Donors and Local Leaders in Conversation

On the Table: Youth Learning After Zoom

Patty Fernandez, the Executive Director of Girls Inc of the Central Coast is pragmatic. “You aren’t going to get kids off their phones.” She shrugs in acceptance, “It’s part of their life and important these days, but we can provide programs that help youth connect beyond the screens too.”

At our last On the Table event of 2022, community members sat down in discussion with four nonprofit leaders working to connect youth to mentors and each other and provide experiential learning opportunities for students as they recover from the drawbacks of online school.

Speakers from left to right: Theresa Cariño, Jacob Martinez, Patty Fernandez, and Judit Camacho

Connection is Key

For the conversation on Learning after Zoom we invited

These leaders have all noticed how youth are hungry for connection, whether it is onscreen or off. During the height of the pandemic, Theresa was hesitant to add another zoom meeting to their schedules, but the girls from Salud y Cariño wanted to meet so badly, she says, “they even showed up early to the zoom room to just chat and hang out!” Whether on zoom or not, Theresa says, “Success is built on relationships, trust, and connection. Peer mentors who were supporting students on zoom are continuing today–and it’s even stronger in person.”

Patty’s students in Girls Inc also work with each other as peer mentors. “Girls in the program take on leadership positions as mentors as they connect from different parts of the community and get to know each other in a different space and format. That peer-to-peer mentorship is important.”

A Growing Need

Judit shared a story about a girl who wanted to write a letter to the Life Lab garden at her school. “It was just to the garden,” she laughs, “not to the teacher!” With the student’s permission, the Life Lab teacher read the note. “It was filled with gratitude for the beauty of the garden and how safe she felt there.” She says that garden-based education is fundamental for kids to connect with the natural world, their body, science, and hands-on learning. It’s also in high demand. “Life Lab is working with Pajaro Valley Unified School District to get a garden in all 16 elementary schools by 2024, but other programs in Live Oak, Santa Cruz, and San Lorenzo Valley are wanting to build up their small Life Lab programs and incorporate it into the full curriculum.”

Jacob says that DigitalNEST is also working hard to meet the rising demand. “The need for youth mentorship, safe space to meet, and access to technology is huge. When you create an environment where youth feel respected, like they belong, and have a supportive community, they can envision a different future for themselves.”

Actions We Can Take Together

Donate general operating support to these organizations:

Put your interest in Education & Youth in your Memorandum of Charitable Intent (MOCI).

Volunteer or inquire about Board service opportunities:

Be a speaker at our program by sharing your career and leadership story at Girls Inc of the Central Coast: Contact

Help Salud y Cariño find a home in Live Oak: Contact Theresa

Help the DigitalNEST and Life Lab strategize in sustaining the growth our community needs. Share advice on how to strengthen their business model, sustainability, and capacity.

Community member Katy Stonebloom greets Sam Leask, our Director of Philanthropic Services.

Making our Community Better, Together

“Youth Learning after Zoom” was the last of our On the Table event series for 2022. These participatory mealtime conversations connected our community of donors to current issues and each other. This year we learned about and discussed local arts and culture; immigrant advocacy and support, homelessness prevention and response; and climate change.

Our aims were to create new connections through conversation and a shared meal while we learned more about the interconnected issues facing our community and ways to take action. Stay tuned for more community engagement events in 2023!

Want to learn more about how to get involved?

Contact Hilary Bryant, Director of Donor Services