Holiday Spirit

Carolyn Digovich, founder of Youth Speaks Out, sits in front of photographs and paintings produced by students in the art-focused program that provides students space to express themselves. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted January 5, 2018

Giving youth a voice
Nonprofit encourages students to express their inner lives, in good company

by Fiona Kelliher

In slam poetry, the hands speak as much as the mouth. As Crystal Trevillion stood in front of a crowd of students and families in Palo Alto Art Center, her hands moved between her head and stomach, at one point beating the air in a curled fist. Trevillion had just returned to Gunn High School after months of leukemia treatment, and her poem painted pictures of what it felt like to be bald, surrounded by machines and desperate to breathe outside a hospital room.

Audience members cried. Random strangers came up to hug her. For the first time, Trevillion said, people began sharing their own family's cancer stories with her.

"What you write — other people relate to," she said. "It's also good for me because I'm like, 'Oh, I'm not alone.'"

Trevillion performed her slam poem at a 2015 grand gallery opening for Youth Speaks Out (YSO), a program that has operated at Gunn and Palo Alto High School since 2011. Originally born as a response to the local teen suicide clusters, YSO offers avenues for students to express their inner lives and build communities through art.

The nonprofit works with teachers to create a safe and inclusive environment, build curricula for specific projects and host artists within semester-long classes. Participating "YSO classes" — which remain within the PAUSD system while interfacing with the organization — have included photography, painting, ceramics, journalism and creative writing, among others. YSO also collaborates with after-school clubs such as the Black Scholars Union and Gunn Poetry Slam Club, and all programming aims to foster real vulnerability, Executive Director Carolyn Digovich said.

In the past, this has meant supporting students as they've voiced their stress and the pain caused by turmoil in the community. While these themes are still important, Digovich said that YSO is making a concerted effort to include people who aren't always heard from, in particular students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students.

And students like Trevillion, whose experiences may be unique in myriad ways.

"We really don't hear the voice of our student body if we don't have all the voices involved and engaged," Digovich said. "Those voices have been critical in helping us understand what students' lives are about."

YSO was one of just two organizations to receive $20,000 from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund this year. The backing has supported programming that aims, in part, to deepen YSO's roots in minority communities and continue partnerships from past years. Marshall Jones, a slam poet from Los Angeles who collaborated with Trevillion's class, will return this year to facilitate workshops; in the spring, a local organization called Outlet that supports LGBTQ youth will also engage students. This will mark YSO's third year collaborating with the mental health group Youth Minds Advocacy, which has previously hosted student art showcases in San Francisco.

Student groups representing different communities have taken an active role in shaping the program. One developing project idea is the "Soul Collage" that the Black Scholars Union at Paly will create with the help of a visiting artist this year. Within the school's social-justice-pathway courses, students will produce photo essays, digital art and other materials to form a larger "quilt" of reflections — and ultimately portray both the individual and the collective experience.

Alvaro Panitz, a 2015 Gunn graduate, said that exposure to other students' difficulties and dreams made him feel more comfortable discussing his own. Panitz moved to California from Peru in high school, leaving behind both his parents. His grandfather, who had primarily raised him, died about a year before he arrived at Gunn.

Back home, Panitz had written poems in his native Spanish about anything that struck his fancy — love, friendship, stories from friends, heartbreak. But while involved in YSO, he found himself writing about his grandfather and remembering moments they had shared years earlier.

"He was basically my father," Panitz said. "I miss him a lot, and so I decided to write about him because I feel like he's taught me so much."

According to Digovich, some art like Panitz's and Trevillion's creates a meaningful "counterpoint" to the themes of academic stress and grades that may otherwise dominate the classrooms. She recalled one student's photograph that showed his father's hands holding his own class picture from elementary school. X's were drawn over the faces of each child who had since died. More than half the faces were marked.

"The way it was discussed by the student was just ... 'This is a way of life,'" Digovich said. "'This is a reality that my family has dealt with, and people continue to deal with in our community.'"

As the program heads into its seventh year, its leaders are focused on long-term partnerships and resource management. While most YSO projects have been planned, implemented and finished within a school semester, the organization is now slowing down to solidify relationships and listen closely to students' needs, Digovich said. The largely volunteer-run nonprofit will also seek a donation or grant matching the Weekly's to hire staff.

Memories from YSO have stuck with Trevillion, who now attends De Anza College. Even now, she sometimes goes back to watch the video of her own performance. It rekindles how she felt in that moment — comfortable, open, surrounded by the community and by other students' art.

"I'm really glad I did it when I did," she said.

Apply for a Holiday Fund Grant

Nonprofits serving children and families may apply for funds by downloading our Grant Application Guidelines and Grant Application Form. Application deadline: 11:59 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.

Make a donation
2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000


Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000


CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000


East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School


Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000


Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley


Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000


UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000



Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000

As of December 7th, 165 donors have contributed $145,397 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

24 Anonymous7,075
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Maureen O'Connor150
Martha Shirk1,200
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker1,000
Diane and Brandy Sikic*
Alicia Newman100
Dorsey & Katherine Bass300
Edie Kirkwood1,000
Micri & Bob Cardelli*
George & Betsy Young*
Diana Diamond1,000
Brigid Barton 2,000
Korol Family250
Lawrence R. Yang & Jennifer W. Kuan10,000
Anthony & Susan Wood25,000
Lynn and Andrew Newman*
Katherine Bryant100
Barbara Riper*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Carolyn Caddes*
Kroymann Family250
Marian Adams100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Elaine Hah1,500
Julie & Dan Lythcott-Haims250
Tess & Eric Byler150
Denise and Jeff Simons*
Keith and Linda Clarke*
Harriet Benson10,000
Arthur Keller250
Cynthia Costell100
George & Betsy Bechtel200
Ellen M. Lillington200
Tom & Nancy Fiene200
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
Amado & Deborah Padilla250
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Merele McClure250
Joanne Koltnow400
Christina Kenrick1,000
Richard Johnsson5,000
Xiaofan Lin100
Bonnie and Bryan Street*
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Jody Maxmin*
Diane and Joe Rolfe*
Diane Finkelstein250
Linda & Steve Boxer*
David & Betsy Fryberger400
Jan Aarts*
Judith Appleby300
Donald Barr150
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Edward Kanazawa300
Karen A. Latchford*
Kingsley Jack250
Richard Zuanich150
Patti Yanklowitz and Mark Krasnow100
Denise Savoie and Darrell Duffie*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Scottie Zimmerman100
Fran Codispoti250
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Dong Family200
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Andrea B. Smith100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
The Havern Family5,000
Gwen Luce and Family*
Bruce Campbell*
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Judy Kramer*
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John Keller100
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
Paul & Jane Millman250
In Memory Of

Walter Dean*
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Jack Sutorius750
Michele Wilson*
Bob Donald350
Leonard Ware*
Robert Spinrad100
August King*
Bob Simoni500
David W. Mitchell*
Paul Seaver*
Gerald Berner300
Ian Halliday250
Ray Bacchetti300
Marie and Don Snow200
Andre Jones *
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
David Sager100
Ted Linden200
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Chet Brown*
Phil Zschokke200
Nellie Perna Bartello100
Bob Donald*
Steven T. Ross100
In Honor Of

Marilyn Sutorius750
Darla Tupper3,922
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach and Thomas & Louise Phinney1,000
Polly Caddes*
Joe Simitian*
Gabby Perez & Logan Marsh250
Dr Ron Radzilowski*
Businesses & Organizations

Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Hearts & Minds Activity Center75
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Peery Foundation10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000