student in 2007, and has been actively involved since. In 2014, Benji returned for his third summer as a Volunteer Leadership Participant (VLP).

As a VLP, Benji volunteered on a daily basis during the summer, working directly with students as well as behind the scenes. Tasks included assisting Teaching Fellows in the classrooms, making posters for teachers' lessons, tutoring students in the after-school program, mentoring students during lunch and recess, and preparing the school for special events like Celebration.

Benji sees the VLP program as an opportunity for high school students to gain confidence in themselves as leaders and role models.  He took his job as a role model and tutor to heart. “My role at Breakthrough is to help the kids succeed as much as they can,” he says. With his younger brother also enrolled in our program, Benji is working hard on behalf of his family as well as the student body at large.

Benji recently graduated from Gateway High School and is attending College of Marin. Thank you for your commitment to Breakthrough, Benji!


Cata first tutored with Breakthrough as a seventh grader at SF Day School. “At the time, I figured it would be an interesting thing to try,” she remembers. The experience was meaningful enough that Cata continued volunteering at Breakthrough for five more years - until her recent graduation from Drew School.

“The students share a value of mine: learning,” she says. “As a tutor, I try to push my students to understand ‘why’ they are dividing this number or ‘why’ this part is the main idea.  I try to challenge them with riddles and mind-bending problems.”

Watching her students make strides was satisfying. Cata feels, however, that she has grown right alongside them.

“It’s not just the tutees who learn things,” she says. “Working with the Breakthrough students helps me understand the concepts I have learned in school at a much deeper level. I have enjoyed also interacting with different girls from schools across the city, in the classroom and on the roof, where they often beat me at tetherball and on the four-square court. My experiences at Breakthrough have changed my perspective on so many things.”


A recent graduate of the University of San Francisco, Louis got involved with Breakthrough as a sophomore, to satisfy the service learning component for his Organizational Behavior and Leadership class. He had tutored a family friend when he was younger, but this was his first time working with kids in a formal capacity. He found that he enjoys it.

“I like the system at Breakthrough a lot, how every tutor is assigned to three kids maximum, so there’s a lot of individual attention,” Louis says. “I haven’t seen too many programs that are so effectively structured. I also like that the kids get to take an enrichment class that really interests them.”

As a tutor, Louis has tried to build a comfortable relationship with each student, while still holding them accountable for working hard. He also tries to be thoughtful in the help that he provides. “When they don’t understand something, my approach is to break things down. What’s important is not just that they know how to do the particular problem, but that they understand the overall concept.” Each of his three tutees has a different personality and learning style, he’s found – but “they’re all very smart, and I enjoy working with all of them.”

In addition to tutoring, Louis co-taught a Mandarin class with his USF classmate Xi. Their goal was for their students to carry on a basic conversation by the end of the semester – a skill that may come in useful down the road.


Ella contacted us as a sophomore at Saint Ignatius College Preparatory School here in San Francisco, looking for a fun way to get her community service hours done. “I didn’t know I was entering a life-changing experience,” she says. “I didn’t expect to fall in love with the students!” Ella spent the following three summers at Breakthrough as a Volunteer Leadership Participant.

During the afternoon Homework Center, Ella worked in a small group setting making sure all of her tutees were able to understand their homework.  “Every kid has a different style of learning and different ideas that go along with it.  We frequently use the objects and people around us to model problems, especially in science and math. This approach not only teaches the students the material, but it helps them conceptualize it and relate it to their lives.”

As a volunteer, Ella has contributed greatly to the program and students, but her biggest take-away is the impact the students have had on her. “Taking the bus home after my first day, I reflected that this wasn’t ‘community service’; these kids were serving me. They show me what is truly important in the form of their enthusiasm, hope, and perseverance. Even after one day, I felt their inspiration. There is a magic about them that proclaims the beauty of life. The connections I made, especially during tutoring, are ones I will never forget.” 

Ella encourages everyone to volunteer with Breakthrough.  “The program’s sense of hope is refreshing and inspiring,” she says. “These students will change the world, and I am so glad that I had the chance to know them.”


Christopher began tutoring in Breakthrough’s after-school program in the summer of 2013, after moving to the Bay Area earlier in the year. Currently at Google, Christopher previously served as a Vice President at Citi Private Bank and also serves as President of the Black Alumni Council of Columbia University.

Christopher’s past volunteer experiences included Hope Corps and Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC. One thing he feels makes Breakthrough unique, however, is the students’ dedication to the program and commitment to academic and personal success. “Breakthrough students are eager to learn and are excited to be a part of the program,” he says. “Breakthrough kids don’t view the summer program as a sacrifice but see it as an opportunity to refine academic skills, strengthen weaknesses and ultimately improve their long-term academic prospects.”

Christopher also appreciates the collaborative environment in the after-school program, in which tutors of all ages work together and share strategies.

Christopher also hosted a group of Breakthrough students at Citi for our annual Career Day, helping them understand some of the opportunities of a career in finance. Thank you, Christopher, for your generosity and dedication to the Breakthrough students!

Featured Opportunity

Host Students for Career Day – Help expand our students’ thinking about what the future might hold by hosting ten 5-8th graders at your workplace. Our summer 2019 event is scheduled for 12 - 2 pm on Fri, July 26, 2019. The typical visit involves lunch, a tour, a career panel, and an interactive activity (we help with the planning) to help students get a taste of the work involved. Fields include medicine, tech, law, finance, biotech, design, and more. To learn more, please contact Rebecca Asch, Development Officer, at rebecca@breakthroughsf.org.

Other Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities

To express interest in any of these opportunities, please complete this brief form. Questions can be directed to Andy Shin, Executive Director.

  • Provide Summer Housing – Provide a home for one of the outstanding college students taking part in our competitive summer teacher residency. Teaching Fellows can share a home with your family, or look after your home if you’re away. The 2019 summer residency will run from June 12 - August 7, 2019.
  • Tutor in our After-School Program - Volunteer in our after-school program in fall 2019. We’re looking for adults, college students, high school students, and eighth graders at SF Day School. The commitment is one afternoon per week (choice of Mon from 3:30-5:30pm, Tue from 4:00-6:00pm, Wed from 3:30-5:30pm, or Thu from 4:00-6:00pm), from early Oct through early Dec. This video contains more information about the tutoring experience.
  • Volunteer Leadership Program - This special opportunity is just for high school students (including graduating high school seniors). “VLPs” are high school students - both current Breakthrough students and other interested students from local high schools - who serve as leaders and role models during our intensive academic summer program. They assist with special events, class preparation, meal program, and tutoring, and also participate in professional development sessions. Please see below for a video thanking our VLPs from summer 2015! The application process for summer 2019 is now closed; it will reopen again in late 2019 for summer 2020.

Please note: If you're interested in our summer teacher residency for outstanding college students, there is a separate application process; please click here to learn more.