In the latest Around Town column, news about a substantial donation to support bonds between youth in Palo Alto and Tsuchiura, Japan, new leaders for local nonprofits and a famous director who's serving as grand marshal for a well-known Chinese New Year Parade this weekend.
CROSS-CULTURAL CONNECTIONS ... Despite being an ocean apart, Palo Alto and Tsuchiura, Japan's sister-city relationship has been strengthened with a $100,000 donation for a student exchange program between the two destinations. The substantial gift from Keiko Nakajima, a retired Japanese teacher who taught at the Palo Alto Unified School District, and her husband, Yasuo Kishimoto, gives the 20-plus-year program, coordinated by nonprofit Neighbors Abroad, security in furthering its goal of fostering international ties between youth from both sides of the Pacific Ocean. It is the third-largest gift in the nonprofit's history, according to the organization's president Bob Wenzlau. Nakajima, who started the program, worked at Palo Alto Unified from 2001 to 2014. The couple now lives in Tokyo, Japan. "We miss you Palo Alto!" Nakajima said in a statement to the Weekly. The program pairs 32 middle school students — 16 from each of the two cities — who stay with a host family, tour the foreign country and shadow a fellow youth at their respective campuses. The program's 2020 and 2021 trips were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much to the disappointment of some Palo Alto students who had been anticipating the experience, according to board member Jennifer Buenrostro, vice president of Neighbors Abroad's Tsuchiura relationship. The Tsuchiura cohort usually comes to Palo Alto in March, and their Palo Alto buddies head over to Tsuchiura in June, Buenrostro said. The nonprofit hopes to begin recruiting this September and resume in 2022, if public health conditions allow. "This program really touches my heart. ... It's a really amazing opportunity," she said. "This will help ensure the existence of the program for the next at least few years." .The funds will help support chaperone expenses for Palo Altans visiting Tsuchiura, program activities and other costs. Tsuchiura, roughly 90 minutes north of Tokyo and known for its annual fireworks competition, became a Palo Alto sister city in 2009.
NEW LEADERSHIP ... A pair of local nonprofits have seen new leaders take the helm this month. On Feb. 9, DreamCatchers announced its new executive director, Gezel Frederick, who had been serving in the role in the interim. She joined the organization, which helps students become high school ready, in August as an education director. She previously served as the assistant director of Cayuga Centers Unaccompanied Migrant Children in New York. Gezel has a master's degree in education and taught in underserved communities for eight years. The national search was conducted by parents, volunteers and members of the nonprofit's board of directors. Carolina Hahn has stepped into the executive director role at Blossom Birth, a resource center in the California Avenue business district for pregnant women and new parents. Hahn became involved with the nonprofit while pregnant with her daughter and started offering yoga lessons at Blossom when her little girl turned a year old and soon after she was expecting her son. She rose up the ranks in the organization as a program manager in 2018, assistant director in 2020 and executive director this year.
SPREAD POSITIVE VIBES ... As the coronavirus crisis continues to unravel at home and around the world, we want to share positive stories from our readers for upcoming Around Town columns. Have you witnessed a random act of kindness or watched the community form bonds while maintaining a safe social distance? Or have you seen a creative project come about as many stay at home? Send us your story in 250 words or less by email to [email protected] Photos are also welcome. We look forward to hearing your stories!