School on Wheels Celebrates 13th Annual Christmas Party


Next week, nine buses filled with some 240 youngsters will pull into Paradise Cove for a day of the following: holiday festivities, a visit from Santa, lots of presents and fun on the beach. Though they live perhaps a mere 15 miles away, many of them will have never stepped foot in the ocean. 

For the 13th year, Paradise Cove proprietors Bob Morris and Steve Dahlberg will host a Christmas party for students who work with Agnes Stevens’ School on Wheels (SOW)—the nonprofit that provides private tutors for homeless children. 

“Many of the shelters and foster homes around the county don’t have the means to throw a big party,” Sinead Chilton, marketing consultant for SOW, said. “So Bob steps in and really pulls out all the stops. The lunch is delicious, the staff is extraordinarily kind and supportive, and the children, some of whom have never been to the beach, just jump off the bus and run into the water. It warms your heart.” 

The event is supported by the local Sheriff’s Department and Malibu firefighters, with a kick-in by the city. Public Safety Commissioner David Saul said Santa Claus will be arriving by fire truck this year for his visit with the School on Wheels kids. 

“We’ve done this several years with Bob,” Saul said. “It’s just amazing to see their faces when they step onto the sand. It’s magical.” 

It’s also not an insignificant tab. Chilton estimates that the cost of organizing the whole day runs around $20,000, largely picked up by Morris and Dahlberg. 

“It just outrages me to think that there are kids in our Los Angeles community who have never seen the beach, whose families just barely make it or maybe don’t,” Morris said. “Even for some of the kids’ chaperones, it’s the first time they’ve seen the beach. We bring local kids from privileged schools and families to volunteer because they need to know there’s another side.” 

Morris and his crew buy hundreds of dolls and toys to wrap up, prepare a healthful, gourmet buffet (“None of that pizza and hot dog stuff,” he said disdainfully) and shepherd 200 youngsters in a first-time experience with ocean tides. Sand castles are built, boogie boards are hauled out, and eyes are shining in both children and adults. 

School on Wheels is a 501(c)3 launched 20 years ago by Malibu icon Agnes Stevens, a retired teacher who was appalled to see children living in their family cars. Noting the tremendous academic disadvantage their backgrounds put them in, she created School on Wheels to provide backpacks loaded with teaching tools and a private volunteer tutor to help them achieve the school progress they need. 

This year, their goal was to recruit 2,000 new volunteers and provide one-on-one tutoring for 2,800 homeless students. Chilton said they are now about 200 new volunteers and 98 new students short of their goals. 

“We did break an official Guinness Book of World Records,” Chilton said. “We created the longest line of loaded backpacks (about 3,000) at Pepperdine.” 

For Morris, supporting a worthy cause while introducing children to the ocean is a no-brainer. His father owned Paradise Cove back in the ’50s when it was “much busier,” and Morris’ first job was with the sports fishing boats that docked there. He left Malibu in the ’60s to build restaurants and returned eventually to build Duke’s and Gladstones, and to raise his son here. 

Morris also works with other nonprofits like the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Sunshine Kids, but he said that School on Wheels was close to home. 

“The first time I met Agnes Stevens, I thought she was just the crustiest, neatest lady,” Morris said. “Now, we’re hoping her kids will grow up and get good jobs and then pay it forward.” 

Chilton called Morris an “unsung hero” for staging the holiday event each year and said that it brings out the best in the under-served children. 

“Last year, one little girl said it was her best day ever and didn’t want to go home,” Chilton said. “And she was very unselfish about it. When it came time to select a gift, she chose something for her two-year-old sister.” 

To find out more about School on Wheels, visit the website: