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.

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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

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All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
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$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000

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Angelo Family Foundation5,000
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Katherine Jarvis250
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Bonnie Berg500
Nancy Moss250
Mr. and Mrs. John J. McLaughlin100
Dr. Teresa L. Roberts1,000
Sally Hewlett Fund1,000
Peter B. Giles250
Kay Sabin*
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Gwen Barry*
Susan Yee*
Jean MacDonel200
The UMOC Charitable Fund250,000
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Jeremy Platt & Sandra Murphy300
Loni Freeman & Stephen Monismith*
Werner Graf2,000
Kim Harvey2,000
Feinstein Family1,000
Phil Fernandez & Daniel Sternbergh*
Virginia & Jim Fruchterman250
Karen Backer500
Christina Holt250
Peak-Filseth Charitable Fund500
Curt & Margaret Weil1,000
Wachtel Family1,000
Mary Lemmon25,000
Eric Keller & Janice Bohman500
Fran Codispoti250
Deborah Williams & Jean Luc Laminette1,000
Brennan Family500
Herbert Fischgrund100
Claire & Ed Lauing250
John & Martha McLaughlin200
Rob Colley & Kate Godfrey*
Glenda & Gordon Hughes*
In Memory Of

Kaye Kelley and Richard Van Dusen500
Don Kenyon50
Lew Silvers*
Larry Breed*
Er-Ying and YC Yen250
Jim and Dottie Mellberg250
E. Yanosh Alt20
Millie Rose Coldenhoff100
Edward & Elizabeth Buurma*
Leonard Ely500
Boyd Paulson Jr.*
Phillip Zschokke100
Mary Floyd*
Carol Berkowitz*
Pam Grady250
Lily & Phillip Gottheiner*
Kathy Morris*
August King*
Duncan Matteson1,000
David Mitchell*
Mason & Ryan*
Ian Halliday*
Ted Linden300
Florence K. Ho2,500
Mae & Al Kenrick500
Ray Bacchetti300
Marilyn D. Hansen200
Catherine Chow*
Emmett Lorey*
Betty Meltzer30
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Nancy & Robert Lobdell*
Bob Kirkwood*
Gary Fazzino200
Don & Marie Snow*
Dr. Richard Greene200
Robert O. Jack500
Ruth C. Satterthwaite*
Jack Sutorius500
The Tinney Family250
Hannah & Helen Peterson50
Beverly Aarts*
Thomas W. & Louise L. Phinney*
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach*
Tom Nolan Esq.100
Bob Merkevitch*
Bob Donald300
In Honor Of

Ada's Cafe*
Mandy Lowell*
Billee Werby100
Jill & Brian Bicknell*
Marilyn Sutorius500
Emma & Rich Pompetti500
As a Gift for

Dr. Ned Lund100
Street Cleaners100
Logan Marsh & Gabby Perez2,500
Businesses & Organizations

Packard Foundation25,000
Hewlett Foundation25,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Perry Foundation 10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run36,900
Sponsors of Moonlight Run:
  Stanford Health Care10,000
  Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation5,000
  Sutter Health/
Palo Alto Medical Foundation5,000
  Wealth Architects5,000
  Facebook5,000
  Deleon Realty5,000
  Kaiser Permanete5,000
  Stanford Federal Credit Union5,000
  Lakin Spears2,000
  Bank of the West1,500
Bleibler Properties LLC500
deLemos Properties LLC200
Johnson & Johnson Foundation1,000

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