Holiday Spirit

Elia practices English with a volunteer at an Upward Scholars Conversation Club. The nonprofit benefits from donations to The Almanac Holiday Fund. Courtesy Upward Scholars.

Posted Jan. 4, 2023

Upward Scholars drives multigenerational impact in San Mateo County

by Dr. Linda Prieto/ Special to The Almanac

Upward Scholars has helped over 1,200 adult immigrants in the Bay Area pursue upward mobility through a community college education by providing them with financial and academic support, career development and holistic services. Every year, our wraparound support -- aided by dedicated volunteers and community members -- impacts the lives of hundreds of students and their families.

One of our success stories is Elia, who left her home in Michoacan, Mexico, at the age of 26, seeking better financial opportunities in the United States for herself and her two young daughters. When she arrived, she set about obtaining a driver's license so that she could get to and from work. But as she prepared to take the exam, tragedy struck. Elia suffered a significant work injury that resulted in limited mobility in her legs. The prognosis was not hopeful -- her doctors said she would be completely paralyzed in 10 to 15 years. Out of concern for public safety, driving was out of the question.

Today, 20 years later, Elia has beat the odds. Not only has her condition not worsened to the degree her doctors originally expected, Elia has worked to maintain much of her mobility through regular walks around her neighborhood in Redwood City. She has also earned her GED from Sequoia Adult School and is well on her way to completing an associate degree from CaƱada College, where she's made the Dean's List more than once. She has raised three children while working as an adult caregiver and caring for her ill father. But she hasn't gotten a driver's license, which has made everything else in her life harder, making her dependent on unreliable public transit and ride-sharing.

Though reluctant at first, earlier this year Elia began working toward getting her driver's license, with encouragement from her children, the clients she cares for, and the Upward Scholars staff. When Elia has a goal, she pursues it -- and this fall, she passed the written test! While she still needs to take the driving test, Elia is excited about the future. Even a simple thing like getting a license can drive multigenerational impact: "It would make life so much easier. I would be able to drive my son to school; get to work and back much faster; attend in-person classes, especially when I transfer to a university; get to finally visit my daughter in Vallejo; and take my father to his doctor appointments," she says. Her whole family would reap the benefits.

Elia appreciates the support Upward Scholars has given her since 2018. From textbook and food assistance to scholarship application support and Student Safety Net funding for rent, she knows her family would not have fared nearly so well during the pandemic were it not for Upward Scholars. When we first shared Elia's story with the Upward Scholars community, the support she received was astounding. Thanks to the generosity of an Upward Scholars donor, Elia now benefits from yet another kind of support: private driving lessons. Soon, Elia will be ready to take her driving exam and will be able to use her new skills to support her family in ways she's always wanted to.

Upward Scholars is one of this year's beneficiaries of The Almanac Holiday Fund. Donations are divided evenly between 10 nonprofits that serve local residents, and can be made online at .

For information about donating time, talent, or treasure to Upward Scholars, contact Jessica, Upward Scholars Marketing & Development Manager, at Or, if you're curious to learn more about us, visit our website, . You can tutor or help a student like Elia practice their English skills, lend your specialized skills to the Upward Scholars team, or contribute funds to support our work.

Dr. Linda Prieto is the executive director of Upward Scholars.

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2024 Recipient Agency

Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula
Provides after-school academic support, enrichment, and mentoring for 1,800 low-income K-12 youth at nine locations across Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and the North Fair Oaks neighborhood of Redwood 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 November 29th, 31 donors have contributed $53,372 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

5 Anonymous12,300
John Donald and Elaine Hammond*
Lori & Dennis McBride*
Barb Jacobson150
John and Shirley Reiter150
Greg & Penny Gallo500
Marc & Mary Ann Saunders*
Colleen & Geoff Tate*
Jim & Karen Lewis*
Paul Perret1,000
Vicky Rundorff*
Don & Catherine Coluzzi*
Janet Buce Cook*
Barbara and Charles Preuss500
Karen Perlroth*
Karen Perlroth*
Paul Welander25
Dennis Ruby300
Sybille Katz*
Kayleen Miller200
Kurt & Sue Jaggers10,000
Cathy and Jim Koshland150
Mark and Karen Weitzel*
Sidney Chen & Sandra Lee Chen*
Bill Wohler462
In Memory Of

Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Bob Mueller100