Holiday Spirit

Ron Whiteside, right, an eight-year volunteer tutor and advisory council member for the Youth Club at St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto, helps students Kayle Manriquez, left, and Zuri Bermudez, right, with their homework after school on Dec. 11, 2018. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted December 21, 2018

A brighter future
Catholic Charities Youth Club gives students tools to succeed in and out of the classroom

by Linda Taaffe

The two portable classrooms behind St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto bustled with activity in the days leading up to this week's community Posada festival. Students in the Catholic Charities Youth Club were practicing songs and readings for the big holiday event commemorating Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem.

"I want to be the ant! I want to be the ant!" one third-grader excitedly yelled out as he prepared to read from the pages of "Hey Little Ant," which he and his classmates performed at the event.

In the adjacent classroom located across a large wood deck, more than a dozen fourth-graders gathered at the front of the room waving their hands high above their heads while singing "Jingle Bell Rock."

As soon as the clock hit 5:20 p.m., however, it became clear that the after-school club was about much more than just fun and games. The room quickly quieted down as the students found a desk, table or comfortable space on the floor to put themselves, opened their books and teamed up with a group leader or volunteer to practice their reading, writing and math skills.

For most of the students, the year-round academic enrichment program is the only place where they have access to a strong support system designed to help them overcome language, economic and other social barriers that otherwise might hold them back in life.

"We give kids as much support as possible to succeed," said Sarah Burton, division director of Youth and Child Development Services at Catholic Charities, which has operated the East Palo Alto program since 2015. "This is really a place where we can move (students) forward and help them see a better future for themselves."

The results have been significant.

Over the past school year, 85 percent of students in the program have improved their reading scores by two or more levels on standardized literacy tests, and 74 percent have improved their grades in math, according to academic information collected by Catholic Charities throughout the year.

At the start of the year, about 39 percent of students were reading below grade level, compared to only 9 percent by the end of the year, Burton said. She said some students advanced as many as six reading levels during the year.

Focused on closing the achievement gap, the nonprofit program this year was supported in part by a $10,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund. The students receive structured academic-enrichment activities with one-on-one tutoring, homework support, instruction from guest chefs, artists, environmental experts and other community partners, as well as meals and family counseling, if needed, during four hours after school every day and during the summer. The 80 to 100 students enrolled in the program receive about 336 hours of academic support each year. These services are all provided by five employees (including three who work part-time) and about 20 volunteers.

Initially launched in 2004, the program wasn't always focused on academics.

Lawrence Goode, a pastor at St. Francis, started the after-school program at the church to provide boys in the neighborhood a safe space to hang out after the community experienced a significant spike in gun violence in late 2003. Over the past 14 years, the program evolved from a safe haven for boys to a co-ed recreational center for students of all ages and then into today's accredited after-school program focused on literacy and math exclusively for third- to fifth-graders from six feeder schools in the Ravenswood City School District, which encompass East Palo Alto and a portion of Menlo Park.

"We really looked at the needs of the community and decided to focus our time and energy on younger students and closing the achievement gap," Burton said.

Studies show that students who can't read at grade level by third grade are more likely to drop out of high school and experience higher levels of poverty and crime, she said.

Based on those studies, "We see that many youth in East Palo Alto have a higher chance of becoming incarcerated than attending college," she added.

Most of the students in the program come from families whose annual incomes fall significantly below the poverty level, and about half of them are considered chronically homeless.

In addition to these challenges, many come from homes where English is not spoken, said program director Amy Hafter, who works onsite in the classrooms.

"While their parents are extremely supportive, they don't necessarily have the language skills to support them with their school work," Hafter said.

The program provides students that "little extra support to give them the confidence to be confident learners in the classroom," Burton said. "But it's not just about academics, it's about supporting this young person as a person and not just as a student. We take a holistic approach."

Hafter said the Youth Club also has helped foster strong family and community ties. Students from the six feeder schools, who might not otherwise know one another, are now spending time together while developing their social skills, she said.

Parents also play a large role in the program, she said. Those who can't afford the monthly $40 enrollment fee contribute in other ways, such as volunteering during special events or helping out in the classroom.

Hafter, who was hired this fall, said she hopes in upcoming months to partner with engineers and coders from Facebook and other local companies to bring their skills into the after-school club.

"Most importantly, this program gives children a vision," Hafter said. "When I grew up, it was a question of 'Where will you go to college? What career will you have?'"

That vision isn't always communicated to these students, she said.

"It's of pivotal importance that we give them the vision to move beyond their circumstances, to let them know that 'You, too, have opportunities,'" Hafter said.

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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

* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

43 Anonymous135,210
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Diane & David Feldman750
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Penelope Barrett100
Steve and Noel Beitler150
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Susan Levenberg180
Elizabeth Weingarten50
Joan Regalado100
Susan Kaye200
Barbara Kinsey400
Susan Thomas500
David Hoexter100
Susan Elgee500
Romola Georgia*
Katherine Jarvis250
Catherine Ballantyne*
Bonnie Berg500
Nancy Moss250
Mr. and Mrs. John J. McLaughlin100
Dr. Teresa L. Roberts1,000
Sally Hewlett Fund1,000
Peter B. Giles250
Kay Sabin*
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Gwen Barry*
Susan Yee*
Jean MacDonel200
The UMOC Charitable Fund250,000
Gavin & Tricia Christensen*
Jeremy Platt & Sandra Murphy300
Loni Freeman & Stephen Monismith*
Werner Graf2,000
Kim Harvey2,000
Feinstein Family1,000
Phil Fernandez & Daniel Sternbergh*
Virginia & Jim Fruchterman250
Karen Backer500
Christina Holt250
Peak-Filseth Charitable Fund500
Curt & Margaret Weil1,000
Wachtel Family1,000
Mary Lemmon25,000
Eric Keller & Janice Bohman500
Fran Codispoti250
Deborah Williams & Jean Luc Laminette1,000
Brennan Family500
Herbert Fischgrund100
Claire & Ed Lauing250
John & Martha McLaughlin200
Rob Colley & Kate Godfrey*
Glenda & Gordon Hughes*
In Memory Of

Kaye Kelley and Richard Van Dusen500
Don Kenyon50
Lew Silvers*
Larry Breed*
Er-Ying and YC Yen250
Jim and Dottie Mellberg250
E. Yanosh Alt20
Millie Rose Coldenhoff100
Edward & Elizabeth Buurma*
Leonard Ely500
Boyd Paulson Jr.*
Phillip Zschokke100
Mary Floyd*
Carol Berkowitz*
Pam Grady250
Lily & Phillip Gottheiner*
Kathy Morris*
August King*
Duncan Matteson1,000
David Mitchell*
Mason & Ryan*
Ian Halliday*
Ted Linden300
Florence K. Ho2,500
Mae & Al Kenrick500
Ray Bacchetti300
Marilyn D. Hansen200
Catherine Chow*
Emmett Lorey*
Betty Meltzer30
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Nancy & Robert Lobdell*
Bob Kirkwood*
Gary Fazzino200
Don & Marie Snow*
Dr. Richard Greene200
Robert O. Jack500
Ruth C. Satterthwaite*
Jack Sutorius500
The Tinney Family250
Hannah & Helen Peterson50
Beverly Aarts*
Thomas W. & Louise L. Phinney*
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach*
Tom Nolan Esq.100
Bob Merkevitch*
Bob Donald300
In Honor Of

Ada's Cafe*
Mandy Lowell*
Billee Werby100
Jill & Brian Bicknell*
Marilyn Sutorius500
Emma & Rich Pompetti500
As a Gift for

Dr. Ned Lund100
Street Cleaners100
Logan Marsh & Gabby Perez2,500
Businesses & Organizations

Packard Foundation25,000
Hewlett Foundation25,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Perry Foundation 10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run36,900
Sponsors of Moonlight Run:
  Stanford Health Care10,000
  Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation5,000
  Sutter Health/
Palo Alto Medical Foundation5,000
  Wealth Architects5,000
  Facebook5,000
  Deleon Realty5,000
  Kaiser Permanete5,000
  Stanford Federal Credit Union5,000
  Lakin Spears2,000
  Bank of the West1,500
Bleibler Properties LLC500
deLemos Properties LLC200
Johnson & Johnson Foundation1,000

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