Holiday Spirit

Kara Spanish program volunteer Lu Echeverria places photos, candles and sweets to the ofrenda altar which is built to honor family members and friends who have passed away, during a Dia de los Muertos event hosted by the Spanish language grief program on Oct. 26, 2018. Photo by Amy Armes/Kara.

Posted December 28, 2018

Healing from a loss in native tongues
Kara provides culturally attuned service to Spanish speakers

by Jamey Padojino

Being a grief support person can be a heavy undertaking. Just ask Lupe Lujan. As a volunteer for the Palo Alto-based nonprofit Kara, a one-on-one session with a client dealing with the death of a loved one can unpack feelings of anxiety, fear and guilt.

Since joining the organization about three-and-a-half years ago as a bilingual volunteer for the Spanish program, she has become attuned to "el proceso de duelo," or the grieving process.

It's an experience she knows all too well, having lost her husband nearly four years ago to liver cancer. Six months after he died, she learned about the Spanish program through an announcement that crossed her path while she worked as a programmer for community radio station KKUP.

At the time, she felt ready to support others through their grief but soon learned she wasn't immediately ready to assist clients. Any time someone mentioned her late husband, she broke into tears. Lujan didn't start taking on clients until about a year and a half ago.

Nowadays, she regularly sees two clients — one of whom she meets with once a week and the other on a monthly basis. Breathing has become one of the invaluable practices that she has passed along to her clients to help clear their heads.

"We can build a lot of anxiety just thinking about our loved one or 'I should've done this' or 'I should've did it that way' or 'It was my fault,'" she said. After a few moments of deep breaths, they can get back on track and move along with their day.

This year, a $7,500 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund backed the training of the 18 people who serve as Kara's Spanish grief-support volunteers. From graduate students to mental health professionals to retirees, the volunteers come in with diverse backgrounds, according to Executive Director Jim Santucci. One of the volunteers was previously a client herself.

All Kara volunteers undergo an initial 21-hour training spread out over multiple days followed by monthly training sessions. They typically have sessions with their clients, which span from South San Francisco to San Jose, in either one-on-one or group settings based on an intake session. This summer, the Spanish program launched an ongoing grief support program at the East Palo Alto Senior Center that meets on Monday afternoons.

The free program was created four years ago to serve the Spanish-speaking community, which makes up about 25 percent of the population in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, Santucci said. With these numbers in mind, the program was designed not just as a speaking service, but as a culturally attuned service.

"It's beyond a language. It's really providing the service in a person's heart language and why we chose Spanish versus another (language) because we feel that's ... one of the groups in the community that really was lacking," he said.

The Spanish language lacks a word for grief, which only touches on the surface level the differences of how the culture copes with death and loss.

The program's clientele comes from community outreach, referrals from other organizations or individuals and self-referrals. Some clients are single parents or working people with two to three jobs who don't have the time or resources to talk about grief.

In comparison to the volunteers who went through the first training class in the summer of 2015 out of curiosity, the current volunteers understand the power of grief support, Santucci said. The act of providing a service in their own language has become meaningful to the volunteers, some of whom never received the service themselves such as Lujan.

The Holiday Fund grant also have assisted the organization in holding its second annual Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration on Oct. 26 that drew 50 people to its Kingsley Avenue offices in Palo Alto. The event was developed by Kara's Spanish Services Manager Rosario Puga-Dempsey, who has long celebrated the holiday that holds a personal meaning for her. She thought it would be fitting for the organization.

"This is one of the holidays we often celebrate more than anything," Puga-Dempsey said of her family.

For nearly two weeks, the organization set up an altar where community members could add to the decorations, she said. The three-tier altar eventually overflowed with photos of the deceased, pictures of sugar skulls brought to life with neon colors, poems, flowers, tall white candles in glass containers, a variety of fruits, corn and carefully woven bread — all sitting on papel picado, or tissue paper flags cut into elaborate designs, in a rainbow of colors.

The event also served as an open house for the organization with food, music and face painting for children.

Puga-Dempsey recalled speaking with a Kara volunteer who helps with the organization's English services and was attending a Day of the Dead service for the first time.

"She expressed how wonderful it was to express grief in a different way," Puga-Dempsey said.

Day of the Dead rituals can be a launching point for clients in grief support sessions to discuss the layers of their loss. In family meetings, volunteers and clients discuss the idea of disenfranchised or unprocessed grief in which people can't attend the funeral for their loved ones who died in their native country, Puga-Dempsey said. It can also segue into other losses of other family members or friends dating years back or traditions to help with the loss, such as a novenario, or nine-day prayer. The sessions also can uncover stigmas attached to dealing with loss, such as the idea of being machismo or staying strong.

"One of the things we know to be true in this work is that although grief is universal, it's unique," Santucci said. "You can't fix grief, it's not something you can cure, it's something that you can give support to."

As the volunteer-driven program enters its fifth year, Santucci aims to continue increasing the program's reach, which this year served more than 500 people through sessions with clients, community education and outreach events. Given the program has built numerous connections, he hopes to see a decrease in outreach efforts and an increase in clients. He also wants to add additional staff members.

As a grief support volunteer, Lujan understands the role in supporting her clients who at times confide personal details they haven't divulged to their family.

"It's a little hard sometimes ... sometimes the tears do come out," Lujan said about the program, which isn't offered elsewhere in the area. "What's important is how you treat someone else or how you're there for someone else."

Learn more about Kara's Spanish grief support services through a video by the nonprofit that can be viewed here.

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