Holiday Spirit

Arush Chhatrapati, 16, left, Camille van Seventer, 16, and Brendan Snow, 16, are members of the Palo Alto Music Connection a student run nonprofit that provides free music lessons to elementary and middle school students at Costaño Elementary School in East Palo Alto on Dec. 4. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

Posted December 6, 2019

Palo Alto, East Palo Alto students connect through music
Youth teach music for free to younger peers who can't afford private lessons

by Jonathan Guillen

Niki Ebrahimnejad remembers how she and the other student mentors of Palo Alto Music Connection (PAMC) used to pay for basic supplies like reeds and sheet music for their elementary and middle school mentees.

"Volunteers had to often provide instrument accessories — a brand new box of 10 reeds for the clarinet, for instance, can cost at least $20 — and music books themselves for one or more students," said Ebrahimnejad, a senior at Gunn High School and president of Palo Alto Music Connection, a nonprofit organization that teaches basic music literacy skills to students in the Ravenswood City School District. "Additionally, when there was no one to drive us (to the school), the session was canceled because we couldn't pay for paid car service unless it was out of our own pocket."

These constraints deepened last year when the Palo Alto Unified School District cut off the program's access to the district's supply of instruments after the Palo Alto Music Connection received its nonprofit status and could no longer be considered an on-campus club. Mentors like David Leland, who volunteers to feed his passions for music and community involvement, resorted to using their own instruments to provide demonstrations for mentees.

"A big part of our mission is to give students the chance to learn an instrument," said Ebrahimnejad, who joined the volunteer group as a freshman. "If they never had the opportunity to even try, the students would never know if it's something they are passionate about and/or have a hidden talent (for music)."

Founded in 2010, Palo Alto Music Connection was a school club known as Gunn Music at Costaño, operating at Costaño Elementary School and entirely led by high school students. But when the Ravenswood district revealed plans in spring 2018 to convert Costaño from K-8 to K-5, leading to lower student enrollment in the after-school program, the board decided to turn Palo Alto Music Connection into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and shift the organization's focus to Ravenswood Middle School for the 2018-19 school year.

While that nonprofit status came with limitations, like no longer being able to borrow Palo Alto Unified instruments, it allowed the group to apply for grants for the first time. And through the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, the organization was awarded $5,000 to purchase instruments for the program and to operate at both Costaño and Ravenswood Middle School.

With two violins, two clarinets, one trumpet and two flutes, the Music Connection established its own instrument inventory. The organization also purchased essential accessories like reeds, strings and shoulder rests, which their mentees cannot afford.

"With the grant money, we were able to buy better instruments for our students and let them practice and hear quality music," Ebrahimnejad said.

Now 10 student mentors at each East Palo Alto school pair up with younger students for individual, hour-long lessons once a week.

The first semester revolves around music terminology, learning what each symbol means with the goal of being able to read sheet music. To aid the instruction, the Music Connection has developed a curriculum that guides the lesson plans and keeps mentors on track in terms of gauging student progress.

The second semester focuses on practice with the instruments, and for many mentees it is the first time they get to hold an instrument.

"A lot of these students have never been introduced to music before," Leland said. "We try to make it easy for them to learn by introducing the basics to build a foundation for them to go on and join band or another music program."

Kimberly Cheadle, an after-school coordinator at Costaño, sees the impact the program has on students and their excitement to learn an instrument.

"There are musically talented students in East Palo Alto students, but it's often too expensive for (them to have) private lessons," Cheadle said.

"The kids love it. They always look forward to Wednesdays when they have the lessons," Cheadle said. "There is definite excitement among the students."

The Holiday Fund Grant helped Palo Alto Music Connection realize its goal of raising its efficiency by ensuring it has a working instrument supply for participants and covering any maintenance fees. Ebrahimnejad also said the grant gave the organization financial stability, allowing them to cover administrative expenses like registration fees and bank fees.

And that's freed the volunteers up to focus on their core mission: sharing their musical knowledge in the same way that they learned from their mentors and instructors.

"Our program is special in that we try to be the positive instructors we had growing up and be role models for these kids to want to learn music," Ebrahimnejad 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 Friday, January 13, 2023.

Make a donation
2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$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

Blossom Birth & Family$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


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


Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education

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


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


Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)

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

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000


UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000



Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center

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
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