Holiday Spirit

Ruben Michael picks up litter in Palo Alto on Nov. 21 as a member of the Downtown Streets Team. For more than a decade, Michael has worked for the nonprofit cleaning the city's streets and plazas, which he says is his way of "giving back" for the help he's received in his life. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

Posted November 29, 2019

A celebration in the streets
Nonprofit helps homeless team members turn their lives around

by Gennady Sheyner

Sporting a yellow T-shirt and armed with a picker and a bucket, Ruben Michael and his four-person team of volunteers gathered at a Palo Alto downtown parking lot on a recent Thursday morning to start their shift.

In an area teeming with techies obsessed with disrupting the world, Michael's assignment was relatively simple: making sure downtown plazas, streets and lots are clean. For him and his three teammates, that's a point of pride.

"It gives you a reason to wake up," Michael said.

He has been at it for more than a decade, ever since he decided to drop in on a meeting of the Downtown Streets Team at the behest of a friend's girlfriend and added his name to a list. It was 2005, and his life had just spiraled out of control. Then in his late 40s, Michael had a drinking problem that he said caused him to lose his job and his house. He was sleeping in the bushes next to the Walmart in Mountain View and depending on churches for meals and clothes.

Today, he is going on 13 years of sobriety, which he attributes directly to the support he has received from the Downtown Streets Team. In exchange for the four-hour work shifts, he and other team members get gift cards for gas, food, clothes and other essentials. Just as importantly, after years of barely scraping and trying to stay under the radar, they get a sense of purpose and a community of supporters. As he talked, his supervisor, Darlene Berryessa, noted that he is now one of her best workers.

"It makes me feel like I'm giving back for all the stuff I've gotten since I've been on this team," said Michael, who now has housing.

Berryessa has her own tale of survival. Born in Palo Alto, she lost her house and was homeless for what she calls "two cold, miserable years" before she landed an apartment at Palo Alto's Opportunity Center for the homeless in 2006. Cheerful and enthusiastic, she also credits the Downtown Streets Team for helping her turn her life around.

"This helps me make sure I have food on the table and gas in the car," Berryessa said.

Since she and Michael joined the nonprofit more than a decade ago, the demand for its services has only grown, said Chris Richardson, chief program officer of Downtown Streets Team. When the organization launched in 2005, it was still possible to get an apartment with a Section 8 voucher, he said. Today, even some Apple engineers can't afford to live in Palo Alto.

To help those most in need, the Downtown Streets Team has recently revived a Case Management Flex Fund, an account that it uses to help team members pay for application fees, background checks, driver's licenses and other expenditures critical to their transitions from homelessness to housed. This year, the flex fund received $7,500 from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund.

Richardson said the goal of the flex fund is to allow the organization to act quickly and "have a huge impact with a small amount of money." He said he's heard horror stories of people who failed to get housing because they couldn't cover the $26 application fee.

"It's already hard enough to find housing in this area," Richardson said. "If you're already at a disadvantage because you've been evicted before or because you have no tenancy history in last 10 years we want to remove all those roadblocks. And if it's just a $26 application fee, we need a mechanism to do that. Having a fund specifically designed to be flexible is super cool."

First established in 2011, the flex fund has come and gone in the subsequent years, based on the nonprofit's funding levels. The Downtown Streets Team has used it to get members hotel rooms or other temporary lodgings while they transition from one place to another. Each payment is capped at $500, he said.

"The first thing someone asked for was a burial spot for $500," Richardson recalled. "They were terminally ill and they wanted something to have their name on it when they left."

The nonprofit provided the fund, he said.

On one recent morning, members of the Streets Team made their way down Palo Alto streets, picking up cigarette butts on Lytton Plaza. To downtown merchants, they are familiar faces. Some offer them free coffee, Berryessa said. One downtown shopkeeper gives each member a small cash gift during the holidays.

In addition to the camaraderie, the team members appreciate the structure that the nonprofit brings to their lives. While there are some strict rules (wear the yellow shirt; no jaywalking), they have the flexibility they need to get to doctor's appointments or necessary meetings.

Jeff Talley, who began working with the nonprofit more than a decade ago, is a Streets Team success story who wants to encourage other team members. Formerly homeless, he credits the organization with helping him look for employment and for providing a much-needed stipend, which supplements his income.

"We're here to set an example of what can happen when you get on the team," Talley said.

Not everyone on the team has stability in their lives yet. Shanen Way, who has been with Downtown Streets Team for the past four years, lives in a homeless shelter in Sunnyvale and takes public transportation to work with the team five days per week. Reserved and industrious, Way manned a coffee cart in Sunnyvale as part of a work program before joining the Palo Alto team. Despite the non-stop commutes, he called his experiences with the team "very positive."

The nonprofit tries to promote the positive atmosphere during its weekly team meetings, which take place every Thursday afternoon. Richardson said the main goal of the meeting is to hear from team members and celebrate their accomplishments, big or small.

"For someone who newly joins us, if they've been years without that type of community, their next goal could be something like, 'I don't have an ID right now.' If they get up and say, 'I just got an ID!' we'll celebrate that. Because that's a big deal for them," Richardson said.

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 11, 2021.

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2020 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy
Academic and social support services for East Palo Alto students attending Ravenswood Middle School and Menlo-Atherton High School $20,000

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

Acknowledge Alliance (Cleo Eulau)
Mental health intervention and prevention aimed at helping children rebound from adversity through school connectedness and learning $5,000

Ada's Café
Employment and empowerment for adults with developmental disabilities and an education on the potential of all people for high school interns $5,000

Adolescent Counseling Services
Social emotional support for local youth through projects like the Outlet Program, which provides support services and counseling for LGBTQ+ youth $7,500

All Students Matter
Literacy, math and social emotional support for TK-5 students in non-charter elementary schools in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park $15,000

Art in Action
Equitable art education featuring diverse visual arts curricula for 1,100 students in the Palo Alto area, 85% of whom attend Title I schools $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, enrichment and faith-based programs involving high-quality learning experienes for youth in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park $5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
Meaningful, monitored mentor matches between adult volunteers and children ages 6 to 18 aimed at defending a child's inherent potential $5,000

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

CASA of San Mateo County
Support for youth in the foster or juvenile justice system in the form of a compassionate adult advocate paired with each child $5,000

CASSY
Free school-based mental health services for students and families in four Ravenswood elementary and middle schools $10,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Legal assistance for low-income families facing housing, immigration and economic barriers to inclusion and equity $10,000

DreamCatchers
Free after-school 1:1 academic support and mentorship for low-income, first-generation PAUSD middle school students $20,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation
Support for students and recent graduates of East Palo Alto Academy through projects like the expansion of EPAA's STEM-focused Dream Lab $7,500

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation
Support for academic success and opportunity through micro grants to credentialed teachers in East Palo alto and east Menlo Park $10,000

East Palo Alto Library (formerly Quest)
Programs and services that promote equitable library access, and additional enrichment for youth, families and the community at large $5,000

East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring
Free tutoring, parent coaching, tennis instruction and enrichment for under-resourced 1-12 graders in East Palo Alto, Belle Haven and North Fair Oaks $10,000

Ecumenical Hunger Progam
Emergency food, clothing, household essentials and sometimes financial assistance for families in need $10,000

Environmental Volunteers
Hands-on science and nature education promoting environmentalism through classroom, field trip and docent-led programs $5,000

Family Connections
High-quality, parent-participation childhood education utilizing academic, social-emotional and family supports $5,000

Fit Kids Foundation
Structured physical activity programs for understerved children aimed at building the foundation for a healthy, active lifestyle $5,000

Foundation for a College Education
Academic programs that develop curiosity and resilience in East Palo Alto students, and college assistance to ensure matriculation, persistence, and graduation $7,500

Friends of Junior Musuem & Zoo
Science and natural world exhibits, classes, field trips and summer camps that engage children's curiosity through interaction with animals $5,000

Health Connected
Sexual health education support including classroom instruction, teacher training and workshops for parents $5,000

Heart and Home Collaborative
A seasonal women's shelter providing meals, storage space and staffed beds from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for unhoused women from Santa Clara County $15,000

Hidden Villa
A 1,600-acre farm and wilderness area fostering educational experiences to inspire a deeper appreciation for nature and food $5,000

Jasper Ridge Farm
Therapeutic, animal-assisted programs for children and adults facing life-threatening illnesses, homelessness, domestic violence and other challenges $5,000

Kara
Grief support, crisis intervention and education for children and adults, with free peer support services in English and Spanish $7,500

Live in Peace
Programs for youth most at risk of dropping out of school that connect them to their own talents, educational pathways, jobs and more $5,000

Marine Science Institute
Hands-on marine science curriculum utilizing a functional research ship to inspire students to become conscientious environmental stewards $5,000

Music in the Schools Foundation
Professional general music and string (violin, viola, cello) instruction for students in the Ravenswood City School District $5,000

Musikiwest
Week-long residencies for chamber musicians, who present difficult issues affecting children to local schools through open rehearsals $5,000

New Voices for Youth (Social Good Fund)
An after-school program in which students learn how to use video cameras in order to document their communities and report on issues of importance to them $3,000

Nuestra Casa
Community education workshops and grassroots leadership development aimed at increasing community participtaion of EPA's Latino population $7,500

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation
Art exhibitions, education, summer camps and other community programming serving more than 150,000 people annually $5,000

Palo Alto Housing
A series of financial workshops, action plans and invidual coaching sessions aimed at improving the financial wellness of 15 low-income families in Palo Alto $5,000

Palo Alto Music Connection
Free music lessons for elementary and middle school students in East Palo Alto, provided by passion volunteer musicians from Gunn High School $5,000

Peninsula Bridge Program
A 12-year program providing educational access and support for 690 students and fostering the confidence needed to pursue career dreams $5,000

Peninsula College Fund
College success services for first-generation college students including scholarship support, mentors, training and internship support $5,000

Peninsula Volunteers
Critical support seniors on the Peninsula, including Meals on Wheels, Alzheimers and dementia services, and activities preventing social isolation $5,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation
Community support for those in the Ravenswood City School District in the form of summer school, mental health counselors, academic enrichment and more $7,500

Rich May Foundation
A full-size, all-weather lighted turf soccer and rugby field; affordable for most, free for Ravenswood School District and St. Francis of Assisi Church $5,000

Rise Together Education
Multi-year mentoring and scholarships for low-income Palo Alto High School students and recent graduates attending college $10,000

Robotics for All
Free after-school robotics classes run by Gunn High School students serving schools where more than 50% of students are socioeconomically disadvantaged $3,600

Silicon Valley Bicycle Exchange
A workspace that refurbishes used bicycles and donates them to those most in need of transportation, independence and recreation $5,000

Silicon Valley Urban Debate League
Speech and debate programs, as well as professional access and mentoring, for underserved youth in East Palo Alto $5,000

St. Francis of Assisi Youth Club
A community-based literacy and enrichment program serving 100 second through fifth graders and their families in East Palo Alto and Belle Haven $5,000

TheatreWorks
The largest performing arts organization in Silicon Valley, offering arts education programs in schools and engaging families at local hospitals $5,000

Vista Center for Blind & Visually Impaired
Evaluation, counseling, education and training to help individuals who are blind or visually impaired accomplish their unique life goals $5,000

WeHOPE
A homeless shelter offering food, mobile showers and laundry, case management and safe overnight parking $15,000

YMCA - EPA
Early learning readiness, homework assistance, summer day camp, active older adult programming, family activities and aquatics $10,000

YMCA - PA Family
Summer academic enrichment and physical activities for first- through fifth-grade students on the federal reduced-price meal program $5,000

Youth Community Service
Life skills classes, extracurricular programs, community service days and summer camps that engage young people in service learning $20,000

Youth Speaks Out
A joint effort between students, teachers, artists and therapists to share perspectives, strengths and vulnerabilities in order to amplify student voices $10,000

Child Care Facility Improvement Grants

Gatepath (Abilities United)
Educational, therapeutic, vocational and family support services for individuals with developmental disabilities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties $5,000

All Five
Early childhood education offering equity and a nurturing environment that utilizes a play-based curriculum $10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool
Nurturing, play-based education for preschoolers in a warm and supportive learning environment $5,000

The Learning Center
An intimate, welcoming, nurturing, peaceful, yet active environment for children, families and teachers fostering emotional, social, cognitive and physical growth $5,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care
Quality care and education individually tailored to each child's development and accessible regardless of income $10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School
A play-based preschool that enables children to explore the world around them, stimulating their creativity and confidence $6,000

Parents Nursery School
An environment where families work together in the true cooperative spirit to create a positive learning environment for children and their parents $5,000

Scholarship

High School Scholarships
$8,000


As of December 1, 2020
144 donors have contributed $102,265 to
the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld

11 Anonymous3,835
Janis Ulevich125
Tess & Eric Byler75
Robyn H. Crumly*
Stephanie Klein & Larry Baer*
Sue Kemp250
Judy Kramer150
Barbara Klein*
Tobye Kaye*
Michael Kieschnick500
Bruce Campbell250
Cathy Kroymann250
Werner Graf*
Dorothy Deringer250
Amy Crowe500
Gary & Karen Fry250
Bill Reller*
Jody Maxmin*
Martha Shirk1,000
Jim & Karen Lewis*
Judith Appleby250
Vic Befera100
Ted & Ginny Chu*
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Brigid Barton5,000
Brigid & Rob Robinson200
Kaaren & John Antoun2,000
Harry Hartzell250
Susan & Doug Woodman*
Peggy & Boyce Nute*
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Gerald & Donna Silverberg100
Jan & Freddy Gabus250
Hal & Iris Korol*
Sally Hewlett3,000
Arthur Keller500
Bruce & Jane Gee250
Denise Savoie and Darrell Duffie*
Loreto Ponce de Leon100
Thomas Ehrlich500
Ron Wolf250
Andrea Smith100
Bonnie Packer100
Michael & Gwen Havern5,000
Jan and Scott Kilner500
Daniel Cox200
Patrick Burt500
Jocelyn Dong100
Carolyn Brennan*
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
Page & Ferrell Sanders100
Debby Roth200
Diana Diamond300
Dorothy Saxe100
Jeanne & Leonard Ware500
Richard A. Baumgartner & Elizabeth M. Salzer*
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
Linda & Steve Boxer*
Nancy & Joe Huber*
Steven Feinberg5,000
Jean Wu1,000
Marc Igler & Jennifer Cray200
Ann & Don Rothblatt500
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Diane Moore*
Amado & Deborah Padilla250
Pat & Penny Barrett100
Robert & Barbara Simpson*
John Galen*
Julie & Jon Jerome*
Leif & Sharon Erickson500
Edward Kanazawa200
Scott Carlson & Katharine Miller10,000
Stephen & Nancy Levy500
Mike & Jean Couch250
Karen & Steve Ross*
Katherine & Dorsey Bass500
Lani Freeman & Stephen Monismith*
Harriet & Gerry Berner350
Judy Palmer 25
Teresa Roberts500
Carol Uyeno50
Mark Cairns & Amanda Martin100
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Christine Min Wotipka & Anthony Lising Antonio100
Kathleen Foley-Hughes
  & Tony Hughes1,000
Thayer Gershon50
Xiaofan Lin50
John Pavkovich400
Cynthia Costell100
Richard Zuanich150
Neha Choksi40
Braff Family500
Jennie Savage1,000
Bill Johnson & Terry Lobdell1,000
Dawes Family250
Mary Lemmon20,000
Leonard & Shirley Ely1,000
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Doroguske1,000
In Memory Of

Ray Bacchetti200
Norman L. Frazee*
Sandy Sloan100
Lee Domenik*
Millie Fuchs*
David W. Mitchell*
Rudy Schubert50
Marie & Don Snow200
The Zschokke Family100
Alissa Riper Picker250
Bertha Kalson*
Er-Ying and Yen-Chen Yen250
Mrs. Elsie Yang200
Ernest J. Moore*
Tracy & Alan*
Pam Grady500
Lily & Philip Gottheiner*
Bob Kirkwood2,500
Our Loving Parents Albert & Beverly Pellizzari*
Boyd Paulson Jr3,000
Edward & Elizabeth Buurma*
In Honor Of

Fairmeadow Principal Iris Wong*
Joe Simitian220
Businesses & Organizations

Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,000
Delores Eberhart, DDS*
Hayes Group Architects5,000
Sponsors of Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run:
    Stanford Health Care10,000
    Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation5,000
    Sutter Health/Palo Alto Medical Foundation5,000
    Palantir5,000
    Facebook5,000
    Wealth Architects5,000
    Chan Zuckerberg Initiative5,000
    Bank of the West1,500
    A Runner's Mind1,000
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 11, 2021.

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