Generosity in Action

Love, Laughter, and Making Dreams of Higher Education Come True

Barbara Thompson took education very seriously. Over her long career in education, she saw time and again the opportunities it opens for the success of young people. Barbara started out as an elementary school teacher. After several years in the classroom, she went back to school at San Jose State and after earning her Master’s degree she moved to Mission Hill Middle School where she was a guidance counselor and then vice-principal for many years. She then served on the school board for over two decades.

But Barbara also loved a good joke. So much so that according to her daughter Lindsey Lee, Barbara’s favorite holiday was April Fool’s Day. A classic Barbara prank: early in the morning on April 1st, she would sneak around town and replace the day’s paper on her friends’ doorsteps with an April 1st edition from a previous year. In the spring of 2023, as Lindsey and her sister Stacey cleaned out their mother’s home after her passing, they found a huge stockpile of April 1st newspaper editions in her house dating all the way back to 2015!

Paying it Forward

When Barbara’s father died, she used the inheritance she received to start a scholarship fund with the Community Foundation. That was 20 years ago. Since then, the Barbara J. Thompson Scholarship Fund has awarded $116,300 to 66 scholars. But because the fund is endowed, the scholarships in her name will be awarded annually to graduating seniors from Santa Cruz City Schools long into the future.

Amy Canizal-Flores, a 2023 recipient of the Barbara J. Thompson Scholarship

Carrying the Hopes of Family

Amy Canizal-Flores, one of this year’s Thompson awardees shared, “My grandpa immigrated here with a backpack full of dreams. Growing up, I was constantly lectured on the worth of education by my entire family, because ‘it was the only thing I could have that was truly mine, and no one could take it away from me.’”

Amy said that each of the “sermons” began with the same phrase “si estudias,” (if you study) her future would be free from working under the scorching sun, and running her body into the ground with manual labor. She knew that what they really meant was that if she studied, nothing could stop her from succeeding. Amy said, “This scholarship will assist me during my university education, as well helping me in honoring my family by helping me accomplish what they have has always wanted for me. As I pursue higher education, I'll help my grandpa turn one more of his dreams into reality.”

While we mourn the passing of this big-hearted woman with a ready laugh, we know that Barbara Thompson's legacy of generosity will help Santa Cruz youth achieve their dreams of higher education for generations to come.

2023 recipients of the Barbara J. Thompson Scholarship, from left to right, Emma Lin, Estrella Contreras, Lynda Otero

Meet this year’s Barbara J. Thompson Scholarship Fund Awardees

Amy Canizal-Flores – Harbor High School, attending Sacramento State

Just days before Amy started her senior year at Harbor High School, she was invited back to her middle school in Live Oak to speak to the faculty. It was during their professional development day on cultural proficiency where they were learning how to use their students’ cultural backgrounds, languages, and learning styles as assets in the context of their teaching. Amy shared her own story to help faculty develop a more equitable and culturally competent environment where all students feel a sense of belonging. Based on her own personal experiences in elementary and middle school as an English language learner, Amy had learned firsthand the underlying injustices that students from immigrant families face. But Amy turned her hurt into action and became a founding member of the Live Oak District’s Racial Equity Work Group, which eventually passed a resolution committing to an anti-racist model of education. And that was just the start of Amy’s community involvement. She has been a student leader with Salud y Cariño, and a regular volunteer with Black Surf Santa Cruz, Watsonville Film Festival, Second Harvest Food Bank and more. She also played soccer all four years of high school—three years on varsity—and spent two years on the varsity wrestling team in addition to participating in track and football for a year. All this while completing the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program! Amy is taking her enormous energy and focus to Sacramento State where she will be studying International Relations. She has her sights on a career as an investigator for the United Nations or a Congresswoman.

Emma Lin – Harbor High School, attending UC Berkeley

Emma Lin is a future chemist and (self-proclaimed) dumpling master. She also wants to make sure the world is a fair place, especially when it comes to ensuring that people can access the care and medications they need to live healthy lives. Emma’s family and cultural experiences have helped shape who she is today. As a child, she saw her mom pinch pennies to ensure that she could afford the monthly insulin injections she needed to manage her diabetes. Next year at UC Berkeley, Emma is going to study biochemistry and work toward a research career in pharmaceuticals to make medications more affordable and accessible to everyone. Emma also learned to feel comfortable with and celebrate her Chinese heritage despite facing overt discrimination and microaggressions at school. By spending hours at her grandmother’s side, Emma now knows how to make traditional Chinese foods for her family’s cultural celebrations, including kneading the dough, cutting it into sections, and rolling it into perfect circles for dumplings. In addition to building her confidence and fashioning her dreams for the future, Emma was an athlete in tennis and track & field and a leader in her school’s Mathematics, Engineering Science Achievement Club where she organized fundraisers, educated her peers about science-related topics, and designed robotic machinery to compete in task-based challenges.

Estrella Contreras – Santa Cruz High School, attending UC Berkeley

In the Santa Cruz High physics class, students are required to do multiple engineering-based projects throughout the year, including building a catapult, a musical instrument, and a model car. Estrella used entirely common household products to develop effective, sturdy, and elegant designs, including a piano made of cardboard, rubber bands, and quarters. According to her physics teacher, the piano worked perfectly. Estrella’s avid work on the intersection of physics and artistic design is intentional. Her goal is to pursue a double major in physics and animation because her dream is to become a professional animator. She believes that by knowing the laws of physics, she can make accurate animations and either follow those laws or take intentional artistic liberties and imagine a world in which alternate rules exist. Estrella maintained a straight-A average her entire four years in high school, in addition to active involvement in her school’s Literary Society and Latino Student Union. She also served as a volunteer counselor for the Santa Cruz County Outdoor Science School. Estrella’s sturdiness extends beyond her engineering designs as she also managed her mother’s health care and their household overall for the past three years as her mom has faced severe illness that has left her with extremely limited mobility. For Estrella, art keeps her inspired and living in a state of wonderment and appreciation. With both a physicist’s and artist’s eye she analyzes the composition of everything around her—from the water leaking in the bathroom faucet to the reflection of the sunset on a cluster of houses.

Lynda Otero – Soquel High School, attending San Francisco State University

There is a story behind Lynda’s straight-A record at Soquel High School: It is one of perseverance, heartache, and finding a way to cope through challenging times. In her first year of high school, right as the world entered COVID lockdown, Lynda also lost a family member to suicide. Focusing on school became Lynda’s lifeline. The transition back to campus was hard as she struggled with anxiety. But just as she had thrown herself into academics, she also dedicated herself to community engagement and social change—building on her experiences in middle school as a Youth Advisor for the Live Oak Work Group for Racial Justice. While still maintaining perfect grades, Lynda focused her attention on making the campus a more welcoming and accepting place. She became president of the school’s Multicultural Club and eventually joined a cohort of students across the county in the district-wide Student Racial Equity Initiative working to create lessons for faculty on ways to identify microaggressions and prevent their occurrence within the classroom. Lynda was also appointed the Student Trustee for the Santa Cruz City Schools Board of Education. Lynda will be attending UC Berkeley, studying Political Science as she works toward a law degree so that she can support nonprofit organizations serving vulnerable populations.

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