Steinbeck scholar explains author's lasting impact at Morning Forum

Courtesy of Charline Barbano
Author Susan Shillinglaw shares with a Morning Forum of Los Altos audience the significance of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Shillinglaw is professor of English and comparative literature at San Jose State University and Scholar-in-Residence at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.

A scholar on the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck discussed the “75th Anniversary of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’” for a Morning Forum of Los Altos audience Nov. 4.

Author Susan Shillinglaw, Ph.D., is professor of English and comparative literature at San Jose State University and Scholar-in-Residence at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. She served as director of San Jose State’s Center for Steinbeck Studies for 18 years. The university honored her with the 2013-2014 President’s Scholar Award. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell College in Iowa and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Mentors forge connections with students through nonprofit group

Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Aldo Montes-Sanchez, left, visits with his Mentor Tutor Connection mentor, Phil Rose, on Main Street.

Paired through Mentor Tutor Connection, Phil Rose and Aldo Montes-Sanchez connected right away.

“It was almost instantaneous,” said Rose, who has volunteered with the organization (formerly known as Partners for New Generations) since 2005, when he was Los Altos city manager. “Aldo’s a very positive kid, and we got along right away.”

In one of their first conversations as mentor-mentee two years ago, the retired Rose and Los Altos High School student Montes-Sanchez found common ground. Rose is the first member of his family to attend college, and Montes-Sanchez – now a junior – aspires to be the first in his family to do the same.

“Going to college is important to me,” Montes-Sanchez said.

Getting there is just one of the many topics he and Rose discuss during their weekly lunches.

“We talk about life, school, his classes,” Rose said.

“And the news,” Montes-Sanchez added.

While he hopes to start a family tradition by attending college, Montes-Sanchez isn’t the first – or last – member of his clan to be mentored through the organization. Montes-Sanchez said his aunt raved about the mentor she had as a student at Alta Vista High School a few years ago, and now his younger brother – a freshman at Los Altos High – has one, too.

Last year, Mentor Tutor Connection provided 69 mentors for 80 students in the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, according to Sally Meadows, MTC board chairwoman. She estimated that 90 percent of the mentees are from low-income families that speak English as a second language.

“Those of us who live in the community understand the divide, and we (at MTC) believe in all youth and in trying to help them,” Meadows said. “It helps all of us to give everyone a chance.”

It seems that there’s no shortage of students seeking one.

“We had a meeting at the beginning of the school year with Superintendent Barry Groves and the three principals, and were told that they could easily give us 200 to 250 students to be mentored,” said Meadows, who added that her organization offers tutoring on every campus in the Los Altos and Mountain View Whisman school districts. “We’re trying to support as many kids as we can – and maybe one day we can support everyone who needs us – but not yet.”

She cited fund development as a key way to realizing that goal. The grassroots organization – launched in 1996 as a project of the Rotary Club of Los Altos – has a budget of $150,000 this year. Meadows said MTC aims to double its budget two years from now – with help from a part-time executive director that the all-volunteer board hopes to hire by year’s end.

“We are so dependent on board members right now, so we want to professionalize the organization so that we can be sustainable,” she said. “We also want to increase our impact.”

But if MTC takes the approach Rose does when advising Montes-Sanchez about navigating the path to college, the organization should almost certainly reach its goals.

“You may get knocked down a few times, but you have to get up and move forward,” Rose said. “If you hit a bump in the road, don’t come to a complete stop – it’s just a momentary delay.”

All Holiday Fund contributions are tax deductible and processed through a donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The foundation provides letters acknowledging donor contributions. The Town Crier will present grant funds to the 20 organizations in early 2015.

To donate online, visit

To donate by check, make checks payable to “SVCF/Town Crier Holiday Fund” and mail to 2440 W. El Camino Real, Suite 300, Mountain View 94040.

For more information about the Holiday Fund, visit

For more information about Mentor Tutor Connection, visit

Hidden Villa Summer Camps provide safe place for growth

Some Hidden Villa Summer Camps reach beyond the confines of the 1,600-acre preserve. Students participating in a camp in the Sierra, left, ham it up for the camera. Courtesy of hidden villa

Visitors to Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills can find herds of deer frolicking most days, but for a few months every summer, 1,300 K-12 youth enjoy the 1,600-acre preserve as they participate in transformational summer camp experiences.

Hidden Villa Summer Camps are a tradition that continues 69 years after Josephine and Frank Duveneck opened their first camp as a social experiment to foster a more diverse and racially tolerant world.


Mini MERIT programs maximize reach to improve teacher effectiveness

Teachers from all over the Bay Area and beyond learn new strategies at the MERIT program’s two-week training session last July at Foothill College’s Krause Center for Innovation. Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

San Jose middle-school teacher Cristina Bustamante used to lecture in front of her students.

“I had my desk in front of the room where I was the focus of the lesson,” she said. “I was afraid let go and allow students to learn on their own.”


Child Advocates of Silicon Valley provides voice for vulnerable youth

Child Advocates of Silicon Valley paired Justin, left, with Mary McCusker more than a decade ago. Now 15, Justin is in high school and lives with his adoptive family. McCusker served as Justin’s advocate for nine years, until his adoption. They still keep in touch. Courtesy of Mary McCusker

The children served by Child Advocates of Silicon Valley are like all children – they dig in sand boxes, climb trees and dream up a new birthday cake flavor each year.

But some of them face trials taxing beyond even adult standards, including the court process separating them from their families and the burdens that first brought their family into court.


Sky's the Limit Fund hosts stories of tears, triumphs at annual fundraiser

Limit Fund honored Lani Sutherland, above left, with daughter Christy and husband Rick, with the Shining Star award.

The Los Altos-based Sky’s the Limit Fund recently raised more than $100,000 at its fifth annual Reaching for the Stars fundraising breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Palo Alto.

Bay Area broadcaster Raj Mathai served as master of ceremonies of the event, which featured heart-rending testimonials from teens and their families about how wilderness therapy turned their lives around.


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