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, 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."

Make a donation
2021 Recipient Agency

All Students Matter$25,000

Ada's Café$25,000

Youth Community Service$25,000


East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring$20,000

Pursuit of Excellence$20,000

Ravenswood Education


East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

Foundation for a
College Education

Buena Vista
Homework Club


Community Legal Services
in East Palo Alto

Nuestra Casa$10,000

San Francisco 49ers Academy $10,000

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

YMCA - East Palo Alto Branch$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Hidden Villa$10,000

Reading Partners$10,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$10,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7500

East Palo Alto
Academy Foundation


Learning Home Volunteers$7500

Live in Peace$7500

Midpeninsula Community
Media Center

HealthCare Connection


Acknowledge Alliance$5,000

Art in Action$5,000

Art of Yoga$5,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Alta Housing $5,000

Bayshore Christian Ministries$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000


Environmental Volunteers$5,000

Family Connections$5,000

Girls To Women$5,000

Music in the Schools Foundation$5,000


Educational Center

Palo Alto Art Center

Palo Alto Chamber

Palo Alto Players$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Silicon Valley Bicycle Exchange$5,000

East Palo Alto Library $5,000

Street Life Ministries$5,000


Vista Center for
Blind & Visually Impaired

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Friends of Junior Musuem & Zoo$5,000

Herban Health$5,000

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Karat School Project $5,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Palo Alto Music Connection$5,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

Pacific Art League$5,000

East Palo Alto Library$5,000

Peninsula Bridge Program$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League

St. Francis of Assisi
Youth Club

Christmas Bureau$3500

Friends for Youth$3,000

Blossom Birth$2500

Pets in Need$2500

Child Care Grants


All Five$10,000

Children's Center of
the Stanford Community

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000

The Learning Center$10,000


HS scholarships$16,000

As of January 14th, 323 donors have contributed $702,377 to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld

38 Anonymous134,110

Previous Donors

Jlovuolo- Bhushan25
Carolyn Williams200
Lenore Jones100
Bonnie Packer100
Rosalie Shepherd100
Karen Olson250
Richard Zuanich100
Janis Ulevich125
Lovinda Blohm20
Larry Hyde*
Vickie Martin100
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Connie Fasani100
Sara Hammond100
Graceann Johnson100
Irene Kane100
Jan Thompson & Roy Levin250
John Tang*
Ed & Linda De Meo500
Micki & Bob Cardelli*
Patti Yanklowitz150
John & Mary Schaefer100
Judy Kramer*
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Marc & Margaret Cohen300
Harriet Benson10,000
The Dong Family200
Elaine & Eric Hahn*
Stephanie Klein & Larry Baer*
Bill Reller *
Bruce & Jane Gee250
Arthur Keller500
Bruce & April Robinson*
Lawrence Yang & Jennifer Kuan10,000
Richard Johnsson5,000
Bruce & Mary Beth Train1,000
Julius Guccione100
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Sally O'Neil & Ken Bencala100
Carolyn Brennen*
Linda & Steve Boxer*
Diane Moore*
David & Betsy Fryberger*
Alicia Newman250
Karen & Steve Ross*
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Wileta Burch30
Constance Crawford350
Fischgrund Family200
Amado Padilla250
Xiaofan Lin50
Neilson Buchanan500
Patrick Burt500
Marcia Katz200
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Andrea Smith100
Harry and Susan Hartzell100
Steven Feinberg10,000
Kenyon Family250
Ellmann Family 100
Richard Alexander1,000
Ann and Don Rothblatt500
Keith Clarke*
Roger Smith400
Roger Warnke300
Betsy & George Bechtel150
Tess & Eric Byler100
Barbara Harriman Spreng500
Bruce Campbell200
Phillip Hanawalt1,000
Michael Havern5,000
Sylvia Gartner100
Lisa Akselrad25
M D Savoie500
Judith Ousterhout150
Joan Jack100
Page & Ferrell Sanders100
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal350
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
William Debord2,000
Robert Aulgur1,000
Jeanne & Leonard Ware*
Ellen & Tom Ehrlich250
Jan & Freddy Gabus250
Gwen Luce*
Barbara & Robert Simpson*
Priscilla & Tony Marzoni*
Dorothy Saxe*
Kay & Don Remsen*
Hal & Iris Korol*
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Mindy & David Sitzer*
Marilyn Simbeck*
Bill Johnson & Terri Lobdell2,000
Jody Maxmin*
Angelo Family Foundation5,000
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Katherine and Dorsey Bass200
Patrick Burt500
Ruby Zefo500
Carli Scott100
David Kalkbrenner*
Nancy & Joe Huber*
Richard Baumgartner & Elizabeth Salzer*
Debby Roth200
Cathy & Howard Kroymann250
Wendy Sinton*
Linda & Jerry Elkind500
Julie & Jon Jerome*
Allen Smith & Ann Burrell*
Anne & Charlie Williams150
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
Gerald & Joyce Barker200
Brigid Barton & Rob Robinson1,000
Ellen & Mike Turbow200
Jim & Valerie Stinger250
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
George & Betsy Young*
Vic Befera100
Edward Kanazawa300
Kingston Duffie & Liz Schwerer500
Susie Richardson & Hal Luft250
Susan Kemp250
John Antoun1,500
Debbie Mytels100
Donald Barr*
Donna Silverberg200
Susan & Doug Woodman200
Pat & Rich Douglas50
Leannah Hunt250
Ted & Ginny Chu*
Diana Diamond500
Diane Doolittle*
Barbara Riper*
Leif & Sharon Erickson500
Dena Hill500
Christine Prior100
Michael Kieschnick1,000
Nancy Rossen150
Sallie & Jay Whaley*
David McCalmont1,000
Lynn Newman100
Barbara Allen100
Richard Smallwood1,000
Becky & Ted Baer250
Marcie Brown100
Ken & Michele Dauber1,000
Hoda Epstein*
Catherine Dolton150
A C & Kathryn Johnston500
Martha Shirk1,100
Ron & Melanie Wilensky500
Ralph Wheeler300
Nancy & Jim Baer*
Anne & Don Vermeil*
Joan Norton*
Katherine Bryant*
Daniel & Janis Tuerk*
Tom & Nancy Fiene100
Beth & Peter Rosenthal*
Chris & Beth Martin*
Nancy Tuck2,000
Diane & David Feldman750
Christina Kenrick2,500
Penelope Barrett100
Steve and Noel Beitler150
Diane and Brandy Sikic450
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
Richard & Barbara Van Dusen Family Fund500
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

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

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
  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