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."

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