Holiday Spirit

Second-year Foothill College student Carmen Thomas works at Cooley Landing Education Center in East Palo Alto on Nov. 23, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Posted November 27, 2020

With Live In Peace, at-risk students are given something they didn't think they had: choice
Nonprofit's Gap-Year Project helps students set and achieve their next life goals

by Lloyd Lee

Two years ago, Carmen Thomas had a choice: Did she want to stay on board with Facebook, where she'd been interning to take a full-time job offer as a recruiting coordinator, or did she want to go to college?

Thomas was then only a recent high school graduate, barely 19, who'd already interned at one of the most valuable companies in the world through Year Up, a nonprofit accelerated job training program. It's a conundrum not many recent high school graduates face — certainly not one Thomas imagined she'd have when she was in 10th grade, missing classes and watching her grades in free fall.

That is, until she joined East Palo Alto's youth nonprofit Live In Peace and later participated in one of their newer programs called the Gap-Year Project.

"I didn't really care about school like that," Thomas said. "Then I started coming to Live In Peace and they helped me graduate."

The Gap-Year Project is not necessarily a job or college pipeline. On Live In Peace's website, it's intentionally first described in vague terms: "a two-year program for students to move forward together." That's because "forward" can mean a lot of things for the people who join the program, whether it's outlining a career plan, applying for college, getting a driver's license, or opening up their first bank account.

Most of the students turning to the Gap-Year Project are those like Thomas, who at one point were at-risk of not getting a high school diploma and, having stuck it out, need to decide what to do next.

"Oftentimes, they've put all of their effort into just graduating high school," Laura Gross, development manager at Live In Peace, said. "So when they graduate, they're not sure what their next steps are, whether that's college, community college, trade school, etc."

Melvishia Gaines, program coordinator and co-founder of the Gap-Year Project, who's mentored Thomas for several years, described it as a way to remind struggling or underserved students that they too have the luxury of choice.

"Carmen's aspirations now are very different," Gaines said. "She can imagine what she can be instead of just thinking, 'Oh, I need a job here NOW to take care of something.' She can figure out what it is she's passionate about."

The Gap-Year Project is the two-year-old brainchild of Gaines and Heather Starnes-Logwood, Live In Peace's executive director. Starnes-Logwood always envisioned a program to help students create and stick to a path in community college. For Gaines, she wanted something more broadly focused on life skills.

"I'm thinking about, how do they survive, period," she said.

Growing up in East Palo Alto and working in various educational settings in her city, Gaines is familiar with how quickly some people quit school due to the lack of basic resources.

"I know so many students who drop out just because they don't have internet (access)," she said.

Thus, the holistic approach of the Gap-Year Project was born. While they formulate their future plans during the two-year program, participating students are offered financial and career mentors, free tutoring services, a quiet space with internet connection, and even help applying for health insurance or a driver's license test. (Last Friday, Gaines just chaperoned a couple students to the DMV.)

Some like Thomas can also choose to participate in the Year Up program, during which time the Gap-Year Project provides weekly stipends. This year, Palo Alto Weekly's annual Holiday Fund granted $5,000 to Live In Peace to help support students in the program.

Others can even get below-market rate housing under the condition they keep up their grades or remain on track with their goals. Because of Live in Peace's housing program, through which the nonprofit subsidizes a tenant's rent, Thomas was able to move out of her mom's often chaotic house of seven children into a one-bedroom apartment for herself, paying just $1,200 for rent.

In addition to receiving those resources, the 20 to 25 students in each cohort of the program quickly start to look at Live In Peace as a second or only family to which they can turn.

"We're able to become the family and help provide as we partner with the student's parents or as we become the parents to help them begin to 'adult,'" Gaines said.

If the country weren't still grappling with a pandemic, Gap-Year Project students would meet every week, in-person, in larger group sessions to hang out and give life updates.

"When we have meetings, we just talk about what's going on: How are you feeling? How's family life? What's stressing you out?" Gaines said.

For Thomas, it wasn't long before she started to address Gaines as "auntie" and Eugene Jackson, a community liaison for Live In Peace, as "pops."

These days, larger meetings are held less frequently and over Zoom. But students still have access to one of five in-person facilities, like the Cooley Landing Education Center, called "pods." Students are assigned to one pod in order to avoid mixing of too many households and have access to internet hotspots and a quiet space to work.

Gaines feels fortunate to see that her budget for the project hasn't shrunk so far during the pandemic. But the project could always use more funding to expand its resources, Gaines said. With more funding, she would love to see Live In Peace expand its student housing programs and get a bigger budget to invest in guest speakers, who provide lessons on things like financial literacy.

"It's hard to be the life coach and the person who's doing the checks and balances for your budget," she said.

Nowadays, Thomas visits Cooley Landing to get outside her apartment, see Gaines and do her work. Last Friday afternoon, she was getting a head start on her Federal Student Aid application, an annual ritual all rising-college and college students go through with resigned sighs.

At Facebook, Gaines could have landed a position that offered a higher pay stub than any of her previous jobs at Taco Bell and other stores in the Ravenswood Shopping Center, which she started working at when she was 16. ("I've worked in every single one of those stores there, let me tell you," she laughs.)

But at her age, now 21, Thomas decided there was still a lot more she wanted to learn and enrolled at Foothill College last year. She's currently studying kinesiology and on track to transfer next year to San Jose State University.

After that, she's not entirely sure what she'll do next. Maybe she'll become a personal trainer or a physical therapist.

That's still a choice she gets to decide.

Make a donation
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 January 28th, 384 donors have contributed $742,923 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
Dr. & Mrs. Frederic J. Kahn1,000
Richard M. Glendening100
Kay Remsen*
Delle Maxwell1,000
Kenneth Bencala & Sally O'Neil100
Nancy & Joe Huber*
Ann & Don Rothblatt500
Retired*
Eric & Katie Seedman*
Mitchell Rosen50
Colleen Chihak and Joe Urbassik*
Debbie Mytels100
Elizabeth Shepard*
Roger V. Smith500
Annette Isaacson200
Julie & Dan Lythcott-Haims250
Anne & Don Vermeil*
Deborah Roth200
Page & Ferrell Sanders150
Tess & Eric Byler150
Robert & Barbara Simpson*
Denise and Jeff Simons*
Keith and Linda Clarke*
Peter Rosenthal1,000
Roderick C. McCalley100
Glenda & Gordon Hughes2,500
Nancy & Steve Levy250
Lynn and Andrew Newman*
Anthony & Susan Wood25,000
Boyce & Peggy Nute*
Maureen O'Connor150
Gwen Barry*
Martha Shirk1,200
Hoda Epstein*
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker1,000
Jack & Martha McLaughlin*
Elizabeth Lillard-Bernal75
Diane and Brandy Sikic*
Marilyn, Dale, Rick & Mei Simbeck*
Duane Bay & Barbara Noparstak150
Nancy & Jim Baer*
Werner Graf*
Alicia Newman100
Dorsey & Katherine Bass300
Jonathan MacQuitty & Laurie Hunter1,000
Bill Reller*
Edie Kirkwood1,000
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Micri & Bob Cardelli*
George & Betsy Young*
Diana Diamond1,000
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Brigid Barton 2,000
Charlie Williams*
Janis Ulevich*
Diane Doolittle*
Theradep Technologies500
Lee Zulman*
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Korol Family250
Bruce & Mary Beth Train500
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Lawrence R. Yang & Jennifer W. Kuan10,000
Harriet Benson10,000
Andrea B. Smith100
Arthur Keller250
Mackenzie Family Fund25,000
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
Susan D Osofsky Fund200
The Havern Family5,000
Weil Family Fund1,000
Gwen Luce and Family*
Barry L. Goldblatt150
Margaret A. Krebs578
Diane and Joe Rolfe*
Diane Finkelstein250
Linda & Steve Boxer*
David & Betsy Fryberger400
Bruce & Jane Gee250
Judith Appleby300
Chris & Anna Saccheri5,000
Donald Barr150
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Edward Kanazawa300
Bill Johnson & Terri Lobdell2,500
Karen A. Latchford*
Dawes Family Fund500
Gavin & Tricia Christensen*
Kingsley Jack250
Braff Family Fund 500
Jean MacDonell200
The Fruchterman Family Fund250
The UMOC Charitable Fund 250,000
Nancy Wong and Robert Lipshutz200
Ellmann Family100
Vic and Norma Hesterman200
Gil and Gail Woolley200
J Platt & S Murphy*
Richard and Karen Olson500
Richard Zuanich150
Carli Scott*
Seema Ramanathan & Arun Ramchandran 250
Gwen and Wally Whittier200
Sue Elgee and Steve Eglash500
Charles Katz & Gina Signorello250
Patti Yanklowitz and Mark Krasnow100
The Dong Family200
Jody Maxmin*
Ted & Ginny Chu*
Ellen and Ron Krasnow*
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Ed & Linda Selden721
Cynthia Costell100
Romola Georgia*
Elgin & Elizabeth Lee500
Georgie Gleim1,000
Scottie Zimmerman100
Alice Schaffer Smith100
Rob and Lucinda Lenicheck250
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Christine and Bob Buss*
Alice Erber and Robert Steinberg200
Pat Burt500
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Jean Doble*
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Bonnie Packer500
Steve & Diane Ciesinski500
Elizabeth Lee and Remington Fong*
Gerald C. & Joyce M. Barker*
Barbara & Skip Shapiro*
Dena Hill500
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
George & Betsy Bechtel200
Jonathan & Judith Rattner100
John Tang & Jean Hsia*
Joan Willingham150
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
Ellen M. Lillington200
Stuart & Carol Hansen*
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Tom & Nancy Fiene200
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumgartner*
Fran Codispoti250
Bruce Campbell*
Amado & Deborah Padilla250
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Paul & Jane Millman250
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Deborah A. Williams & Jean Luc Laminette1,000
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
Merele McClure250
Kate & Marvin Feinstein1,000
Judy Kramer*
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
David Backer500
Constance Crawford250
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Jill and Brian Bicknell300
Rosalind Haber200
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
John Keller100
Hyrkin Family500
Donna Silverberg100
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Charlotte Johansen200
Robert McMillen100
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Virginia and David Pollard125
Jim & Valerie Stinger100
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Carolyn Williams & Mike Keeler*
Marian Sanders*
Katherine Bryant100
Ralph & Jackie Wheeler 300
Barbara Riper*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Carolyn Caddes*
Kroymann Family250
Marian Adams100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Elaine Hahn1,500
Joanne Koltnow400
Joan Norton*
Christina Kenrick1,000
Nina & Norman Kulgein200
Karen Winkleman Furman & Bruce Furman100
Richard Johnsson5,000
Becky & Ted Baer250
Xiaofan Lin100
Bonnie and Bryan Street*
Denise Savoie and Darrell Duffie*
Stephanie Klein & Larry Baer*
Larry Klein500
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