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UPLIFT’s Longest Serving Volunteer Has Tutored Kids At Heart Students for 24 Years

Post Date:04/10/2024 1:48 PM

3x1 banner UPLIFT Volunteer Andy with Former Student Leslie 

Submitted by Victoria Dumon, Programs Director, UPLIFT San Diego


UPLIFT San Diego’s longest serving volunteer, Andy Katayama, has tutored students in the Kids At Heart program since 1990. After a fulfilling 10 years of volunteering, Andy took a 10-year break to focus on his career but came back during retirement because seeing his students go on to college was one of his “greatest joys.”

Kids at Heart is a free after-school tutoring and mentoring program for low-income students in the County of San Diego who are in Kindergarten through 12th grade.  It is the largest volunteer-based program UPLIFT provides with over 60 volunteers.

For many students in the Kids At Heart program, barriers to academic success include poverty, homelessness, and learning English as a second language. Tutors in the program meet with students on a one-to-one basis, virtually or on-site, to provide individualized homework help, subject tutoring, and read-aloud activities for one hour each week during the school year. The goal is to help them excel academically, graduate high school, and pursue a journey that will help them break free from the cycle of poverty.


Meet Andy

 Andy Katayama, now a retired design engineer, worked at Kodak when he heard about the UPLIFT Kids at Heart volunteering opportunity from his fellow colleagues. UPLIFT developed a strong partnership with the Kodak Company where employees would volunteer as a group once a week to tutor at one of the Kids At Heart tutoring locations in the City of San Diego. While the number of volunteers varied over the years, the UPLIFT-Kodak partnership provided the second-largest volunteer group, just behind student interns from Point Loma Nazarene University.

The opportunity to tutor students had a great appeal to Andy as it reminded him of his days at Loyola High School, an all-boys high school in Los Angeles. Volunteering and outreach to the community was a part of Loyola’s mission statement, challenging the students to be “Men for Others”.

When Andy first started volunteering, UPLIFT’s tutoring services were held in a building at the corner of 3rd and Ash St in downtown San Diego where students would receive individual tutoring for an hour followed by a half-hour of group activities.

In 2000, Andy transitioned from Kodak to work for Tensys Medical, a startup medical device company, where the increase in work demands took away from his ability to volunteer. After a fulfilling 10 years of volunteering, he took a 10-year break to focus on his career.


Reuniting with UPLIFT After Retirement

Andy retired in 2010 and within 2 years, had reconnected with the Kids at Heart program to see how the organization was doing and inquire about volunteer tutoring opportunities. In late 2012, Andy was able to resume tutoring at Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana in Golden Hill.

“One of my greatest joys of tutoring was to see two of my students, Leslie & Carlos, each becoming the first in their respective families to go to college,” explained Andy.

“They, along with Wendy, were three students who I tutored together as a group all throughout their high school years. Being able to tutor them in-person and at the same time meant that we were almost a class unto ourselves, including a fourth student who joined us over 2 of those years.”

Since Andy lives in North County, tutoring in person meant spending an hour combatting rush hour traffic just to reach the tutoring site. Post-retirement, Andy would often spend the entire day in the downtown area on tutoring days to be within easy reach of Iglesia Presbiteriana.

“I started attending the Kids at Heart tutoring program when I was in 2nd grade,” said Leslie Camacho, a participant in the Kids At Heart Program. "Throughout my time in the program I had multiple tutors, but the tutor that made the greatest impact was Andy. Andy always made myself and my peers feel heard and supported. Andy always came to the tutoring site with a positive attitude and a lot of patience. As teenagers we would give him a very difficult time, but he never gave up on us. Andy would always ask how we were doing and created a safe space for us."

“Not only did this program help me with my education, but they also provided the extra support necessary while my mother was battling stage 3 breast cancer," continued Leslie. "I am very grateful that I had their support throughout this difficult stage in my life as they gave me the motivation to not give up."

“Thanks to Kids at Heart, I was able to believe in myself and accomplish every short-term goal I had. I continue to keep in touch with Andy and provide him with life updates.  Thanks to the program, I was able to graduate from community college with an Associates degree in Administration of Justice, get my Bachelors in Criminology & Justice Studies, and become a Drug & Alcohol Counselor at a residential facility for adolescents.”


Pandemic Shifts to Virtual Tutoring

During the 2020 pandemic, UPLIFT experienced a major shift in services. The Kids at Heart program transitioned from providing the City of San Diego with on-site tutoring to serving San Diego County through virtual tutoring. This change provided challenges and opportunities.

“Now, I have the joy of tutoring Wendy's younger sister Cynthia, over Zoom, who has started to entertain the possibility of going to college as well!” exclaimed Andy. “So, all told I've been tutoring for the Kids at Heart program now for some 24 years. At times it's been challenging, at other times eye-opening, and sometimes just heartbreaking. However, most of all, it's been both an honor and a joy to work with these students who often come from the most difficult of circumstances.”


Andy is a valued member of the UPLIFT community, and we are honored to uplift the community alongside him!

UPLIFT stands for Urban People Living in Faith & Trust and continues to engage the entire community to create social change for those who have less resources. UPLIFT is dedicated to building community relationships among those who might never get the chance to meet one another if it were not for volunteerism.

Learn more about the Kids at Heart program and other volunteer opportunities with UPLIFT San Diego, including:

  • Swimming Upstream – Be a mentor providing young women with leadership and life skills
  • The Home Team – Be an Advocate for unhoused clients through the housing placement process
  • Be A Friend – Provide social support and friendship to neighbors experiencing homelessness
Return to full list >>