Holiday Spirit

More than 1,000 Bay Area children and teens attend camp at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills each summer. Photo courtesy Hidden Villa.

Posted December 25, 2020

With camps shut down, Hidden Villa sends seeds, leaves and lessons to area youth
Seeds of Summer program offers campers a taste of the outdoors

by Gennady Sheyner

For more than half a century, Hidden Villa has provided its young campers with a unique blend of pastoral beauty and social justice activism.

They come for the baby goats; they stay for the LGBTQ+ curriculum.

And some, like Kate Prince, return year after year after year. In a recent interview over Zoom, the 13-year-old recalled the highlight of the traditional Hidden Villa experience: the animals. She recalled the sheep ("really, really fluffy") and the goats that occasionally nibbled on campers' fingers ("But they're so sweet!" she quickly added.) and the cows that were milked by Hidden Villa staff.

"It was really nice to unplug and refreshing to be in the natural environment," Prince said.

The lessons, she said, were equally valuable. They revolve around Hidden Villa's five pillars: race and class; the Duveneck legacy; farm and food; environmental stewardship; and LGBTQ+ rights and activism, according to Brenda Jones, camp director. In a normal year, a key part of the camp experience is "reflections," a daily period in which staff and campers discuss one of these pillars and participate in an activity that relates to it.

Hidden Villa tried to stay true to its core mission during this highly abnormal year. Handcuffed by COVID-19, which made gatherings at camp both unsafe and illegal, and cognizant of the screen fatigue that comes with distance learning, the nonprofit launched a program called "Seeds of Summer." Instead of campers coming to Hidden Villa in 2020, Hidden Villa came to them.

Students participating in "Seeds of Summer" received boxes filled with 14 envelopes, one for each day for two weeks. The boxes also included journals, a variety of craft supplies and bits of nature collected from the farm.

Much like the traditional camps, Seeds of Summer tried to blend recreation and education. The lesson on LGBTQ+ taught students about pronouns and required them to create Shrinky Dinks incorporating images that they identify with. An exercise on giving and appreciating others included a mix of herbs pulled from the Hidden Villa garden, Jones said. Recipients were encouraged to mix these herbs, put them in a sachet, decorate it and give it as a gift to someone.

"We were really trying to focus on making sure the stuff we're sending was stuff that can really connect them to the farm," Jones said. "Sending little twigs from Hidden Villa felt really special."

Hidden Villa sent out boxes to 40 participants in its Summer Seeds program, said Nicky Crummett, senior director of programs. It sent out an additional 95 boxes to its three long-time nonprofit partners that work with families in need: West Valley Community Services, which is based in Cupertino; Seven Tepees Youth Program, based in San Francisco; and the St. Francis Center, which is based in Redwood City and works with youths and families in the Midpeninsula region.

The program was supported by a $5,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund. In prior years, the grant has helped Hidden Villa provide financial assistance to young campers, a key part of the nonprofit's mission of inclusiveness. This year, the Holiday Fund grant helped the organization supply Seeds of Summer boxes to its partners.

The program offered participants something a little different from the typical online offering, said Jessica DuVal, Hidden Villa's director of communication. Some organizations and campers were wary of participating in yet another virtual activity that requires screen time.

"They were really excited to have a different kind of activity because, all of a sudden, they are doing so much more than they're used to, with school being out," DuVal said. "So they were really excited also to have something that wasn't behind the screen and was a hands-on experience and a fun, different activity for participants to experience."

Prince, who has participated in Hidden Villa's summer camp programs for the past four years, concurred. The summer program did not in any way replace the actual experience of attending in-person Hidden Villa camps, with their cherished traditions, forged friendships, fun games like "rainbow tag" (to win, you have to find and chase various people at the camp and have each of them swipe you with their colored marker) and, of course, fluffy animals. They did, however, provide a welcome and valuable respite this summer.

Prince opened her daily envelopes, planted the seeds that Hidden Villa had sent to her, wrote in the journal and participated in the exercises. For the LGBTQ+ lesson, which focused on pronouns, she used her Shrink a Dink kit to create a heart, a star and a circle and turned them into a necklace.

"It was really nice for it to not be online. But I was kind of feeling like I need some person there to motivate myself," Prince said, noting that it took her about three weeks to complete all the exercises.

Hidden Villa did provide some online opportunities for campers to check-in with counselors and with one another. Now, the organization is looking ahead to the summer of 2021, when it hopes to welcome campers back to its 1,600-acre classroom in Los Altos Hills. In August, it hosted a focus group with past participants to get their feedback on the future Hidden Villa experience. Crummett said the organization is also now in the process of putting together a group of experts, including leaders in the camp industry and pediatricians, to come up with plans for safe in-person operations.

Unlike in March, when the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic combined with shifting health orders forced all businesses and nonprofit groups to scramble, Hidden Villa now has the luxury of having a bit more time to make an informed decision. Even in person, Crummett said, things will look very different in 2021 from a normal year, with limited programming, smaller groups, ample personal protective equipment and new safety protocols.

Amadeo Domikos, 10, hopes Hidden Villa can safely bring back in-person camping. Domikos, a student at Encinal Elementary School in Atherton who participated in the August focus group session, said Hidden Villa has taught her important lessons about taking responsibility and always being kind to others. She has made friends at the camp with whom she has continued to keep in touch during the era of social isolation. But her favorite part of the experience — and one she hopes to return to next year — is petting and feeding the chickens, goats and sheep on the Hidden Villa farm.

"If it does get better, I do think we should meet in person and try to be as safe as possible," Domikos said. "A big part of Hidden Villa for me is being able to go and see the animals and pet them."

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.

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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