Tall Tree Awards honor outstanding Palo Altans | March 10, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 10, 2023

Tall Tree Awards honor outstanding Palo Altans

Bruce Gee, Bill Liberatore, DreamCatchers and Coupa Cafe to be honored for community work

by Grace Doerfler

Four individuals and organizations will be honored for their contributions to local nonprofits, music education, academic achievement and fostering a closer-knit community at the 2023 Tall Tree Awards on April 20 at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.

The event, which is sponsored by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and the Palo Alto Weekly, recognizes the outstanding contributions and service to the community of two individuals, one business and a nonprofit organization. This year's awardees are Bruce Gee, Bill Liberatore, DreamCatchers and Coupa Cafe.

Gee, who has been involved in the Rotary Club, the Palo Alto Community Fund (PACF) and many other charitable groups and causes, is the recipient of this year's Outstanding Citizen Volunteer award.

He has served on the board of the Palo Alto Community Fund for nine years, including as the board's president during the pandemic, when he led remarkably successful efforts to support community nonprofits during lockdown.

"What happened was an unprecedented success for the organization," former Palo Alto Mayor Lanie Wheeler said in a letter nominating Gee for the honor, adding, "His unbounded enthusiasm and optimism and his ability to lead and encourage others has played a significant role in PACF's recent success."

"From the Rotary Club to the YMCA to supporting local schools and youth sports, the depth and variety of his involvement has been invaluable," former Mayor Judy Kleinberg said in a letter supporting Gee's nomination. "Combine these talents with his ever-sunny, positive attitude, and you get one of our community's most endearing volunteers whose generosity of time and talent are only matched by his humility."

Gunn High School choir director Bill Liberatore is the recipient of this year's Outstanding Professional award. Raised in Palo Alto, Liberatore has been teaching at Gunn since 1989, imparting a love of music to countless students in the decades since.

In one of many letters from colleagues, parents, and former students supporting Liberatore's nomination, retired Gunn teacher Angela Dellaporta wrote, "Billy creates beauty, fun, and a sense that we all belong to something special among his students, and indeed the entire school and the Palo Alto community as a whole. ... This is the kind of magic that makes a community thrive."

"Though Billy and his students take their work very seriously, laughter and humor are abundant in his classroom," local theater director Alex Perez said in a letter. "When he laughs he not only shares a moment of unabashed joy but also one of inclusivity."

Liberatore has also conducted for the San Jose Symphony Orchestra, directed TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, and directed and conducted the now-defunct American Musical Theater of San Jose.

DreamCatchers, an educational nonprofit, is the winner of the Outstanding Nonprofit award this year. For 15 years, the organization has offered free after-school peer tutoring and mentorship to middle school students in the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD). Its mission is to give low-income and historically underrepresented students the tools to succeed academically and socially.

Suzanne Antink, a retired Palo Alto Unified math teacher, said in a letter of support that she had seen the program's impact on her students, both tutors and tutees.

"I have strongly felt that each student caught on the challenged side of the (achievement) gap needs one-on-one support to traverse the inequalities that they face," she said. "DreamCatchers has taken on that challenge and is a program that supports these particular students in a way that PAUSD does not."

Cristina Barreda, a parent whose two school-age sons have participated in DreamCatchers, said in a letter that she was impressed by the program's impact.

"The most important thing is that now we not only dream about our kids having a better life and attending a university, but we now believe that it is not a dream. We now know that this can really happen," she wrote.

DreamCatchers provides more than 6,000 hours of tutoring and mentorship every school year, as well as support for families learning to navigate the PAUSD school system.

Coupa Cafe has won the Outstanding Business award this year. The coffee shop has been operating at locations around Palo Alto since 2004.

Coupa Cafe has demonstrated a commitment to supporting the local community. It's provided more than 2,000 meals to first responders, ensured free coffee for members of the nonprofit Downtown Streets Team and supported pedestrian-friendly streets around the city.

"Coupa Cafe went to heroic efforts to preserve jobs for their employees," said Jon Goldman, who serves on the committee that selected Coupa Cafe as a Tall Trees honoree. "During the pandemic, they ran GoFundMe campaigns and even converted several of their stores to takeout and delivery grocery stores with hundreds of items, including staples like eggs, milk and bread."

Goldman said that Coupa Cafe also stands out for its efforts to ethically source all of its food, with most of it sourced locally, and chooses environmentally sustainable options.

"They've been leaders in using compostable food service containers for all of their items," he said.

The business also is involved in the community in a number of ways, including hosting coffee with local police departments, and its founders are members of the Silicon Valley Committee of Human Rights Watch.

More information about the Tall Tree Awards, including ticket information for the awards ceremony in April, can be found at paloaltochamber.com/tall-tree-awards/.

Email Editorial Intern Grace Doerfler at [email protected]


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2023 at 2:04 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Nice to see good people's important community work recognized again in this way. Well Done, all!!

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