Holiday Spirit

The Day of the Dead display is one of the culturally sensitive events offered to clients in Kara's Spanish Services grief-counseling program at 457 Kingsley Ave. in Palo Alto. Photo courtesy Kara.

Posted December 10, 2020

In times of grief, a culturally understanding shoulder to lean on
Kara's Spanish Services Program reaches out to those who are underserved

by Sue Dremann

When Maribel Ramirez lost her baby in pregnancy several years ago, there wasn't a program available with cultural sensitivity in Palo Alto to help process her grief.

"The cultural and socio-economic factors influence how we process grief. Grief is a difficult topic in general, but for the Latin community, it becomes a bit more challenging due to all the myths we have about grief," explained Ramirez, who went on to volunteer with the Spanish Services Program of Kara, a Palo Alto nonprofit grief-counseling agency.

Ramirez learned about the then-fledgling Spanish program in 2016 and immediately wanted to help. Today, she is part of a team of 20 peer-support volunteers who work with Kara's Spanish-speaking clients. The program added six trained volunteers this year to try to meet the need.

"Being part of Kara, and supporting the Latin community, has been challenging and rewarding at the same time. As an immigrant and as a person who had many significant losses, I can relate with some of the struggles the Latin communities have," Ramirez wrote in a statement celebrating the program's five-year anniversary this past June.

"Helping normalize a person's feelings is so powerful. I also believe that being able to speak their language provides a sense of comfort, too. We use phrases, poems and words that help us connect with one another, but most importantly, we listen with compassion," she wrote.

Since January, the program has provided peer-based and consultative support to more than 200 people. Kara used a $7,500 Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund grant it received last year to train five of the volunteers in its expanding program. The expansion is needed more than ever.

"The program is at capacity" in terms of the number of clients the volunteers can serve, Santucci said.

The Spanish Services Program was started by Maria Berardi, a Kara outreach volunteer who did research on grief in the Spanish-speaking community. She found barriers to grief support services and saw that the existing services lacked cultural sensitivity to the Latino community. Now directed by Rosario Puga-Dempsey, the program reaches its clients through partnerships with community organizations that include East Palo Alto Senior Center, Menlo Park Senior Center, Community Health Awareness Council in Mountain View, On Lok in East San Jose, Redwood City School District and Samaritan House Redwood City. Puga-Dempsey is also part of the National Alliance for Grieving Children Spanish Services workgroup.

Kara has seen "an increased, continuous need for services and even more so for the Latinx community," Executive Director Jim Santucci said.

While working to meet the growing challenge, the organization has also pivoted from many face-to-face services due to the COVID-19 crisis this year, Santucci said. In response to COVID-19, Kara is regularly conducting peer-based, one-to-one support by phone or Zoom video for its clients, including in the Spanish Services Program. It began weekly blog posts in Spanish to support Spanish-speaking community members; created a six-part video series for clients produced by the director and volunteers; presented a four-part online workshop for Sunday Friends Foundation in San Jose, an organization working to lift people out of poverty; trained seven new volunteers in an online format in September; conducted an online mindfulness-based stress reduction course for more than 20 clients and volunteers in the fall; and celebrated the traditional Day of the Dead with an altar at the Kara building in the Professorville neighborhood, where community members could pass by and have contactless visits, he said.

Kara has also begun to see service calls specifically related to COVID-19 deaths throughout the past eight months, including among its Spanish-speaking clients, Santucci said. The pandemic has stretched the agency's overall capacity, as volunteers have had to care for children and loved ones due to school and child care closures.

Kara isn't slowing down its commitment to the community, however. Santucci said the organization has a vision for 2021: to expand its services through a telehealth model during the pandemic and through in-person support afterward. They plan to hire a half-time Spanish service associate, add to the Spanish Services Volunteer Corps through annual training and offer additional workshops and education events.

The Spanish Services Program's importance can perhaps best be gauged by the words of the volunteers, some of whom were previously clients.

"I joined Kara because someone had told me about an agency that was offering a training and I love to learn so I signed up to join," Elvia Torres, a volunteer who began in 2018, wrote in the five-year anniversary statement. "To my surprise, it was a training about grief. During that time, I was facing the battle with cancer of my mother and it was during the training that she passed away. I was not sure if I was going to be able to continue, but the words of comfort and the way they welcomed my tears and gave me space was something that I will never forget.

"I have continued my volunteering at Kara because being able to offer someone a shoulder to cry on is something beautiful. It is how I can offer our community a little bit of what Kara gave me. The volunteer group is full of wonderful people that have turned into a family for me. I am grateful for Kara and for the work that we do because there truly is nothing like it out in the community."

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 November 29th, 77 donors have contributed $65,407 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

8 Anonymous2,960
Elaine Hah1,500
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Paul & Jane Millman250
Bruce Campbell*
Fran Codispoti250
Judy Kramer*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Marian Adams100
Kroymann Family250
Carolyn Caddes*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Barbara Riper*
Katherine Bryant100
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
John Keller100
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
The Dong Family200
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Andrea B. Smith100
Scottie Zimmerman100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Havern Family5,000
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Dorothy Deringer200
Barbara Klein*
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Gwen Luce and Family*
In Memory Of

David W. Mitchell*
Robert Spinrad100
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Ray Bacchetti300
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Gerald Berner300
Steven T. Ross100
Phil Zschokke200
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
In Honor Of

Joe Simitian*
Darla Tupper3,922
Businesses & Organizations

Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Palo Alto Business Park*
Arrillaga Foundation10,000
Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
Peery 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