Holiday Spirit

Kevin Bac Itzep, now a ninth grade grade stidemt at Eastside Preparatory School in East Palo Alto, celebrates his graduation from Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto. He thanks to DreamCatchers from his porch. Photo courtesy of Dreamcatchers.

Posted December 18, 2020

Despite limitations, DreamCatchers continue to prepare students for high school
Nonprofit innovates to give students what they need during pandemic

by Lloyd Lee

Leave it to Sarika Lansberg to get middle school kids excited about high school despite it taking place online.

As a senior at Palo Alto High School, she too knows about Zoom fatigue and all the could-have-beens if it weren't for a pandemic. But it's not like Lansberg feels she's been dealt an empty hand — "It hasn't been too bad," she said — and she hopes to help the students at DreamCatchers feel the same way.

"I've always been someone who loves kids," said Lansberg, 17, a volunteer tutor at the nonprofit organization since her freshman year. "I feel like this is something I can do as a high schooler to make a difference."

DreamCatchers helps low-income Palo Alto middle school students get ready to succeed in high school through individualized, one-on-one tutoring and enrichment activities in subjects like music, art and journalism, through which students engage with each other in groups.

"(The) individualized approach is the best approach," said Gezel Frederick, interim co-executive director of DreamCatchers. "It's more focused and students are able to develop a relationship with the tutor, which is so necessary (because) the outcome of the learning is very dependent on that relationship."

But, unsurprisingly, the pandemic has posed a new challenge to the organization that works on a model of close, one-on-one facetime. Students can no longer meet with their tutors or peers in-person at Palo Alto High School, where the program is based. And even the outside summer programs, which the nonprofit typically offers by negotiating free or reduced tuition with sponsoring organizations, were canceled this year.

"As time went by, parents were very concerned about the students not socializing enough," Frederick said. "The other challenge is Zoom fatigue. Most of our students that have dropped out — it's strictly Zoom fatigue."

Lansberg can see it at times in Angle, the seventh-grade student she currently tutors.

"It is very hard during the pandemic because it's not like I can be sitting there with him to read books on a weekly basis," Lansberg said. "Sometimes he doesn't come to a session because he might forget or has something else going on."

Along with issues of student retention, the nonprofit's funding has dropped off as foundations have either refocused their philanthropy toward COVID-19 relief efforts or simply closed up shop due to the pandemic.

"One-third of our funding will close down," Frederick said.

But those hurdles haven't stopped DreamCatchers from innovating or people like Lansberg from helping younger students. The organization has created more resources for its students outside of tutoring and launched its own summer programs that encouraged students to engage more with each other, albeit over their computers.

"One thing we've tried to do is really expand our work beyond tutoring," said Ryan Crowley, a classroom director at DreamCatchers and a senior at Stanford University.

Outside of schoolwork, students are given more opportunities to interact with each other through collaborative online games, such as Kahoot! or skribbl.io, or simply in video chat rooms without the tutors present, to make up for missed social interaction, he said.

And thanks in part to the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund grant of $20,000 this year, students also had the chance to try some of DreamCatchers' new summer enrichment programs, including a book club, persuasive essay writing workshops, muralism projects, a journalism program and, with Lansberg's direction, Project Rise, a program to help rising high school students tailor what their next four years might look like.

Lansberg's idea behind Project Rise came from her own experience as the oldest sibling in her family, where she had to navigate all the resources at Palo Alto High School on her own or through the help of her neighbors. With her four years of experience, now she's easily able to guide her little sister and the students she tutors on what to expect when they enter ninth grade.

Project Rise simply aims to do this with all the rising high school students in DreamCatchers, diving into discussions of the courses and clubs available at school as well as sessions in which they can think about what they're interested in and how to fulfill that interest in high school.

"There are club fairs and different ways to find those resources in high school, but I feel that it's nice to have someone to talk to and talk over what you like so you don't have to do all the research on your own," Lansberg said. "When there's a club list of like 300, it's really hard to get around all of them."

At the end of the eight-week program, the students can kick off their freshman year with a familiar group of peers they can turn to at school.

"We did a little feedback survey at the end and a lot of them thought that it was really good and that they would recommend it to the next class," Lansberg said. "They also thought it would be a good idea to have one or two sessions during the year to have a little reunion."

Frederick said the organization hopes to continue to build robust summer programs in the future, especially ones that will be in-person when the pandemic subsides, by seeking more funding. Lansberg said she hoped that she could expand the Project Rise program to also focus on rising middle school students.

"We know there's a silent poverty in Palo Alto. That is the truth," Frederick said. "We only reached out to our middle schoolers, but we know there are problems beyond that: We know the problem is in high school; we know the problem is in elementary school. What we want to do is to continue reaching out to even more of that population."

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