Holiday Spirit

Kara Spanish program volunteer Lu Echeverria places photos, candles and sweets to the ofrenda altar which is built to honor family members and friends who have passed away, during a Dia de los Muertos event hosted by the Spanish language grief program on Oct. 26, 2018. Photo by Amy Armes/Kara.

Posted December 28, 2018

Healing from a loss in native tongues
Kara provides culturally attuned service to Spanish speakers

by Jamey Padojino

Being a grief support person can be a heavy undertaking. Just ask Lupe Lujan. As a volunteer for the Palo Alto-based nonprofit Kara, a one-on-one session with a client dealing with the death of a loved one can unpack feelings of anxiety, fear and guilt.

Since joining the organization about three-and-a-half years ago as a bilingual volunteer for the Spanish program, she has become attuned to "el proceso de duelo," or the grieving process.

It's an experience she knows all too well, having lost her husband nearly four years ago to liver cancer. Six months after he died, she learned about the Spanish program through an announcement that crossed her path while she worked as a programmer for community radio station KKUP.

At the time, she felt ready to support others through their grief but soon learned she wasn't immediately ready to assist clients. Any time someone mentioned her late husband, she broke into tears. Lujan didn't start taking on clients until about a year and a half ago.

Nowadays, she regularly sees two clients — one of whom she meets with once a week and the other on a monthly basis. Breathing has become one of the invaluable practices that she has passed along to her clients to help clear their heads.

"We can build a lot of anxiety just thinking about our loved one or 'I should've done this' or 'I should've did it that way' or 'It was my fault,'" she said. After a few moments of deep breaths, they can get back on track and move along with their day.

This year, a $7,500 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund backed the training of the 18 people who serve as Kara's Spanish grief-support volunteers. From graduate students to mental health professionals to retirees, the volunteers come in with diverse backgrounds, according to Executive Director Jim Santucci. One of the volunteers was previously a client herself.

All Kara volunteers undergo an initial 21-hour training spread out over multiple days followed by monthly training sessions. They typically have sessions with their clients, which span from South San Francisco to San Jose, in either one-on-one or group settings based on an intake session. This summer, the Spanish program launched an ongoing grief support program at the East Palo Alto Senior Center that meets on Monday afternoons.

The free program was created four years ago to serve the Spanish-speaking community, which makes up about 25 percent of the population in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, Santucci said. With these numbers in mind, the program was designed not just as a speaking service, but as a culturally attuned service.

"It's beyond a language. It's really providing the service in a person's heart language and why we chose Spanish versus another (language) because we feel that's ... one of the groups in the community that really was lacking," he said.

The Spanish language lacks a word for grief, which only touches on the surface level the differences of how the culture copes with death and loss.

The program's clientele comes from community outreach, referrals from other organizations or individuals and self-referrals. Some clients are single parents or working people with two to three jobs who don't have the time or resources to talk about grief.

In comparison to the volunteers who went through the first training class in the summer of 2015 out of curiosity, the current volunteers understand the power of grief support, Santucci said. The act of providing a service in their own language has become meaningful to the volunteers, some of whom never received the service themselves such as Lujan.

The Holiday Fund grant also have assisted the organization in holding its second annual Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration on Oct. 26 that drew 50 people to its Kingsley Avenue offices in Palo Alto. The event was developed by Kara's Spanish Services Manager Rosario Puga-Dempsey, who has long celebrated the holiday that holds a personal meaning for her. She thought it would be fitting for the organization.

"This is one of the holidays we often celebrate more than anything," Puga-Dempsey said of her family.

For nearly two weeks, the organization set up an altar where community members could add to the decorations, she said. The three-tier altar eventually overflowed with photos of the deceased, pictures of sugar skulls brought to life with neon colors, poems, flowers, tall white candles in glass containers, a variety of fruits, corn and carefully woven bread — all sitting on papel picado, or tissue paper flags cut into elaborate designs, in a rainbow of colors.

The event also served as an open house for the organization with food, music and face painting for children.

Puga-Dempsey recalled speaking with a Kara volunteer who helps with the organization's English services and was attending a Day of the Dead service for the first time.

"She expressed how wonderful it was to express grief in a different way," Puga-Dempsey said.

Day of the Dead rituals can be a launching point for clients in grief support sessions to discuss the layers of their loss. In family meetings, volunteers and clients discuss the idea of disenfranchised or unprocessed grief in which people can't attend the funeral for their loved ones who died in their native country, Puga-Dempsey said. It can also segue into other losses of other family members or friends dating years back or traditions to help with the loss, such as a novenario, or nine-day prayer. The sessions also can uncover stigmas attached to dealing with loss, such as the idea of being machismo or staying strong.

"One of the things we know to be true in this work is that although grief is universal, it's unique," Santucci said. "You can't fix grief, it's not something you can cure, it's something that you can give support to."

As the volunteer-driven program enters its fifth year, Santucci aims to continue increasing the program's reach, which this year served more than 500 people through sessions with clients, community education and outreach events. Given the program has built numerous connections, he hopes to see a decrease in outreach efforts and an increase in clients. He also wants to add additional staff members.

As a grief support volunteer, Lujan understands the role in supporting her clients who at times confide personal details they haven't divulged to their family.

"It's a little hard sometimes ... sometimes the tears do come out," Lujan said about the program, which isn't offered elsewhere in the area. "What's important is how you treat someone else or how you're there for someone else."

Learn more about Kara's Spanish grief support services through a video by the nonprofit that can be viewed here.

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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 February 2nd, 385 donors have contributed $743,923 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

58 Anonymous137,070
Lani Freeman & Stephen Monismith*
Veronica Tincher*
Janice & Walter Sedriks100
Rob Colley & Kate Godfrey100
Wachtel Family1,000
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Kim Harvey1,000
Richard M. Glendening100
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Kenneth Bencala & Sally O'Neil100
Nancy & Joe Huber*
Ann & Don Rothblatt500
Retired*
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Mitchell Rosen50
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Debbie Mytels100
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Deborah Roth200
Page & Ferrell Sanders150
Tess & Eric Byler150
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Nancy & Steve Levy250
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Charlie Williams*
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Theradep Technologies500
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Korol Family250
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Lawrence R. Yang & Jennifer W. Kuan10,000
Harriet Benson10,000
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Arthur Keller250
Mackenzie Family Fund25,000
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Susan D Osofsky Fund200
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Weil Family Fund1,000
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Kroymann Family250
Marian Adams100
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Joanne Koltnow400
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Christina Kenrick1,000
Nina & Norman Kulgein200
Karen Winkleman Furman & Bruce Furman100
Richard Johnsson5,000
Becky & Ted Baer250
Xiaofan Lin100
Bonnie and Bryan Street*
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Marvin & Kate Feinstein500
Carol & Hal Louchheim400
Leonard & Mary Jo Levy150
Katherine L. Hunt400
Ajit Bhave & Manisha Kulshrestha500
Bill and Susan Beall *
Eric Keller and Janice Bohman*
Linda& Jerry Elkind*
Tony & Kathleen Hughes1,000
Leanne and Peter Giles100
Barbara Allen100
Dukovic and Frommer Charitable Fund100
John B. Florine Galen*
Diane Moore*
The Ely Family500
Scott & Sandra Pearson500
Trish Bubenik*
Eric & Linda Jensen250
Vic Befera 100
Mindy & David Sitzer*
David Kalkbrenner*
Rosalie Shepherd100
Kay Sabin*
George & Dianna Richardson250
Dr. Teresa L. Roberts1,000
In Memory Of

Margarot T. Hanks200
Florence K. Ho2,500
Carol Berkowitz*
Bill Land100
Marilyn Hansen*
Betty Meltzer50
Bertha Kalson*
Boyd Paulson Jr.3,000
Alan & Tracy *
Dr. David Zlotnick*
Paul Seaver*
Nate Rosenberg100
Kathy Morris1,500
Jeffrey David Tuerk*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Chet Brown*
Andre Jones *
Mary Floyd50
Mr. & Mrs. Ray Tinney200
Nellie Perna Bartello100
Mason & Ryan*
Mary & Emmet Lorey*
Ian Halliday250
David Sager100
Ruth Satterthwaite*
Marie and Don Snow200
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Beverly Aarts*
Ted Linden200
Philip M. Stein*
Jack Sutorius750
Walter Dean*
Rabbi Sidney and Marjorie Akselrad *
Gary Zweig500
Karl Knapp500
Bob Donald*
Aaron O’Neill*
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Zorro*
Shiela Mandoli*
J Norman Rossen*
Shiela Mandoli 100
Edward and Elizabeth Buurma*
Elizabeth and Edward Buurma*
Bob Markevitch100
Ray Bacchetti300
Bob Donald350
Steven T. Ross100
Leonard Ware*
Michele Wilson*
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Gerald Berner300
August King*
Bob Simoni500
Phil Zschokke200
Franklin Elieh*
Mary Alice Carpenter Pearson50
Robert Spinrad100
David W. Mitchell*
Samuel Benjamin Kurland300
Robert O. Jack150
Kaye H. Kelley & Richard C. Van Dusen*
Franklin*
Suman Patni*
Patricia A. Popp*
Duncan Matteson1,000
Maureen Martin*
Pam Grady250
In Honor Of

Dr Ron Radzilowski*
Marie Wolbach50
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach and Thomas & Louise Phinney1,000
Darla Tupper3,922
Marilyn Sutorius750
Joe Simitian*
Lee Zulman96
Polly Caddes*
Gabby Perez & Logan Marsh250
Liz Kniss250
Georgia Lee*
Barbara Zimmer and Kevin Mayer150
Businesses & Organizations

Delores Eberhart DDS*
Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
soccermoviemom.com150
Palo Alto Business Park*
Arrillaga Foundation10,000
Leannah Hunt Realtor250
Peery Foundation10,000
Hearts & Minds Activity Center75
Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run67,893
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Hewlett Foundation25,000
Packard Foundation25,000
Communications & Power Industries LLC*
McCalmont Engineering2,500

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