Born and raised in Malaysia, Malini Ramakrishnan was exposed to the realities of homelessness at an early age.
“We have a lot of shelter homes there,” said Ramakrishnan. “In Malaysia, a lot of the shelter homes are called orphanages. The kids there have been abandoned.”
When Ramakrishnan and her family lived in Malaysia, she made a point of taking her two young boys with her to the orphanages to donate meals, clothes, and other items. She remembers often taking them on their birthdays, so that they could understand that their current lifestyle was not the norm, and that other people around them were getting by with much less.
Now, Ramakrishnan lives with her family in Milpitas, and runs the Happy Hopper After School Program on Penitencia Street. She currently accepts children from K through 6. Right now, she picks up several kids from three elementary schools — Pomeroy, Spangler, and Curtner.
This month, Ramakrishnan and the kids in her program sat together and filled 15 bags with school supplies, to give to children at a shelter in San Jose. Ramakrishnan’s two sons are in third and fifth grade. They currently attend Curtner Elementary School, which is where Ramakrishnan discovered her love of working with children. She started out by volunteering there, and serving as Art Program Coordinator. After that, Principal Maria Hartman-Hernandez asked her to help supervise first-graders in the Learning Lab. Next, she started working in a Special Education class as a paraprofessional. Currently, along with running her After School program, she also does yard duty at Curtner.
Ramakrishnan hopes to continue to involve the kids in her program in projects that entail supporting homeless people in the community. This is an aspect of the program she plans to grow, year after year.
“Kids don’t see homelessness so much out on the streets here. Kids don’t see it,” said Ramakrishnan. “So they think it’s a luxury lifestyle and they don’t realize there are a lot of people not as lucky as them. That’s why I wanted them to do this…so they know there are people not so lucky who need help.”
According to a 2019 report from Santa Clara County, there are 125 homeless individuals in Milpitas (an 89% increase from two years ago), and there are 6,097 homeless individuals in San Jose (a 41% increase from two years ago).