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."

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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
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EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
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$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

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Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

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Reading Partners
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$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

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Resource Area for
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$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

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Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

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Urban Debate League
$7,500

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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

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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
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Charlie Williams*
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Theradep Technologies500
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Arthur Keller250
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Joanne Koltnow400
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Christina Kenrick1,000
Nina & Norman Kulgein200
Karen Winkleman Furman & Bruce Furman100
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Becky & Ted Baer250
Xiaofan Lin100
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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*
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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*
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Ray Bacchetti300
Bob Donald350
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Michele Wilson*
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August King*
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Phil Zschokke200
Franklin Elieh*
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Robert Spinrad100
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Robert O. Jack150
Kaye H. Kelley & Richard C. Van Dusen*
Franklin*
Suman Patni*
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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