Holiday Spirit

Darian Huiltron-Riverra, a senior at East Palo Alto Academy, delivers a practice closing statement to her debate coach, Kwodwo Morre, during a coaching session on campus after school on Nov. 18. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Posted December 13, 2019

Through the art of debate, students find their voice
High schoolers take on an activity many fear: public speaking

by Jamey Padojino

Jules Thomas has always been confident in his public speaking skills, but nerves got the best of him when he first entered the world of debate.

During his freshman year of high school, he was intimidated by the sight of people speed talking through their points and felt challenged when he faced rebuttal arguments from the opposing team.

At his first tournament, he was stumped by a question and ended up losing the match. The loss was enough to make him stop participating with the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League for a while. With his mother's encouragement, he improved his skills by watching a video of himself in a debate round and then felt motivated to return.

On the night before a debate tournament last school year, he was up from 2-5 a.m. reading as many articles as he could on the topic of selling guns to Afghanistan and Iran to drill key ideas in his head.

He was thrilled when he and his partner were assigned to argue against the issue and shocked when his team was named the winner.

"Are you sure?" he recalled asking the judge.

His partner quickly told him to be quiet and accept the result.

"I felt that victory," he said in an interview with the Weekly. "I felt like the hard work that I put into (it is) the reason why I won."

Thomas, a 16-year-old homeschooled junior, is one of nearly 30 students in East Palo Alto involved with the debate league, which partners with the East Palo Alto Academy, Oxford Academy and College Track (where Thomas attends weekly practices).

The nonprofit debate league received a $5,000 grant this year from the Palo Alto Weekly Fund to help pay for the league's head coaches, the weeklong Summer Debate Institute (at which students practiced their public speaking skills with the San Francisco cast of "Hamilton") and tournament-related expenses.

Some debate programs revolve around the goal of winning tournaments, but for this debate league, it's all about what the students gain from the activity, said Mecca Billings, the nonprofit's director of development.

The Holiday Fund has also supported the league's mentoring program, through which students visit local companies and meet professionals who tell them how debate has impacted their careers, Billings said.

A bulk of the students' time is spent on research, debates against one another and mental preparation to enter a tournament with help from their head coach, Kwodwo Moore.

"I'm not very different than the students. I try not to put myself above them," said Moore, who first became involved in debate eight years ago while he was a student at Emeryville High School.

"Public speaking ... helps to build character and strength and a sense of self in the people who do it."

Moore used his enthusiasm for debate during a recent Monday afternoon inside an East Palo Alto Academy classroom to motivate five students, most of whom are freshmen.

After fueling up on snacks, the teens prepared for a tournament at Santa Clara University by reviewing the three areas competitors need to cover within a policy debate: identifying the harms, describing the barriers around the issue and proving their plan is solvent.

They then dove into a debate in which they argued in support of a resolution composed by Moore: "The United States federal government should tell landlords in East Palo Alto not to charge more than $2,000 a month in rent to anyone."

Each student hesitated as they stepped up to the front of the classroom and carefully delivered their arguments, often looking down at their notes as the timer ticked away.

"The problem is the rent is too expensive," freshman Aaliyah Johnson said.

"We should try helping (homeless) people because we obviously care about the people of EPA," said Diana Torres, a fellow freshman.

"Our main focus should be the people in East Palo Alto who have been here for years and are struggling so much," senior Darian Huiltron-Riverra said.

After each speech, Moore cross-examined the students, who found themselves having to construct a response on the spot.

Following the debate, Moore deconstructed their ideas, giving the students a glimpse of the importance of taking notes to track their opponents' points. Telling a judge how he or she should think about an issue could work out in their favor, he added.

"Think about it like a game where you go point for point. ... That's how you win rounds."

Thomas, now in his third year with the debate league, said he has tried to get more students interested in the program, but many say they don't consider the activity the "coolest" thing to do.

"Some of my peers say, 'Why are you doing this? This is for white people,'" said Thomas, who is African American. "And I have to remind them (that) I can learn it too."

He said he has seen more people of color learn debate recently with a goal of using their public speaking skills in the real world.

"Debate is for everybody ... no matter who you are, no matter what you are," he said.

Now considered an experienced debater, Thomas, who joined the league with a strong interest in politics, has guided and related to other students who are working through their struggles as novice debaters.

"Don't worry; just work hard," he's told his younger peers. "Do what you need to do. Learn the negative and positive about the situation or topic and you'll be alright."

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