Tutor Joann Craft, left, goes over math regrouping exercises with Anthony Castellanos, 7, during Homework Club at the Oak View Branch Library on May 24. (KEVIN CHANG, HB Independent / May 24, 2012)

Jesus Lara came to study at the Homework Club after it literally answered his cry.

The Huntington Beach resident found himself floundering in the third grade, and not just because of his difficulty grasping math and science. At home after school, he tried to make his room a quiet sanctuary, but he found his studies constantly interrupted — by his younger brother pounding on the door, by the bustle in the kitchen and other clatter around the house.

Finally, Jesus' frustration boiled over, and not inside the bedroom.

"One day in class, he just started crying for no reason," his mother, Nancy Bueno, said.

Jesus' teacher shared the news with his mother and recommended a solution: an after-school program at the Oak View Branch Library that provided a quiet study space, or something close to it, and a chance to work with tutors one on one.

Seven years later, Jesus is a sophomore at Ocean View High School, fitting in football and three clubs alongside his classes. His brother Uriel, who has since atoned for pounding on the door, and sister Naomi attend the library's Homework Club regularly.

Jesus wants to be a veterinarian, Uriel a zoologist; Naomi isn't sure about career plans, but devours mystery novels in her spare time. All three say the Homework Club, which the library offers four days a week, has been invaluable in keeping up their grades.

And all three are hoping that the club will last through the end of the next school year.

Last year, Huntington Beach lost its state funding for libraries, as Sacramento made drastic budget cuts. Officials scraped together enough through grants, donations and fundraisers to keep the program afloat. For the coming fiscal year, the budget forecast looks the same, which means the community may have to band together again to maintain the club until June.

"We're optimistic," said Stephanie Beverage, the city's director of library services. "We're hopeful that a champion or a group of champions may step up and support the programs there."


'You're going to go to college'

Oak View, a low-income, mostly Latino neighborhood tucked southwest of Warner Avenue and Beach Boulevard, looks far removed from the spacious suburbs that dominate most of Huntington.

Here, economy is the rule. Fourplexes and car ports squeeze in so closely they seem to hug each other. A walk through residential streets shows signs of hectic life with limited space: laundry hung over balcony rails, bikes and scooters scattered by doorsteps, flower pots hung on chain-link fences.

Even the library, where the Homework Club takes up nearly half the space, shares a parking lot with Oak View School and the Oak View Family Resource Center. For many kids, that community hub provides a nine-hour work day — breakfast served at school in the morning, then classes, then the Homework Club until 4:30 or 5.

Except for coordinator Jackeline Reyes, a part-time employee, all those who oversee the club are volunteers. Some are retired and have tutored kids for years; others are high school or college students looking to rack up service hours.

The backgrounds of the tutors vary, but Reyes, a Santa Ana native, keenly sympathizes with the hundreds of kids who lug their backpacks to the library Monday through Thursday.

Like many of them, she grew up as the daughter of immigrants who had a limited understanding of the American school system. Like them, she and her older sister became the first in their family to study past high school.

"I don't think my parents knew that I took the SATs, or what the SATs meant," Reyes said. "But it was always, 'You're going to go to college.'"

Reyes, who earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Cal State Fullerton, points out quickly that her club is not day care. She is about the work and expects the students — and their families — to have the same attitude. To enroll their kids, parents must go through an orientation, and Reyes often coordinates with school staff about behavior and grades.