NEWS | January 5, 2021

UC Davis students develop mentorship program for Oak Park neighborhood youth

Volunteers from the largely closed student-run Imani Clinic now tutor school children in hopes of lifting the disadvantaged neighborhood


Rebecca “Becky” Wiegand, whose third-grade son has struggled with distance learning, was thrilled when she read an online post by UC Davis students offering free tutoring to children in and around the Oak Park neighborhood. 

Henna Mohabbat, Isabella Vo and Felicia Song are UC Davis premed students who help lead a new mentorship program Henna Mohabbat, Isabella Vo and Felicia Song are UC Davis premed students who help lead a new mentorship program

The weekly sessions that help her son with reading skills have saved hundreds of dollars for the single mother of three, and now her son is more engaged in learning.

“It’s been a real blessing and I don’t say that religiously,” said Weigand, who lives in the Tahoe Park neighborhood, just two blocks from Oak Park.

The tutoring is part of a new mentorship program started by premed students who had expected to volunteer many weekends this school year helping provide care to medically underserved patients in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood.

But when the pandemic hit, their plans were put on hold because coronavirus safety precautions prompted the student-run Imani Clinic to close for in-person visits. The closure cut off most patients from free health care and dozens of students from valuable experience.

The students took their passion for community service and created the next best thing: a mentoring program for school children in Oak Park and other nearby disadvantaged neighborhoods. Now, these UC Davis undergraduates who normally would be assisting patients in the clinic are tutoring children in and around the same disadvantaged neighborhood.

The program began in October and it’s already making a difference.

“It’s been really helpful, especially with how stressful things have been and how much more is put on parents right now with distance learning,” Weigand said.

The mentorship program was started by Henna Mohabbat and Isabella Vo, both of whom want to be doctors and care for the underserved.

Meeting the needs of the community

“Although Imani volunteers can’t be in clinic right now, this mentorship program is able to provide the best care we can by building more interpersonal relationships so we can further understand the community's needs,” Mohabbat said. “In addition, we are able to communicate the potential resources Imani Clinic has to offer.”

The program seeks to improve educational outcomes among the African American/Black community and the diverse Oak Park population.

Mohabbat and Vo see it as a pathway to success for students in grades K-12.

“We all hope that, because of this, they have a greater chance of going to college and getting a degree,” Vo said, “especially students that are underrepresented in the medical field or the health care field in general.”

Vo, a fourth-year student who is majoring in Evolution, Ecology and Biodiversity (and also Spanish), had been wanting to improve the health of the community. In late 2019, she reached out to high school counselors in Oak Park and shared her vision of Imani volunteers leading exercise groups and cooking classes.

Then the pandemic swept in. Then the UC Davis School of Medicine closed its network of student-run clinics to in-person visits.

Vo and Mohabbat, a fourth-year Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior major, realized the time was ripe to fully develop the mentorship program they had envisioned last year.

The reason: Zoom video conferencing had become widely adopted on and off campus, which would be ideal for tutoring.

“Before, when school was in session, it was difficult for the mentors to drive from Davis to Sacramento,” Mohabbat said, especially during heavy traffic on the Yolo Causeway. “Usually, schools would get out around 4 p.m., and usually mentors were in school at that time at UC Davis taking classes.”

But now, Mohabbat added, mentors and mentees easily schedule times to meet on screen, which is convenient for college students who aspire to be doctors and are taking a full load of classes.

Sharing "wealth of information"

Mohabbat and Vo advertised the tutoring program on social media and recruited mentors from the list of nearly 100 clinic volunteers.

The program is very new; so far, about eight children have signed up for the free, one-on-one sessions. There is room for dozens more to get help with science, math, social studies and English.

The UC Davis students are also eager to help high schools students with college applications and scholarship forms. They’re willing to assist parents in filling out the cumbersome college federal financial aid documents.

“We have such a wealth of information because we’ve been through this process, and it’s fresh in our minds, and we’re just so ready to share it with our mentees,” said Felicia Song, a third-year UC Davis student who tutors a second-grader in English.

Despite her own class load in the Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior program, Song said it’s rewarding to tutor because it gives her a good perspective on what it takes to improve the overall health of a neighborhood.

“The pandemic has given the entire community here at UC Davis, that is working for underserved communities, an opportunity to slow down and focus on all the other aspects that contribute to these communities’ health,” Song said.

Imani Clinic, which is offering mostly telemedicine appointments, will eventually reopen.

Until then, Mohabbat, Vo, Song and other mentors will continue to reach out to the community.

“To provide quality health care,” Mohabbat said, “we must build trust between the patient and clinic, and we hope to achieve that through the mentorship program, one family at a time.”

For more information about the tutoring program view this flier.