Holiday Spirit

Adrian Esqueda, the program coordinator at Daybreak, a youth housing program in San Mateo County, hands Michelle Mayes, the program manager at Daybreak, a mask on Nov. 17. Photo courtesy of Michael Maylan.

Posted December 3, 2020

StarVista adapts services during pandemic
Transitional housing nonprofit adds safety measures to its youth program

by Angela Swartz

Mornings at DayBreak, a transitional housing program in Redwood City, start with walking downstairs to say "good morning," a quick temperature check and cooking breakfast before logging onto an online class from the couch in the living room.

The 30-year-old program, run by San Carlos-based nonprofit StarVista , houses homeless 16- to 21-year-olds and is still offering its services despite the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit with some changes.

Health screenings are just one change, along with wearing masks, social distancing from others around the house and staying in at night. Therapy sessions have moved to Zoom. The precautions are especially necessary since COVID can often present without symptoms in this demographic, said Program Manager Michelle Mayes.

So far, no DayBreak residents have tested positive for the virus.

The program, which usually serves 10 young adults from San Mateo County, has capped housing at seven residents since April because of the pandemic. A staff of seven full-time employees run the operation, said Mayes. StarVista's services include counseling, skill development, and crisis prevention to children, youth, adults and families.

"We have a really brave team that are still willing to work during a pandemic," she said.

StarVista is one of the beneficiaries of The Almanac's Holiday Fund. Because The Almanac and its partner the Silicon Valley Community Foundation cover all the administrative costs, every dollar raised goes directly to this year's 10 nonprofit organizations. Donations to the Holiday Fund can be made here .

Some tensions over cleanliness and noise have arisen between residents who feel cooped up at home all the time, Mayes said. During the spring, it was also challenging for residents to land jobs, given the economical upheaval caused by the pandemic. Overall, residents are respecting safety guidelines, such as hand-washing, wearing a mask outside of their bedroom and bathroom, and using hand sanitizer, she said.

Clients stay in the house for about six months on average. Staff members provide them with training in finding and keeping a job; personal health and self-care; money management; meal planning and preparation; performing daily chores; locating and renting housing; and pursuing educational opportunities. Residents are required to attend school and work.

This year, of the residents who stayed for more than 30 days, 73% transitioned to a positive placement, 80% were either enrolled in school or had their GEDs, and 100% were referred to appropriate substance abuse treatment providers if needed, according to StarVista .

StarVista's services were first known in San Mateo County in 1966 under the name of "Peninsula Suicide Prevention, Inc." a small human services agency, according to StarVista's website. It grew into Youth and Family Enrichment Services and adopted the name "StarVista" in 2011. Its staff now includes 240 doctors, clinicians, social workers, and professionals and 45 clinical interns who work with 41,000 individuals and families annually.

Earlier this year, former Daybreak client Ozzy filmed a testimonial video explaining how StarVista helped him become more mature and responsible, and opened up doors to him. He now wants to become a counselor or a therapist.

"They've shown me I can count on someone and what a friend looks like," he said. "My life now is full of friends. I have my own place. I bought a new car, I have a steady job."

When someone is homeless, sometimes their grades fall and they lose their jobs, Mayes said. It's great to see them transform their education and career, she said. Mayes said one resident saved $10,000 while part of DayBreak.

"It's great to see them (DayBreak residents) blossom into themselves," she said. "And see them feel as if they can achieve their goals."

The pandemic has given staff an even greater sense of purpose, said StarVista CEO Sara Mitchell during a recent discussion the nonprofit hosted over Zoom.

"I think they've always been very passionate about the work that they do, but they see the ways that they are positively making changes in the community despite all of the challenges," Mitchell said. "On the flip side, for our clients, in the midst of so much uncertainty, there's a sense of 'when will this end.' For the individuals we serve, they feel a sense of reassurance knowing that there's this organization of people who care about them and are invested in their communities.".

For more on StarVista and DayBreak, go here.

Make a donation
2024 Recipient Agency

Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula
Provides after-school academic support, enrichment, college and career access, and mental health programs to more than 5,000 low-income youth at 29 locations from East Palo Alto to Daly City.

Ecumenical Hunger Program
Provides emergency food, clothing, household essentials, and sometimes financial assistance to families in need, regardless of religious preference, including Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for more than 2,000 households.

Fair Oaks Community Center
The Fair Oaks Community Center provides social services to the residents of the neighborhood, including programs for seniors, immigrants, renters and the unhoused, as well as housing assistance, ESL classes and child care.

Provides shelter/housing and supportive services across 18 sites in Silicon Valley and the Peninsula. Serves thousands of homeless families and individuals annually on their path back to permanent housing and self-sufficiency.

Literacy Partners
Supports literacy programs and projects through fundraising and community awareness. Helps community members enhance their reading, writing and related skills and education to improve their economic, professional and personal wellbeing.

Ravenswood Family Health Center
Provides primary medical and preventive health care for all ages at its clinic in East Palo Alto. Of the more than 17,000 registered patients, most are low-income and uninsured and live in the ethnically diverse East Palo Alto, Belle Haven, and North Fair Oaks areas.

St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room
Serves hundreds of hot meals six days a week to people in need who walk through the doors. Funded by voluntary contributions and community grants, St. Anthony's is the largest dining room for the needy between San Francisco and San Jose. It also offers take-home bags of food, as well as emergency food and clothing assistance.

Second Harvest Food Bank
Second Harvest Food Bank distributes nutritious food to low income individuals and families, leveraging every available food resource and collaborating with other organizations and people to feed the needy in the community.

Serves more than 32,000 people throughout San Mateo County, including children, young people and families, with counseling, prevention, early intervention, education, and residential programs. StarVista also provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services including a 24-hour suicide crisis hotline, an alcohol and drug helpline, and a parent support hotline.

Upward Scholars
Upward Scholars empowers low-income adults by providing them with financial support, tutoring, and other assistance so they can continue their education, get higher-paying jobs, and serve as role models and advocates for their children.

As of December 11th, 71 donors have contributed $73,292 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

10 Anonymous12,800
Diane Brandt500
Joe and Julie Zier*
Vicky & Jim Merchant500
Jerry & Shirley Carlson300
Andrea Julian1,000
Betty Meissner100
James Esposto*
Sandy Cold500
Melanie Austin*
Robert & Connie Loarie*
Maggie Markdasilva500
Douglas Keare & Jill Morgan2,000
Mendelsohn Family2,500
Joan Rubin100
Kathryn Stivers1,000
Bill & Nancy Ellsworth*
Stephen Martin500
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Dave & Diane Toole100
Mary Pless250
Tom & Ann Livermore500
Ken Turkowski120
Susan Kritzik & Bruce McAuley*
Laura Hofstadter & Leonard Shar750
William & Dana Starling100
Brandon Madison250
Connie & Bob Lurie1,000
Michael & Leslie Crisp*
joyce castellino500
Foody Family500
Linda Craig and Evan Hughes250
Bill Wohler462
Sidney Chen & Sandra Lee Chen*
Mark and Karen Weitzel*
Cathy and Jim Koshland150
Kurt & Sue Jaggers10,000
Kayleen Miller200
Sybille Katz*
Dennis Ruby300
Paul Welander25
Karen Perlroth*
Karen Perlroth*
Barbara and Charles Preuss500
Janet Buce Cook*
Don & Catherine Coluzzi*
Vicky Rundorff*
Paul Perret1,000
Jim & Karen Lewis*
Colleen & Geoff Tate*
Marc & Mary Ann Saunders*
Greg & Penny Gallo500
John and Shirley Reiter150
Barb Jacobson150
Lori & Dennis McBride*
John Donald and Elaine Hammond*
In Memory Of

Jeannie LeMesurier 100
Bill Davey1,000
Hugh D. Kennedy200
Bob Mueller100
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
In Honor Of

Nancy Stevens*