Inside a quiet East Palo Alto elementary school classroom last year, student Gyna Monroy and tutor Evelyn Chan-Cox huddled over a picture book from the "Elephant and Piggie" series practicing Gyna's skills at reading out loud during their one-on-one time.
After sounding out the letters in "idea," Gyna strung the whole word together, excitedly.
Meanwhile, over at Palo Alto's Mitchell Park Library, 31-year-old Todd Cerf was helping customers at Ada's Cafe, a workplace established to employ and train people with disabilities in the food-service industry.
While the espresso machine hummed, Cerf explained how he likes to joke with his customers.
"If they ordered a big drink order, I just tell them, you know, 'Sounds like someone needed to get their buzz on,'" he said with a shy grin. "I can joke with them in a way that makes them want to come back."
Todd Cerf and Gyna Monroy are but two of the people whose lives have been changed for the better through local nonprofits supported by the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, which is launching its annual charitable-giving campaign this week.
Last year, community members in the Palo Alto area donated a record-breaking $403,000 to the Holiday Fund, enabling grants to 60 nonprofits helping children, families and others in need.
Established in 1993, the Holiday Fund has as its goal the transformation of lives through strategic partnerships with nonprofit organizations. Among the successes that the Fund's grants have enabled: Kids struggling with literacy have turned into confident readers, unemployed adults with disabilities have become productive and proud workers, and the dreams of a future generation have been ignited through a hands-on science program that remakes classrooms into planetariums and ordinary materials into lessons on kinetic energy.
Other services funded range from medical care for the homeless and arts programs for disadvantaged youth to parenting training for teen mothers and environmental education for youth and adults.
In the Holiday Fund's 25 years, it has raised $6.3 million for nonprofits and child care centers.
Because the Palo Alto Weekly and its partner, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, pay for all of the costs of running the charitable drive, 100 percent of every donation — which is tax deductible — is distributed directly to a nonprofit serving Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.
As in years past, the 2018 campaign got its kickstart through the proceeds from the Weekly's annual Moonlight Run in September, which was supported by 10 corporate sponsors. In addition, major donations to the fund have already been pledged by the Hewlett, Packard, Peery and Arrillaga foundations, which are contributing matching grants so that every donation to the fund by a community member is automatically doubled.
The Holiday Fund's goal this year is $350,000.
"I'm so grateful that the community, year after year, steps up to give so generously to these well-run nonprofits," Palo Alto Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson said. "These organizations are serving thousands of Midpeninsula residents who are struggling amid the high costs of living, those who work in our community and are part of the fabric of life here. I'd like to invite everyone who shares the Holiday Fund vision — of a unified community that offers opportunities and support for everyone — to donate this year."
One local leader whose nonprofit is a beneficiary spoke at the April reception for Holiday Fund grantees about the impact of the public's support for the families living in Palo Alto Housing, the city's low-income-housing program. The $4,000 Holiday Fund grant for the newly started "Family Reading Club" enabled Palo Alto Unified School District librarians and teachers to spend time leading creative and educational activities for children and their parents living in the apartments.
"We're making family reading time fun. We're making interacting with teachers cool — giving (residents) tools and a safe place to ask questions," said Kate Young, vice president of resident services.
"Through your donations and this grant, we have the chance to mentor and partner with and nurture the families who live with us," Young said. "Thank you all so much for your support."
More information about the impact of the Holiday Fund, including stories about funded nonprofit agencies and instructions for donating online, can be found here.