Holiday Spirit

Adriana Barajas, second from right, joins fellow participants from Live in Peace's Gap Year program, from left, Carmen Thomas, Tiani Kefu, Sierra Kelliehan, Jerni Timateo and Veshia McGee following their first day in Facebook's Year Up program, which provides job-skills training and internship opportunities, on Sept. 18. The women removed their shoes after the long first day. Photo courtesy Heather Starnes/Live in Peace.

Posted December 7, 2018

From almost dropouts to career seekers
Live in Peace programs help at-risk students enter college, find training for high-paying jobs

by Sue Dremann

Ten years ago, Adriana Barajas was not on anyone's list of "most likely to succeed." Then 14 years old, she was hanging around with gang members and bouncing from school to school.

"I come from a home of gangs and violence and drugs," said Barajas, a soft-spoken, petite woman with glasses, a keen intelligence and a solidity beyond her years.

"I got kicked out of every school I was in. I was in a probation-center school. I was not going to graduate."

But a hug changed her life.

Heather Starnes-Logwood, executive director of Live in Peace, an East Palo Alto nonprofit working to keep students in school, delivered the reassuring gesture when she first met Barajas at school.

"I see something in you," Starnes-Logwood said.

Barajas did graduate — barely, she said — from high school in 2012, with the help of Live in Peace. The organization has aided more than 123 East Palo Alto and Belle Haven neighborhood students at risk of dropping out to graduate high school through a collaboration with the Sequoia Union High School District, Starnes-Logwood said.

Live in Peace was selected by San Mateo County in 2015 to design a three-year program to engage 80 district students who were at the greatest risk of dropping out. The Students Who Achieve Greatness (SWAG) program identifies the most challenged students and uses "out of the box" methods, including independent study and life coaching, to help them graduate. The students work daily with tutors, case managers and others.

But even with the help they receive to graduate high school, many students feel lost after graduation. Some, like Barajas, have responsibilities heaped on them. At 17, she was pregnant. Her baby's father left her, and she was caring for her mother. Those first years of her baby's life were "very, very difficult," she recalled.

She became a manager at a Dollar Store, working long hours. The money was OK, but she wanted a career. She wanted to give her son a sense of what is possible — to set a good example for him, she recalled.

"So I decided to take this risk and hope for the best," she said.

Enter the Gap Year program, Live in Peace's "next step" for students after high school. The 12-month program, which begins in August of each year and currently has 20 students ages 18 to 24, received a $5,000 Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund grant last year. Students receive life coaching and skill-building lessons to help them enter and graduate from college or a trade school. They learn about financial literacy, investing and career exploration, gain computer and life skills, and discuss the topics ranging from the effects of trauma to birth control to how to date and marry well. The students go on retreats to help shape their vision for their future.

In addition, they have access to weekly counseling, reading coaches, academic tutors, attorneys and mentors in their field of interest, Starnes-Logwood said. Students are required to find at least part-time employment and must enroll in a training program or accredited coursework. Each student who successfully completes the program receives a $5,000 scholarship toward trade school or junior college along with continued coaching and support.

Gap Year helped Barajas, now 24, to gain the skills and confidence to enroll in the national Year Up mentoring program at Facebook. While participating in the Gap Year program, she's receiving through Year Up five months of instruction in business, career development and information technology on the Facebook campus, which will be followed by a six-month internship.

"I'm getting all A's in my classes," she said.

She will work at the IT help desk for her internship, starting in February. When she finishes at the end of June, Facebook might offer her a job. If it doesn't, Year Up will help place her at another company, she said.

Once listed in Starnes-Logwood's cell phone address book as "Adriana Mad," her moniker has now changed to "Adriana Glad" in the space of a few months.

"I never thought tech would be one of my passions," Barajas said. And she is learning and enjoying "the challenge of all of the hard things" she added.

"I'm a completely different person. A lot of it has to do with the support from Live in Peace and the Gap Year program. They are like the family I've always wanted," she said. "You become the person by the people and things you surround yourself with. I'm surrounding myself with a vision and goals to achieve. Before, when I was just around the negative, I felt stuck. All I needed was a new environment and I'm happy with that."

At a house on Beech Street in East Palo Alto recently, Gap Year students got a lesson in time management from Tom Tryggstad, area director of Young Life EPA/EMP, a nonprofit ministry that attends to youths' spiritual needs and helps students in multicultural communities to succeed.

Armed with worksheets, the students watched part of a TED talk by author Manoush Zomorodi on the television. Zomorodi discussed how overuse of social media and cell phones has caused people to lose the ability to "space out" and have the kind of creative dreaming that can lead to big ideas.

Tryggstad instructed the students to access a setting on their phones to track their daily use. Much to their surprise, many found it was up to nine hours a day.

The students came up with ways to reduce their phone use: charging the phone only 50 percent so that every percentage would be valued for important communication; leaving the phone at home during work hours; using the "do not disturb" mode.

Starnes-Logwood said such lessons help reshape thinking and build skills that are critical to success in college and in life. According to a study by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, only 11 percent of all low-income students enrolled in college reach graduation. But a 2014 Pell study found that college graduates earn a median income that's 1.6 times that of a high school graduate, which is critical if students want to continue living in the Bay Area.

Angela Langi, a poised young woman who studied at the Menlo-Atherton High School Computer Academy, is a classmate of Barajas. She said the Gap Year program has provided her a great support system.

"It helped me show my most professional side. I'm training for project management," she said. "I want to be a project coordinator in recruiting to hire people of color at Facebook or from East Palo Alto and to give back to my community."

Gap Year classmate Julian Escalante, who is beginning a project-management internship at Facebook, said he didn't do well in high school.

"Before, I didn't think I had much of a future," he said.

Now, he's a straight-A student.

Starnes-Logwood said the Gap Year program has a waiting list of about 50 students, and it needs more funding to expand.

Barajas reflected on the impact of Live in Peace and its programs: "I can't ever stress enough what they mean to me," 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

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