Holiday Spirit

Paulina Nava, an undergraduate student at Stanford University, tutors first-grader Zabdiel Hernandez and helps him with his math homework at the Buena Vista Homework Club on Nov. 26, 2018. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted November 30, 2018

Volunteers work to level the playing field
Buena Vista Homework Club creates a welcoming learning environment for kids

by Christine Lee

Twice week after school, a rather mundane trailer in the midst of colorfully decorated mobile homes at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park becomes a lively clubhouse for neighborhood children.

The Buena Vista Homework Club, which started in a carport in September 2017, has blossomed into a place where Stanford University students and local educators engage academically and socially with students of all ages.

"What's equally important to the homework part of it is the community," said Deborah Farrington, the program's founder.

The club serves Buena Vista children attending Barron Park Elementary School, Fletcher Middle School and Gunn High School. The south Palo Alto neighborhood is home to more than 400 residents, including about 100 children. Between 10 to 16 students attend the after-school program on any given day.

On a recent visit, there was hardly room to walk around in the clubhouse, whose walls are decorated with bright neon artwork. Conversations filled the air, with about 10 students at desks receiving one-on-one help with their homework while others shared drawings with volunteers. Some students played games outside.

The program, supported by the Caritas Foundation, strives to reduce the academic achievement gap among young students while also occasionally hosting educational games, reading competitions and events, such as a Dr. Seuss-themed party.

This year, the program received a $10,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund to help create a better learning environment for the children, who often lack the resources of their peers at school.

So far, funds have been used to install Wi-Fi, create a utility sink for food or art projects, buy healthy snacks and furniture, and enlarge the space. Future plans include building a small play area, creating a garden, establishing shade and decorating the building's walls inside and out.

Allison Pope, a Stanford sophomore, was one of the program's earliest volunteers and now works as its managing director.

"Getting to know the people that live in this community and share their stories and hear what they have to say — and so many of them, they're so knowledgeable — it brings me a lot of joy," she said.

Since Farrington now works as a principal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Redwood City, Pope has been overseeing the semiweekly sessions. She not only helps students with homework, reading and math, but she also answers some girls' questions about puberty and listens to the daily school drama that students share.

Before Farrington approached the Buena Vista Residents Association with her idea to form a homework club, she and her husband, Amado Padilla, a professor at Stanford's Graduate School of Education, had been supporting residents in their five-year fight to preserve Buena Vista from being redeveloped.

After the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County purchased the property in 2017, thus preserving the park as affordable housing, Farrington approached the residents association with her idea.

Maria Martinez, a member of the residents association and current manager of the homework club, said that at first she was skeptical but became relieved when volunteers from Stanford, Los Altos High School and Gunn High School arrived. Soon after the club opened, Caritas, the park's management company, offered the group the community trailer for its clubhouse.

Today there are anywhere from five to 12 retired educators and students who visit twice a week. Many of the volunteers and children have formed close bonds over time, the volunteers say.

Stanford senior Paulina Nava sees enormous potential and a unique skill set in the students with whom she works. For instance, many are bilingual and some trilingual.

Over the summer, she became especially close with fifth-grade best friends Sophia and Liliana.

"I went to their school play this past week. ... They had their lead roles," she said. "I appreciate seeing young women, especially young women of color, taking up so much space."

Sophia, who was shy and quiet when she first came to the club, earned first place in a competition by reading 38 books in one summer. She's now opened up and is always talking with the volunteers.

Nava added that both Sophia and Liliana are driven academically and are already asking her about college.

"I'm just like 'Chill out!'" she said with a laugh. "But it's just really cool to see that aspiration."

One former student became the first in his family to attend college. Pope recalls helping him with his essays, talking about her own college experience and mentoring him through the process. When he went to San Francisco State University, the entire community was proud of him.

"Getting to help him with his schoolwork now, and seeing him be a mentor for children in the park and them seeing that that level of education is possible and attainable and something they should strive for is really meaningful," Pope said.

Most importantly for the program, Farrington said, the volunteers have earned trust of the parents, who have seen the volunteers' consistency and commitment and are now making sure their kids attend.

"It's very hard for the immigrant parents to help their kids because some of them don't speak English. They didn't even go to school, like my mom; she probably only went until third grade," Martinez said, adding that she herself was able to thrive academically and attend college because of programs similar to the Buena Vista Homework Club.

In many cases, the students don't have any other place to do their homework.

"In the house, there's often one small bed where two of them sleep on the same bed, and there's no space to actually do homework," Martinez said.

But for many students, the club is clearly more than a space to be in. It's a place for their potential to be nurtured, Pope said.

"These kids are so insanely brilliant, and unfortunately going to school in this district, a lot of the times, they fall through the cracks because they don't have the same support as the other privileged kids in this area, so just giving them the means —"

At that moment, Pope was interrupted as a girl called out to her, "Ally, where are the fruit snacks?"

"Check in the corner, OK?" Pope said.

"—just giving them the chance, and the materials and the means to learn and use their knowledge to the fullest is critical to this area, and to these students, and it brings me so much joy and pride to be a part of that."

Make a donation
2018 Grant Recipients

10 Books A Home
Expansion of in-home tutoring and literacy program helping parents prepare their preschoolers for kindergarten through age-appropriate books and reading exercises$15,000

49ers Academy
Consolidation and relocation to a single middle school of the reading intervention and academic support program at to help prepare Ravenswood middle school students for high school $5,000

Able Works
Financial literacy education for students at Menlo-Atherton High School and East Palo Alto charter high schools and for young families$5,000

Acterra
Energy audits and solar installations aimed at reducing utility costs for low income residents of East Palo Alto and Belle Haven$5,000

Ada's Café
Training and support of developmentally disabled employees and high school interns$5,000

Adolescent Counseling Services
Outlet Program providing support services and counseling for LGBTQ+ youth $7,500

All Students Matter
Launch of new literacy intervention program focused on 3rd-5th grade students in Ravenswood school district$10,000

Art in Action
Art education program serving more than 900 students in the Ravenswood school district$5,000

Art of Yoga
Yoga, creative art and other mindfulness activities for juvenile girls in the criminal justice system$5,000

Bayshore Christian Ministries
Academic "Create" summer camp providing multiple tracks for Ravenswood district middle school students$5,000

Buena Vista Homework Club
New homework center for elementary school aged youth living at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park$10,000

CASSY
School-based mental health services to students and families in six Ravenswood elementary and middle schools$10,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Legal assistance to East Palo Alto residents facing eviction and other rental housing problems and conflicts$10,000

Downtown Streets Team
Stipends for homeless volunteers who perform community services in downtown Palo Alto as they transition to regular employment$7,500

DreamCatchers
New system to document student progress and improve communication among tutors of Palo Alto middle school students$10,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation
Educator Micro Grants Program, providing up to $600 grants to teachers in schools in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park$10,000

East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring
Literacy evaluations for first through eighth graders in Ravenswood schools to determine needed interventions$7,500

Environmental Volunteers
Monthly public environmental education programs for youth and adults$5,000

Family Connections
Early childhood education program for parents of preschoolers in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.$7,500

Foundation for a College Education
College Knowledge middle and high school program designed to prepare students and their families to pursue a college education$7,500

Friends of Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo
Science Outreach Program providing hands on science instruction at Willow Oaks Elementary School$5,000

Get Involved Palo Alto
Service-learning internship placement program for high school students wanting to work with low-income youth$10,000

Health Connected
Sexual health education instruction in Ravenswood middle schools$5,000

Hidden Villa
Summer camp scholarships $5,000

JLS Middle School
Homework Habitat after-school homework and tutoring program three days a week$4,000

Jordan Middle School
Jordan Academic Wellness Support (JAWS) providing after-school study center for students three days a week$4,000

Kara
Spanish language peer grief support program$7,500

Live in Peace
"Gap Year Project" to guide and support at-risk high school graduates unprepared or uncertain about careers or college$5,000

Marine Science Institute
Environmental and marine science education program for low-income students$5,000

Music in the Schools Foundation
Music education in Ravenswood school district$5,000

New Creation Home Ministries
Parenting and life skills classes for teen mothers in East Palo Alto$5,000

New Voices for Youth
Video production equipment and training for middle school students at the Boys and Girls Club in East Palo Alto$3,000

Nuestra Casa
ESL classes for East Palo Alto adults$7,500

One East Palo Alto
Summer job and mentoring program for at-risk East Palo Alto youth$5,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation
Cultural Kaleidoscope, an arts-education program linking Palo Alto and East Palo Alto schools and using professional artists$5,000

Palo Alto Housing
Family Reading Club for parents and youth living in subsidized rental apartments managed by Palo Alto Housing $4,000

Peninsula Bridge
After school and summer academic support programs for low income middle and high school students with a goal of attending college$5,000

Peninsula HealthCare Connection
Health care supplies and services provided at the Opportunity Center clinic$5,000

Project WeHOPE
Classes and counseling to support the homeless in East Palo Alto$15,000

Quest Learning Center
Parent education workshops for parents of 2nd to 5th graders in East Palo Alto $5,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation
Purchase of washing machines at three district schools$10,000

Rosalie Rendu Center
ESL and life skills classes for East Palo Alto adults$3,500

Silicon Valley FACES
Scholarships for East Palo Alto teens to attend Camp Everytown youth diversity training weekend$5,000

Silicon Valley Urban Debate League
Summer debate camp for at-risk students in East Palo Alto$5,000

St. Francis of Assisi Youth Club
Meals for low-income third to fifth graders attending East Palo Alto after-school program$5,000

Stanford Jazz Workshop
Pilot of new after-school jazz music program for Ravenswood school district 6th graders$2,500

Terman Middle School
Homework Habitat after-school homework and tutoring program three days a week$4,000

YMCA East Palo Alto
Summer "Full STEAM Ahead" program for high school students, combining academic curriculum with recreational outings$7,500

YMCA Ross Road
Six-week summer enrichment camp for low-income students attending Barron Park Elementary School$5,000

Youth Community Service
Support of Summer of Service day camp scholarships, service clubs at local middle and high schools, service days and life skills programs for at-risk teens$15,000

Youth Speaks Out
Expressive arts program enabling teens whose voices may not be otherwise heard to collaborate on artistic projects with each other and supportive adults.$15,000

Child Care Facility Improvement Grants

Children's Center of the Stanford Community
New classroom tables and chairs and additional trikes$5,000

Children's Pre-School Center
Replacement of climbing structure$5,000

Friends of Preschool Family
Replacement of climbing structure$5,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool
New cabinets and counters$5,000

The Learning Center
Installation of new Nature Explore "Outdoor Classroom"$5,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care
Upgrade of outdoor play space at Barron Park Children's Center$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School
Replacement of single-pane windows$5,000

Parents Nursery School
Repavement of parking area$5,000

Peninsula Family Service
Repairs and improvements of outdoor play area at Haven Child Development Center$5,000

As of Dec. 12, 2018,
197 donors have contributed $198,275.
* indicates amount withheld

David Labaree300
Bruce Campbell200
Janis Ulevich100
Mike Gordon250
Bill Reller*
Ellen & Mike Turbow200
Xiaofan Lin50
M D Savioe*
Ron Wolf200
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Tom Goodrich100
Leif & Sharon Erickson250
Stephen Levy 500
John & Meg Monroe500
Daniel Cox200
Richard Zuanich200
Kieschnick Family*
Deborah Williams500
Joan & Roger Warnke*
Havern Family"5,000
Bill Johnson & Terri Lobdell"1,000
Mike & Jean Couch250
Tony & Judy Kramer*
Peter Stern*
Dorothy Saxe100
David & Nancy Kalkbrenner100
David & Lynn Mitchell450
Barbara Riper*
Nancy & Joe Huber100
Sue Kemp250
Richard Baumgartner & Elizabeth Salzer*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Ted & Ginny Chu*
Stev & Mary Chapel50
Ruth Hammett100
Drew McCalley & Marilyn Green100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Judith Appleby200
Carolyn Brennan*
Susana & Doug Woodman*
Jody Maxmin*
Pat Burt250
Larry Baer500
Arthur Keller*
Lawrence Naiman100
Pamela Mayerfeld100
Eileen Brooks500
Scott & Jan Kilner500
Andrea Smith100
Braff Family500
Eugene & Mabel Dong200
Debby Roth200
Phil Hanawalt & Garciela Spivak"1,000
Lani Freeman & Stephen Monismith100
Tom & Ellen Ehrlich350
Robert & Barbara Simpson*
Gwen Luce*
Robert Aulger*
Pat & John Davis50
Art & Peggy Stauffer500
Kroymann Family250
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Karen & Steve Ross*
Wileta Burch*
Mandy Lowell*
George & Betsy Young*
Tom & Pat Sanders*
Gerald & Joyce Barker200
Brigid Barton & Rob Robinson400
Jim & Alma Phillips500
Peggy & Boyce Nute*
Michael & Cathie Foster500
Diane Moore*
Linda & Steve Boxer*
Chuck & Jean Thompson100
Julie Jerome500
Bonnie Berg*
Gallo Family500
Ann & Don Rothblatt500
Caryn Huberman Yacowitz*
Shirley R. Ely"1,000
Luca & Mary Cafiero*
Steve & Diane Ciesinski500
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker500
James W. & Nancy E. Baer200
The Ely Family250
Page & Ferrell Sanders100
JoAnne N. Zschokke100
Ralph R. Wheeler300
Bert Fingerhut & Caroline Hicks250
Kaaren & John Antoun1,500
Richard Johnsson"7,000
Bruce Gee & Jane Gee250
Eric Hahn & Elaine Hahn"1,000
Bob & Dee Crawford*
Diane & Bob Simoni200
Jan Thomson & Roy Levin*
Donald & Adele Langendorf200
Irvin & Marilyn Yalom100
Brigid Barton500
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John & Florine Galen*
H. Anton & Carolyn Tucher250
Phil Fernandez & Daniel Sternbergh*
Bob & Micki Cardelli*
John Pavkovich500
Eileen Stolee100
Sallie Whaley*
Ann Burrell & Allen Smith*
Patti Yanklowitz150
Linda Selden*
Dena Hill500
Michael Patrick200
Bonnie Packer100
Romola Georgia*
Martha Shirk500
Christina Kenrick"1,000
Dawes Family250
Ken Bencala & Sally O'Neil200
Nina & Norman Kulgein*
Tom & Nancy Fiene*
Lee Zulman*
Merrill & Lee Newman250
Judy & Lee Shulman200
Donna & Jerry Silverberg100
Victor Befera100
Kay & Don Remsen*
Beth & Peter Rosenthal300
Robyn H. Crumly*
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Amado Padilla & Deborah Farrington500
Jerry & Linda Elkind500
Donald & Virginia Fitton25
Don & Bonnie Miller100
Roger V. Smith300
In Memory Of

Er-Ying & Yen-Chen Yen250
Janet Hermsen200
Ray Bacchetti250
Nancy & Bob Lobdell*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Tracy & Alan Herrick100
Bob Fenster*
David, Zoe & Ken100
Mrs. Nancy Yih*
Thomas W. & Louise L. Phinney*
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach*
Corrine Aulgur*
Duncan Matteson250
Pam Grady300
Elliot Eisner*
Nate Rosenberg200
Francine Mendlin250
Bob Donald*
Bill Land*
Emmett Lorey*
Ted Linden200
Marie & Don Snow150
Ben Barres100
Kathleen Morris*
Our Loving Parents Albert & Beverly Pellizzari*
August L. King*
In Honor Of

Melissa Baten Caswell*
Lucy Berman's clients"2,500
Jill200
Scott200
Polly200
Hayley200
Jake200
Garrett200
Gil200
Joe Simitian*
Businesses/Organizations

Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,000
Bleibler Properties1,000
Communications & Power Industries500
deLemos Properties200

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 January 4, 2019.