Holiday Spirit

Fourth-grade students at Mariano Castro Elementary School in Mountain View plot earthquakes that have occurred along the San Andreas Fault during a lesson led by the nonprofit Environmental Volunteers, a Holiday Fund grant recipient. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

Posted November 23, 2018

Nurturing the next generation of stewards
Environmental Volunteers teaches kids, adults to see a larger world

by Elena Kadvany

"Have you ever felt an earthquake?" asked Environmental Volunteers team coordinator Nancy Mayo of energetic fourth-graders sitting cross-legged Monday in a classroom at Castro Elementary School in Mountain View.

Several hands shot up in affirmation as students recalled the experience.

"It felt intense," one girl said. "I actually went under my bed."

Several other enthusiastic comments followed during a classroom lesson on earthquakes, the follow-up to a field trip the students recently took to learn about tectonic plates and quakes at Los Trancos Preserve near Los Altos Hills.

Both lesson and field trip were organized by Environmental Volunteers, a Palo Alto nonprofit that works to level the playing field for thousands of low-income elementary students each year — most of whom otherwise would only receive an hour of science instruction each week — by providing hands-on, interactive science education in local school districts, said Executive Director Elliott Wright.

The nonprofit received a $5,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund this year to support Environmental Volunteers' public education series — lectures, art exhibits, bird walks and other hands-on nature and science education opportunities for all ages.

Since 1972, Environmental Volunteers has worked to inspire in young students a passion for science and nature. The nonprofit was founded in Portola Valley by a group of women who called themselves the "Walkie Talkies," Wright said. The women went out for walks together and became increasingly concerned about the connection between protecting local nature and the lack of environmental education in schools. Gathered around a kitchen table, they developed a curriculum and then started taking students out to the Bay to explore and learn, Wright said.

Today, Environmental Volunteers is headquartered in the EcoCenter, a public nature center in the Baylands Nature Preserve, and works with 145 schools throughout the Bay Area, including in the Palo Alto Unified, Ravenswood City and Mountain View-Whisman school districts. More than 100 volunteers serve 10,000 students each year, according to the nonprofit. Environmental Volunteers also works with homeschooled students.

Greater than half of the nonprofit's programs were delivered to schools where 40 percent or more of students are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, and 43 percent were located at "extreme" low-income schools, where 70 percent or more of students are on the lunch program.

"They don't get access to the same science education nor the same access to field trips and natural sciences" as better-resourced students, Wright said.

Environmental Volunteers' lessons are aligned with California's Next Generation Science Standards for kindergarten through sixth grade. In 2011, the nonprofit launched a transportation fund to provide subsidies to enable low-income youth to go on science and environmental education field trips.

"There are so many Bay Area children who, despite their proximity to the Bay, redwood forests, oak woodlands and coastal trails, never get the opportunity," Wright wrote in a recent fundraising message.

He recalled a fifth-grader from East Palo Alto named Francisco who had seemed very stressed out, Wright said, until they arrived at the Fitzgerald Marine Preserve in Moss Beach on a field trip.

"We rounded the corner at this specific spot at Fitzgerald — you turn the corner and then can see the whole ocean. As we turned that corner and he looked out, I won't ever forget what he said. He said, 'I never knew the world was this big,'" Wright said.

The Castro Elementary School students who recently went on the trip to Los Trancos delved deeper into the world of earthquakes on Monday. The students were split up into small groups for activities, including testing structures they built from Play-Doh, toothpicks and straws on a shake table to understand how buildings can be damaged in earthquakes. Another group plotted real earthquakes of varying magnitudes on a large map of California, the color-coded pins eventually creating an image of the San Andreas Fault snaking down the state. With a third group, volunteer Drew Thompson demonstrated the impact of shifting tectonic plates using two pieces of paper and a pile of sand.

The students were noticeably energized by the hands-on activities and full of questions.

"That's what science does," Mayo told the group of students. "It makes us think about things and gives us more questions."

The earthquake curriculum is a mainstay of Environmental Volunteers but was recently overhauled to align with the state's new Next Generation Science Standards, Wright said. Another new program coming in 2019 is a biodiversity curriculum.

The nonprofit is also currently running a matching challenge grant to reach schools on Environmental Volunteers' waitlist.

Wright became Environmental Volunteers' executive director this spring, replacing longtime director Allan Berkowitz, but he's not new to the organization. He worked alongside the nonprofit in previous jobs at the Nature Conservancy, Palo Alto tree nonprofit Canopy and Sempervirens Fund in Los Altos, which works to preserve local redwood forests and parks.

The implications of his new role, however, feel particularly impactful in 2018, he said. The nonprofit estimates there are 130,000 additional children whom Environmental Volunteers could serve — thousands of unrealized future environmental stewards.

"What I've realized is that all of the conservancy wins that we have today are nothing without tomorrow's generation as advocates and supporters," Wright said, "because if we don't have the next generation with us, we'll see a rollback on every single win we've had."

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 November 29th, 77 donors have contributed $65,407 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

8 Anonymous2,960
Elaine Hah1,500
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Paul & Jane Millman250
Bruce Campbell*
Fran Codispoti250
Judy Kramer*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Marian Adams100
Kroymann Family250
Carolyn Caddes*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Barbara Riper*
Katherine Bryant100
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
John Keller100
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
The Dong Family200
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Andrea B. Smith100
Scottie Zimmerman100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Havern Family5,000
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Dorothy Deringer200
Barbara Klein*
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Gwen Luce and Family*
In Memory Of

David W. Mitchell*
Robert Spinrad100
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Ray Bacchetti300
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Gerald Berner300
Steven T. Ross100
Phil Zschokke200
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
In Honor Of

Joe Simitian*
Darla Tupper3,922
Businesses & Organizations

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