2010-11-26 / Neighbors

Simi woman gets kids on the ‘right road’

By Angela Randazzo Special to the Acorn

WORKING TOGETHER—Paula Phillips laughs with student Courtney Faggin, 9, as they work on Courtney’s magazine-collage poster during an activity at the Open Classroom Leadership Magnet School at Conejo Elementary on Nov. 19. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers WORKING TOGETHER—Paula Phillips laughs with student Courtney Faggin, 9, as they work on Courtney’s magazine-collage poster during an activity at the Open Classroom Leadership Magnet School at Conejo Elementary on Nov. 19. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers Paula Phillips was 27 when she moved to Los Angeles from Wisconsin. It was 1992, and Phillips quickly found herself caught up in the L.A. riots following the Rodney King court verdict.

“I was running an errand for the crew in Hollywood,” said Phillips, who at the time was working as an associate producer on a TV game show. “I was threatened on the street by a 13-year-old boy. He exploded fireworks in my face and told me he was going to kill me.”

The boy ran off without harming her. Phillips’ reaction to the incident wasn’t one of anger.

“I felt such a calling that literally I quit my job the next day. I thought, ‘I am going to help kids,’” said Phillips, who now lives in Simi Valley. “It was like a culmination of my life. I knew this is what I was supposed to do.”

Phillips started a nonprofit organization called The Dream Fund Outreach, and she contacted schools to find out how she could help them.

“Paula began gathering supplies to help teachers fill in the holes for things the budgets weren’t funding,” said Beth Ann Hilton, president of The B Company, a public relations firm working with Phillips.

Teachers started inviting Phillips into their classrooms, and over the next 18 years she developed a curriculum to help elementary and middle school students gain self-esteem.

Phillips used the phrase “on the right road” so often in her lesson that she changed the name of her organization to Right Road Kids this year.

“She engages the kids and teaches them that everyone is unique and special and how to use their talents,” Hilton said. “She’s about inspiring, positive thinking and character building.”

Locally, Phillips has shared her program with students at Sycamore and Crestview elementary schools.

“Paula organized a teacher appreciation day with coffee and goodies. She made the teachers feel honored and special,” said Donna Stapleton, Sycamore principal. “With the students, she gets an important message across, and her group fully funded a bus trip for two classes to the Reagan Presidential Library.”

Now 46, Phillips has lived in Simi Valley for the past seven years. Her husband, Mike Rodriguez, is an operations manager in the automobile industry, and her son, 5- year-old Micah, is a kindergartner at Ascension Lutheran School in Thousand Oaks.

Phillips’ communication skills and enthusiasm have endeared her to staff, teachers and students. She speaks to assigned classrooms about once a month on themes like “Believe in yourself,” “Treat others the way you want to be treated” and “Follow your dreams.” She uses her songwriting talent to deliver her interactive message.

“Kids need to know that they have amazing things inside of them,” Phillips said. “I tell them in all the world there is only one of you.”

Phillips also distributes supplies, many of which she buys with her own money, to schools and youth organizations in Ventura County.

Donations to her nonprofit and honorariums from groups such as the PTA support her projects.

Recently Phillips organized a drive that gathered 2,500 books for the library at Juan Soria Elementary School in Oxnard.

The Oxnard School District board of trustees honored her with a certificate of recognition this month. In 2002, the California State Legislature and National Association of Women Business Owners recognized her efforts.

“I don’t do this for praise, but that certainly helps fuel the fire,” Phillips said. “It’s all for the kids.”

For more information about her organization, e-mail Phillips at rightroadkids@yahoo.com.

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