News

Donations pour in to thank Palo Alto track guards

Social-media post helps raise thousands of dollars in days

An effort to thank the security guards who stand watch at several Palo Alto train crossings started as a hopeful Facebook post and ended in a group of community members raising almost $4,000 in less than a week.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, mother of two Palo Alto students and former longtime Stanford University dean of freshmen, felt the pull to do something to express her gratitude while driving by a guard on a rainy evening last week.

"It was dark, cold and raining and there this man stood under an umbrella," she remembered. "I just felt this emotion rise in my chest. I cranked down my window and shouted, 'Thanks,' but by the time I got to the end of the word, my voice was already cracking. In some ways, the raw humanity of the entire situation was on display somehow. I just thought, 'Here I am in my car, warm and dry, making my way across these train tracks,' and I just wanted to do something."

So she took to Facebook, as she often does to share her opinion and connect with others on current events and important issues, and put forth the idea of collecting money to purchase gift cards for the 11 guards, who in shifts stand seven days a week at several Palo Alto train crossings.

The guards are employed by a private security firm and contracted through the Palo Alto Police Department as part of Track Watch, which was created after several suicides in 2009 and 2010. The guards' presence was increased this year after two young men died in October and November.

Lythcott-Haims posted her query on Facebook shortly before dinner on Monday, Dec. 15, asking people to spread the word to other networks and communities – and it did so quickly. Before she went to bed, she had received $800. When she woke up Tuesday morning, the total had jumped to $1,200. People started sending her money electronically on PayPal, VenMo and Square as well as cards with checks in the mail. She planned to use the money to purchase Visa gift cards for the guards, leaving the use of the money up to them, and wanted to be able to give the gifts by this Monday, Dec. 22, before the holidays.

Lythcott-Haims talked to the police department and the security firm to let them know her plans and make sure it was appropriate, she said.

On Sunday evening, she had raised $3,752 – just short of being able to give each guard a $350 gift card. Lythcott-Haims reached out to a woman who, along with her initial donation of $100, had told Lythcott-Haims, "Let me know if you need help topping it off." Lythcott-Haims did, and the woman did.

Fast forward through a small fiasco over buying that many Visa gift cards in one sitting, and Lythcott-Haims had a $350 gift card to Target, along with a letter of thanks, for each guard. Donations from 74 people ranged from $5 to one woman, whom Lythcott-Haims didn't know before this, who gave $600. One person contributed packs of hand warmers.

"I think we all want to be out there," Lythcott-Haims said. "We all want to be out there preventing any child, anyone from deciding that that's the only option. Practically speaking, we can't all be out there, and thankfully the police department has hired a set of people to do this work, but I think we feel a level of indebtedness to them that can never be repaid."

Lythcott-Haims' initial Facebook Dec. 15 post garnered more than 250 likes and 65 comments and has been shared more than 20 times.

"This was a small way in which people could come together and join forces and feel that we're doing something, we're acknowledging a problem and expressing gratitude for one element of the solution, which is not to say this is the only solution," she said. "I think many of us know how important it is to express gratitude for the efforts made around us."

Lythcott-Haims returned to Facebook on Monday to announce that she would be presenting the gifts that afternoon to the lead Track Watch guard, Derrick, who asked his last name not be published. Ten people – including Lythcott-Haims' 75-year-old mother and two former Stanford students – showed up.

"That was lovely," Derrick told the Weekly Tuesday. "I know everybody appreciated that. You can't beat that. Normally, you would see somebody get a $20 or $50 gift, but when you (give) that amount -- that will definitely make everybody stand on their toes. We appreciate it to the fullest, too."

Derrick and other guards said people will often bring them coffee or food, but this gift went above and beyond.

Stanley Cortez said he thought Derrick was joking when he said a $350 gift card would be waiting for him at work this week.

"It's a good feeling, you know what I mean?" Cortez said.

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 23, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Dear online readers,

Thanks to Julie for her big, warm heart in expressing her gratitude. Deepest thanks to our police officers and to the security guards, for being our sentinels out there in the cold and the dark.

As a former Gunn English teacher, and a TrackWatch volunteer in 2010, I'd like to offer an additional way for everyone to help.

Right now, a grassroots initiative called "Save the 2,008" is before the Palo Alto public—offering a clear and sensible path toward a healthier, happier life at Gunn High.

Announced last month to the School Board and in the "Weekly," led by Gunn sophomore Martha Cabot and former Gunn English teacher Marc Vincenti, "Save the 2,008" sets forth six common-sense, concrete steps—things that can be done almost immediately—that would ease the pressures of nightly homework, course loads, cheating, sleep-deprivation, distraction and bullying, class sizes, and relentless grading.

Details are on our website: www.savethe2008.com

Don't just talk or write. TAKE ACTION.


5 people like this
Posted by not on Facebook
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 23, 2014 at 5:27 pm

realize you cut out a segment of the population by using Facebook. As a privacy advocate, I object to Facebook and would donate to this cause but won't be reached by any fb campaign.


4 people like this
Posted by Former-GI
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 23, 2014 at 5:59 pm

What about our GIs who are stationed in possibly 150 countries around the world? They might appreciate a little thank you at Christmas time, too!


6 people like this
Posted by Keri
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 23, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Thank you so much Julie for taking charge of this! What a wonderful way to show the guards how much this community appreciates their presence.


10 people like this
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 24, 2014 at 10:28 am

I hope nearby neighbors will drop off hot Christmas dinners and lunches for them, too. In the interest of their health and the prospects of more cold, rainy days and nights, I urge the city or their employer to provide some form of shelter and warmth. To be effective their presence needs to be obvious/visbile, but it would be nice to have more than an umbrella and warm raincoat for protection....I dont have a solution but public safety experts must know the best practice for this situation so important during the holidays. I would be glad to help if I know what could be done. Those of us with military service know what is like to stand watch during terrible weather.


3 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 25, 2014 at 10:54 am

What a disturbing reality in my hometown, this is a display of utter helplessness in the face of extreme crisis. Everyone should know that policing will not solve this problem, but that's the best we can come up with. For a town that is so educated and that puts such a high emphasis on higher learning it can't come up with real solutions, it resorts to throwing money at the problem. Because money solves everything, doesn't it?


3 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 25, 2014 at 11:26 am

God bless the guards for the important work they do. No, it is not the perfect solution. But not another precious life should be lost on those tracks or anywhere else. Yes, God bless all the military and police as well. It is sad that the guards are needed, but they are needed. May the students learn that their lives are far more important than wealth and fame. But if they do become wealthy, may they share the blessing with those who are less fortunate. Yes, i agree that the minds in Palo Alto can think of ways to confront and battle depression and hopelessness. But people can never solve the problems of the mind and heart unless they turn to God. So may God help us all to teach the children that God loves them and cares about them.


4 people like this
Posted by Feeling good isn't doing good
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm

God has very little to do with teen suicide. It's not god we should be beseeching it's the school board which has never implemented Project Safety Net p8, allows teachers to ignore it's homework policy, and basically just doesn't care to make any reforms. Ken Dauber is only one guy he can't do it alone. Gift cards for security guards are a feel good idea that make YOU feel like you are doing something when actually you are doing nothing. How about less homework and more school counseling, where are all the volunteers for that ?


Like this comment
Posted by Daniel
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 25, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Do not get it wrong, I respect what those poor chaps are there for. It is sweet to give them a gift for Christmas.
On the other hand, no matter how you look at it, the way we are trying to deal with the crisis is ridiculous. Thanks to Marc, this post is the first time that I came across the 2,008 initiative. Finally! Go to the root cause, not try to catch them before they hit the ground. Break the stonewalling and closing ranks; speak honestly what happened and why. That may help, not guarding the rails.

By the way (not a snotty comment but an actual question), how many suicides did the guards help to prevent?


2 people like this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 25, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Thank you so much Ms. Lythcott-Haims. What a great idea. I too rolled down my car window and expressed gratitude to the guard. Then I thought of bringing cookies and/or hot coffee, which I did not do. Good thing the world has people like Ms. Lythcott-Haims. I didn't know about the Facebook thing.


Like this comment
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 25, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Readers have commented saying or implying that the guarding of the tracks is the only solution. Palo Alto Unified and the high-schools have put many programs in place and changed much. It seemed to be working as there are fewer suicides now.


Like this comment
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 26, 2014 at 1:54 am

ChrisC is a registered user.

Curious..why were they not given the cash instead of assuming and abetting consumerism? Maybe they needed help paying rent or buying food.


1 person likes this
Posted by Failed system
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2014 at 2:17 am

So sad that we think fewer suicides spell success. One is too many for a school year and indicates a failed school system. I'm not on board with watching train tracks or raising a bit of money to ease a guilty conscience.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 26, 2014 at 9:02 am

Anyone who solely blames the "failed school system" is ignorant to the larger issues of student mental health.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 26, 2014 at 9:44 am

Have the guards prevented any suicides?


Like this comment
Posted by Whack-a-mole
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 26, 2014 at 9:54 am

But now there seems to be a need for guards at other crossings.


1 person likes this
Posted by Zee goggles do nothing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2014 at 4:52 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Martha
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 26, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Bravo to Julie for spearheading this effort! I have taken the guards lunch and snacks, but giving them what amounts to a week's pay is so much more meaningful. FYI, they earn $9 an hour, and they are not allowed to even read while on duty (it has to be one of the most boring and lonely jobs out there). Their bathroom breaks are few and far between and depend on the kindness of local business owners. The recent rains have made their jobs especially difficult. I urge everyone who walks or drives across the tracks regularly to stop and extend your gratitude. These are low-wage workers who generally live in other communities and rise in the middle of the night to be on duty at 4:45 a.m. (or, for those on the second shift, go home to their families after the 2 a.m. freight train).


1 person likes this
Posted by Change Starts At Home
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 26, 2014 at 6:52 pm

We need more parent education as well as parents who are willing to listen to our students. Getting into a prestigious institution of higher learning should not be the number one goal of one's high school education. One great source of suggestions for improvements in the social/emotional health of our students is the grassroots students and community organization recently started: savethe20018.org I am so proud of Martha for stepping up to the plate and saying things that should have said long ago. Thank you Martha!

We Can Do Better Palo Alto made many suggestions over the last several years that could have easily been implemented. One of those suggestions which comes to mind and which the previous superintendent ignored the directive to implement is the Teacher Advisory system which is providing Paly kids with more adult touchpoints throughout their high school careers. I certainly think that Gunn deserves an equally good counseling system. If not now, then when?

We do have the opportunity to move forward taking a serious look at the savethe2008's suggestions as well as WCDBPA. These are simple steps which may yield huge results. They are certainly worth the "good old college try."

Parent education is imperative. We can start having forums where we hear from both the students themselves as well as parents and staff. Surely there are measures that are much better at suicide prevention than the track guard program. It saddens me that another cluster started and the the only solution we have is to step up the track guard program hours.

@Feeling good isn't doing good: Please explain to the readers of this forum what Project Safety Net's p8 is. I think most people are woefully ignorant of this.

Regrettably, the Project Safety Net has not been an effective organization and can't even keep a director. Clearly, we need to step back and take a look at all of the ways that we can reboot. Parents, don't look the other way and then say, "what happened?" It's on us to protect our children.


1 person likes this
Posted by PAUSD definitely failed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2014 at 12:10 pm

It is a bit shocking to see that I'm supposed to feel better because fewer students have committed suicide. One suicide is too many. It means something is wrong with the big picture, that's for sure. Though it is not PAUSD's fault, their efforts were not effective. Something is still wrong and a paying a guard to watch the tracks is not doing anything except making a few members of the public feel better. I will not be donating to this cause or supporting it.


2 people like this
Posted by Flavor
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Dec 29, 2014 at 4:14 pm

It's amazing to me that there are so many negative comments about this story. This was a wonderful gift to people who are doing a job that, frankly, no one else wants to do. Whether it's helping lower the chances of train suicide isn't really the point. They're out there working an honest job, in undesirable conditions, and probably getting paid peanuts to do it.
I applaude Julie for doing this.


1 person likes this
Posted by Rich comment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2014 at 5:22 pm

This is a job that people want to do and they get paid for it. It sounds like someone is looking down upon these folks doing jobs that they want to do, but that a poster is saying that no one wants this job, as if it is beneath them. Security guard is respectable work, but a Facebook campaign by a local publicity-seeker may not be as hard news as other issues.i agree that this is not the way to prevent suicide.


1 person likes this
Posted by Good Intentions
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 31, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Although well intentioned, this is a mistake.
Having worked a part-time security gig in my younger days, I know most of my co-workers looked at this type of work as easy money. No skill involved and get paid to sit around, sometimes walk around, and do nothing. To think that the guards working the tracks really care about some wealthy over stressed, heart broken, or sleep deprived kids may be naive. In fact, there's probably a bunch hoping more track suicides occur so they too can be heroes or guardians of our children and a pay raise. The money could be better spent on other ways to help these kids.


1 person likes this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 31, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Amazed at some of these comments. I'm very sorry some of you are unhappy and feel compelled to comment about things you don't understand.

A few facts:
Having guards at the tracks is a deterrent to suicides there. Many possible tragedies have been prevented over the last five years by the presence of people watching at these crossings. Anything that buys time enough for someone to reconsider, or even better, to get help has been proven to prevent suicides. It does, it has and it will.

No suicide is the fault of any school or teacher. The school is a place where opportunities exist for a troubled student to be noticed and referred for professional help. School teachers are usually not mental health professionals, but are often skilled enough to notice a problem and refer the student for help. If they do not see signs of trouble, this is not their fault. Sometimes the person is good at hiding distress.

Sitting around making negative statements online from a place of ignorance is not helpful to anyone.

Trying to create opportunities for others to show appreciation for someone doing a job for our community is a fine thing to do.


1 person likes this
Posted by BV Trackwatch?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 31, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Neighbors Helping Neighbors has been trying to raise a few thousand dollars to help prevent our local families from ending up homeless and in the street. I think it is absolutely disgusting that this is a town that passed a ban on being homeless, that refuses to help the homeless, that passed a sit-lie ordinance which is practically a Nuremberg law that bans certain people from even existing in our midst, and then wants to applaud itself and give itself a hand for paying extra money to those who are already employed and presumably not homeless.

Hey homeless people, vehicle dwellers, BV families and VTP kids, perhaps if you do trackwatch this heartless town will give a crap about you. Otherwise, tough titties.


Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2014 at 4:36 pm

I haven't really wanted to comment on this, but since others are still commenting, I will say my piece.

I do thank the track guards for doing a task which is boring, monotonous and in poor weather, cold and wet. They are doing the job and deserve our thanks and any show of gratitude they get.

The bigger issue is whether this is a deterrent or not? We have 3 crossings near where suicides have occurred in the last ten years or so. There is no way of knowing how many lives have been saved since the track watch started, but we do know that there was a suicide not so long ago in the wee early hours when the guard had gone home.

This means that either the student waited until later when there was no guard, or that it is possibly the wee early hours that some students are more vulnerable.

There was a suicide on 280 recently of a girl from Woodside who jumped from a freeway overpass. We have many freeway overpasses and a new bike bridge in the offing. Does this mean that we need to put guards on these bridges?

Of course we can't monitor every possible site, just in case. After all, if someone is suicide minded, there are other options. Robin Williams' method has been all over the media, do we know if there have been copycats as a result?

Suicide on the tracks is something that is visible and can't easily be hidden. There are other methods which are less visible and the media and the public at large are less likely to hear about them.

What we don't know is whether there have been any other attempted suicides by other means in PAUSD. Obviously this is something we are not going to be told about. But if we are going to have a discussion about preventing student suicide in Palo Alto, then we have to look further than just putting guards on the crossings. Sorry to say it, and all that, but how on earth can we assess whether these guards are making a difference or not?


Like this comment
Posted by Ineffective
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2014 at 4:52 pm

I live by the tracks and anyone who wishes to commit suicide will not be deterred by the paid security guards. Perhaps someone looking to be stopped might, but like the poor kid who went at 1:15am, someone who has planned to do it has proven that they can do it. The guards do nothing but send me a message that someone feels good about having them out there while we walk and drive by. I just don't see any effectiveness. It would be nice to say that if they only save one life, then it is all worth it, but then I think that the guards and all of us were not able to save that one life earlier this year, so is it really doing anything at all?


Like this comment
Posted by A Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 1, 2015 at 7:39 pm

BV, Please open your home to some BV families. It is very easy to criticize others.

Ineffective, Again, Track Watch has prevented suicides. It prevents them. It will prevent them. We will never know exactly how many, but I know of a number of suicides it has prevented. I have also posted, many times, links to the research which shows that any reduction in access prevents suicides. I won't post it again because you aren't someone who does any research before putting your views out there. Please don't do this any more. It will prevent no tragedies.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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