Holiday Spirit

Ron Whiteside, right, an eight-year volunteer tutor and advisory council member for the Youth Club at St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto, helps students Kayle Manriquez, left, and Zuri Bermudez, right, with their homework after school on Dec. 11, 2018. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted December 21, 2018

A brighter future
Catholic Charities Youth Club gives students tools to succeed in and out of the classroom

by Linda Taaffe

The two portable classrooms behind St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto bustled with activity in the days leading up to this week's community Posada festival. Students in the Catholic Charities Youth Club were practicing songs and readings for the big holiday event commemorating Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem.

"I want to be the ant! I want to be the ant!" one third-grader excitedly yelled out as he prepared to read from the pages of "Hey Little Ant," which he and his classmates performed at the event.

In the adjacent classroom located across a large wood deck, more than a dozen fourth-graders gathered at the front of the room waving their hands high above their heads while singing "Jingle Bell Rock."

As soon as the clock hit 5:20 p.m., however, it became clear that the after-school club was about much more than just fun and games. The room quickly quieted down as the students found a desk, table or comfortable space on the floor to put themselves, opened their books and teamed up with a group leader or volunteer to practice their reading, writing and math skills.

For most of the students, the year-round academic enrichment program is the only place where they have access to a strong support system designed to help them overcome language, economic and other social barriers that otherwise might hold them back in life.

"We give kids as much support as possible to succeed," said Sarah Burton, division director of Youth and Child Development Services at Catholic Charities, which has operated the East Palo Alto program since 2015. "This is really a place where we can move (students) forward and help them see a better future for themselves."

The results have been significant.

Over the past school year, 85 percent of students in the program have improved their reading scores by two or more levels on standardized literacy tests, and 74 percent have improved their grades in math, according to academic information collected by Catholic Charities throughout the year.

At the start of the year, about 39 percent of students were reading below grade level, compared to only 9 percent by the end of the year, Burton said. She said some students advanced as many as six reading levels during the year.

Focused on closing the achievement gap, the nonprofit program this year was supported in part by a $10,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund. The students receive structured academic-enrichment activities with one-on-one tutoring, homework support, instruction from guest chefs, artists, environmental experts and other community partners, as well as meals and family counseling, if needed, during four hours after school every day and during the summer. The 80 to 100 students enrolled in the program receive about 336 hours of academic support each year. These services are all provided by five employees (including three who work part-time) and about 20 volunteers.

Initially launched in 2004, the program wasn't always focused on academics.

Lawrence Goode, a pastor at St. Francis, started the after-school program at the church to provide boys in the neighborhood a safe space to hang out after the community experienced a significant spike in gun violence in late 2003. Over the past 14 years, the program evolved from a safe haven for boys to a co-ed recreational center for students of all ages and then into today's accredited after-school program focused on literacy and math exclusively for third- to fifth-graders from six feeder schools in the Ravenswood City School District, which encompass East Palo Alto and a portion of Menlo Park.

"We really looked at the needs of the community and decided to focus our time and energy on younger students and closing the achievement gap," Burton said.

Studies show that students who can't read at grade level by third grade are more likely to drop out of high school and experience higher levels of poverty and crime, she said.

Based on those studies, "We see that many youth in East Palo Alto have a higher chance of becoming incarcerated than attending college," she added.

Most of the students in the program come from families whose annual incomes fall significantly below the poverty level, and about half of them are considered chronically homeless.

In addition to these challenges, many come from homes where English is not spoken, said program director Amy Hafter, who works onsite in the classrooms.

"While their parents are extremely supportive, they don't necessarily have the language skills to support them with their school work," Hafter said.

The program provides students that "little extra support to give them the confidence to be confident learners in the classroom," Burton said. "But it's not just about academics, it's about supporting this young person as a person and not just as a student. We take a holistic approach."

Hafter said the Youth Club also has helped foster strong family and community ties. Students from the six feeder schools, who might not otherwise know one another, are now spending time together while developing their social skills, she said.

Parents also play a large role in the program, she said. Those who can't afford the monthly $40 enrollment fee contribute in other ways, such as volunteering during special events or helping out in the classroom.

Hafter, who was hired this fall, said she hopes in upcoming months to partner with engineers and coders from Facebook and other local companies to bring their skills into the after-school club.

"Most importantly, this program gives children a vision," Hafter said. "When I grew up, it was a question of 'Where will you go to college? What career will you have?'"

That vision isn't always communicated to these students, she said.

"It's of pivotal importance that we give them the vision to move beyond their circumstances, to let them know that 'You, too, have opportunities,'" Hafter 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

AbilityPath$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
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$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

DreamCatchers$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
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

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

Kara$15,000

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
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

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
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

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

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

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
Retired*
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