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."

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2019 Grant Recipients

49ers Academy
Academic and social support services for East Palo Alto students attending Menlo-Atherton High School$5,000

Able Works
Financial literacy education for high school students at East Palo Alto Academy, Oxford Day Academy and Menlo-Atherton High School$5,000

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

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

Aim High for High School
Summer academic program for East Palo Alto middle school students aimed at preparing them for a successful high school experience$5,000

All Students Matter
Expansion of literacy intervention program focused on 3rd-5th grade students in Ravenswood school district$15,000

Art in Action
Art education program serving more than 650 students in grades K-8 at three schools in the Ravenswood school district$5,000

Art of Yoga
Yoga, creative art and other mindfulness activities for more than 500 juvenile girls in the criminal justice system$5,000

Bayshore Christian Ministries
Academic "Create" summer camp providing STEAM-focused classes and activities for Ravenswood district middle school students$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
Support for Match Support Specialists who oversee and coach the adult volunteers matched with children$5,000

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

CASSY
School-based free mental health services to students and families in five 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
Funding for a Case Management Flex Fund to help team members pay for fees and other expenses that are necessary to pursue housing, employment and other opportunities$7,500

DreamCatchers
General support for after-school tutoring program serving low-income Palo Alto middle school students$20,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation
Peer leadership program to develop mentors and motivate high school students to participate in STEM-focused "Dream Lab"$7,500

East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS)
Science program at K-5 elementary charter school$7,500

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation
Educator Micro Grants Program, providing $600 grants to Ravenswood school district teachers for classroom supplies and field trips$10,000

East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring
Development of math tutoring curriculum for underperforming 1st to 8th graders$10,000

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

Family Connections
Early childhood education program supporting parents of preschoolers through 3rd grade in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.$5,000

Fit Kids Foundation
Physical activity program for children 4-13 in East Palo Alto$5,000

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 in Ravenswood school district$5,000

Get Involved Palo Alto
Service-learning internship placement program for high school students wanting to work with low-income youth$5,000

Hidden Villa
Summer camp scholarships$5,000

Jasper Ridge Farm
Farm animal visits to Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Kara
Spanish language grief support program$7,500

KIPP Valiant Community Prep
Mental health counseling services at public charter school in East Palo Alto$3,000

La Comida
Support for newly opened downtown senior lunch 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$7,500

Marine Science Institute
Underwriting of environmental and marine science education program for K-12 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

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

Palo Alto Housing
Workshops for high school students and parents residing in subsidized housing on college and career options and financial planning$5,000

Palo Alto Music Connection
Volunteer student-run group providing free music lessons to Ravenswood middle school students$5,000

Peninsula HealthCare Connection
Mobile "Backpack Medicine" program to reach area homeless who need but do not seek out medical care$7,500

Peninsula Volunteers
Meals on Wheels program serving 13,000 meals to low-income clients in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park$5,000

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

Ravenswood Education Foundation
Purchase of school uniforms and other clothing for homeless and low-income students in Ravenswood school district$7,500

Rebuilding Together Peninsula
Safe at Home home repair program serving low-income home owners in East Palo Alto$5,000

Silicon Valley Urban Debate League
After school debate program at East Palo Alto Academy, Oxford Day Academy and College Track and Summer Debate Institute$5,000

St. Elizabeth Seton School
New and updated science text books for K-5 classrooms$10,000

St. Francis of Assisi Youth Club
After school literacy and enrichment program for 3rd through 5th graders in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park$5,000

TheatreWorks
TheatreWorks for Schools arts education program for grades K-12$5,000

YMCA East Palo Alto
Summer "Full STEAM Ahead" program for high school students, combining academic curriculum with recreational outings$10,000

YMCA Ross Road
Five-week summer enrichment camp for low-income elementary school students who are required to attend PAUSD summer 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$20,000

Youth Speaks Out
Expressive arts program enabling marginalized teens whose voices may not be otherwise heard to collaborate on artistic projects with each other and supportive adults.$12,000

Child Care Facility Improvement Grants

Friends of Preschool Family
Playground improvements, including outdoor musical instruments and raised planting bed$5,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool
Raised planter boxes and new irrigation system in play yard$5,000

The Learning Center
Continued construction of outdoor classroom, including water table, raised beds and outdoor musical instruments$5,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care
Outdoor garden learning classroom at Thacher Children's Center$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School
Outdoor teacher work station$5,000

Parents Nursery School
Maintenance of outdoor play structures, including replacement of old tires with building blocks$5,000

As of Jan 8, 2019,
370 donors have contributed $401,365.
* indicates amount withheld

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Spreng Family200
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Thomas Rindfleisch*
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Weil Family1,000
Epstein Family500
Kenyon Family500
Ellmann Family100
Helene Pier*
David & Virginia Pollard150
Diane Finkelstein200
Elizabeth Shepard*
Nancy Moss*
Rita Vrhel300
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Alice Evarts500
Carol O'Neill25
Reed Content200
Nancy Peterson100
Joanne Koltnow100
Susan Elgee & Steve Eglash500
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Werner Graf*
Vincent Steckler500
Norm & Nancy Rossen*
Debra Satz & Don Barr*
John & Lynn Wiese150
Lawrence Yang & Jennifer Kuan1,000
Delle Maxwelll2,500
Steve & Gayle Brugler1,000
Andy & Eva Dobrov150
Kate & Marvin Feinstein200
Scott Pearson500
Marilyn, Dale, Rick & Mei Simbeck*
Bruce & Mary Beth Train250
Sherry Brown250
Charlie Williams125
Jonathan Macquitty & Laurie Hunter1,000
Gavin & Patricia Christensen*
Ralph Britton200
Barbara Allen100
Veronica Tincher*
Kay Sabin*
Leannah Hunt250
Marilee & Sam Anderson100
Chen & Lee Family300
Teresa Roberts1,000
Mr. & Mrs. John J. McLaughlin100
Ellen King200
Patricia Levin100
Joan Norton*
Susan Bartalo & David Fischer150
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*
Julia Schwartz*
Lee Domenik*
Marts Beekley, M.D.*
Margaret McAvity - "Granny"*
Carol Berkowitz*
Don Kenyon100
Judge Bart Phelps*
Ernest J. Moore200
Jacques, Nancy, Wanda & Jimmy George*
Sally Landy & Betty Meltzer50
Mary Floyd & Susan Thomas50
Jack Sutorius300
Jim & Dottie Mellberg200
Robert Spinrad*
Boyd Paulson Jr.*
Edward & Elizabeth Buurma*
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David Mitchell200
Gary A Fry250
Lindsey Draper100
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Bob Markevitch*
Tinney Family250
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In Honor Of

Melissa Baten Caswell*
Lucy Berman's clients2,500
Jill200
Scott200
Polly200
Hayley200
Jake200
Garrett200
Gil200
Joe Simitian*
Marilyn Sutorius300
Physicians, Kaiser RWC*
Shapiro Family500
As a Gift For

Logan Marsh & Gabby Perez1,000
Businesses/Organizations

Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run & Walk69,110
Sponsors of Moonlight Run
    Stanford Hospital & Clinics10,000
    Wilson Rosati Goodrich & Rosati Foundation5,000
    Palo Alto Medical Foundation5,000
    Stanford Federal Credit Union5,000
    Palantir5,000
    DeLeon Realty5,000
    Wealth Architects5,000
    Facebook5,000
    Kaiser Permanente5,000
    Lakin Spears2,000
    Bank of the West1,000
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,000
Bleibler Properties1,000
Communications & Power Industries500
deLemos Properties200
Palo Alto Business Park*
Peery Foundation10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000