.Youth N.O.W. Seeks Support to Tutor, Empower Students

For 10 years, Youth N.O.W. has tutored and empowered hundreds of students throughout the Pajaro Valley, providing an essential outlet for those struggling to pick up various subjects in class or finding a safe space to study after the bell rings.

Now, after a sudden loss of one of its major funding streams because of the Covid-19 pandemic, that nonprofit is at risk of failing, according to Executive Director Michele Chaney.

“It’s that dire right now,” she said. “We were in a really good position and now we’re very seriously impacted for being able to provide services next year.”

Youth N.O.W., Chaney said, would need to fundraise at least $100,000 to provide its free-of-cost tutoring sessions and “pro-social” activities—those that focus on bringing out each of the students’ strength and creativity—that have positively impacted numerous students throughout the last decade.

Those looking to donate can do so through Santa Cruz Gives, the online countywide holiday giving campaign that kicked off on Nov. 18.

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From now until year’s end, people can donate to Youth N.O.W. and 39 other nonprofits serving various communities in Santa Cruz County at santacruzgives.org. There, donors can browse individual pages to learn more about each nonprofit’s mission and “Big Idea” project for 2021 that will be funded with the online donations.

Youth N.O.W.’s “Big Idea” for 2021 is continuing to deliver no-cost tutoring to distance-learning students.

Chaney said that the organization has conducted three-fourths of its tutoring services digitally since the pandemic began in mid-March. That has meant those services have gone from small groups to one-on-one sessions with roughly 130 students from various schools and grade levels. Volunteers, including 40 service learners for Cal State Monterey Bay, have been the lifeblood of the program, Chaney said.

But making the move online proved costly. The nonprofit had to purchase new programs and tech to provide its services, and it helped fill the “digital divide” vacuum during the early stages of the pandemic by purchasing multiple “hotspots” and WiFi extenders to help students attend class.

Now, they need help of their own.

“We want to prevent students from falling behind in this time,” Chaney said. “These were students that were struggling to keep up in the first place, and the inequity in this is these students are far more impacted by Covid right now.”

Youth N.O.W. has also set up a GoFundMe account. 

Santa Cruz Gives, which was founded by the Pajaronian’s sister paper Good Times with the support of The Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County, prides itself on reaching donors during their busy day-to-day schedules.

The Pajaronian joined the campaign last year, its fifth.

Projects represent a variety of needs: youth, seniors, animals, the environment, education, health and wellness, food and nutrition, housing and homelessness, arts, families, the disabled and LBGTQ+. A seven-member committee with nonprofit experience vetted the applications.

Selected nonprofits will receive donated funds, matching funds and be eligible for three awards: Most Donors Overall, Most Donors Under 35 years old and Most Innovative Program. Each honor comes with a $1,000 award.

Last year, Santa Cruz Gives raised $413,161 for 37 nonprofits. Total donations increased by 74.5% over 2018, and the number of donors increased by 48% over 2018.

Other nonprofits primarily serving South Santa Cruz County youth selected by Santa Cruz Gives:


Organization Mission: We create and support one-on-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. We have served more than 7,000 local at-risk children, providing a crucial foundation at a critical time of their lives. Mentors make Santa Cruz County a safer and healthier place by helping children make better decisions, which increases their chances of staying in school and decreases their challenges with substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and the criminal justice system.

Big Idea: Virtual and In-Person Mentoring

More than one-third of youth in Big Brothers Big Sisters have become caretakers, breadwinners and tutors since the pandemic began. Covid-19 disproportionately affects the families we serve.

All of our services are available virtually now, and one positive outcome is that this opens up mentoring for more volunteers, including seniors and others who also may be experiencing isolation. We are uniquely positioned to provide consistent out-of-school and virtual support if needed, and our mentors continue to serve as a vital source of consistency and connection.


Organization Mission: CASA of Santa Cruz County advocates for children, providing court-appointed volunteers so each child in the Dependency Court system feels cared for and connected with the people, families, and resources they need to heal and flourish into adulthood.

Big Idea: Advocating for Foster Youth in Santa Cruz County

Covid-19 is affecting all of us, but children in foster care are especially vulnerable to abuse and neglect. CASA volunteers make sure these children are protected from the isolation that comes with this pandemic. Children in foster care rely on members of their community to ensure they aren’t left behind as the world shelters in place.

CASA recruits, screens, trains, and supervises Volunteer Advocates to work one-on-one with children and their families to support reunification or permanent placement into a safe and healthy home. Advocates get to know their child’s situation and needs, help caregivers access resources to meet those needs, and advocate for the child’s best interests in court, community, and school settings.


Organization Mission: We help people, businesses and communities act now to reduce carbon emissions at scale for a healthy, thriving future. Ecology Action was founded in Santa Cruz in 1970 and has helped to start and run programs that help our region lead the nation in environmental sustainability. Our initiatives include Earth Day Santa Cruz, Bike to Work Day/Bike Challenge, Safe Routes to Schools/BikeSmart/WalkSmart, Electric Vehicle Incentive Programs/National Drive Electric Day, and Monterey Bay Friendly Landscaping/Green Gardener Programs.

Big Idea: Bike Skills are Life Skills

In our lowest income neighborhoods, children walk and bike to school on the dirt shoulder of roads where big rigs roll by less than 20 feet away. One way Ecology Action achieves transportation justice is to ensure all of our children have equal access to skill development training for safely biking and walking by providing free, online classroom training. We support both teachers and students in low-income areas. We seek community support (donations, volunteers, and sponsors) to ensure every fifth-grader rides safely on their bikes and every second-grader can cross a street safely in traffic. There are 109 classes in the county and we seek funds for training the last 25 classes in Live Oak, Bonny Doon, San Lorenzo Valley, Scotts Valley, Watsonville, and Happy Valley.


Organization Mission: “Food, What?!” is a youth empowerment and food justice organization. At FoodWhat, youth cultivate their well-being, liberation and power by engaging in relationships with land, food and each other. Youth from Watsonville to Santa Cruz join the FoodWhat Crew through our Spring Internship, Summer Job Training and Fall Project Management programs. Within the supportive space of FoodWhat, youth grow, cook, eat and distribute farm-fresh, organic food while addressing local food justice issues.

Big Idea: Youth Empowerment, Food Justice

As economic, health and food insecurity deepens in our community, youth of color continue to struggle in these areas with disproportionate difficulty. That’s why at FoodWhat, we will continue to get fresh, healthy food to marginalized youth and their families—no matter what. Whether from growing their own food on the farm, or receiving fresh CSAs at their doorsteps, FoodWhat families will have a food access point that is stabilizing, nourishing and community-driven.


Organization Mission: To inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, and to respect themselves and the world around them. Girls Inc. serves 1,700 girls in 41 schools with trained professionals (often older teens) who mentor them in a safe environment. Girls are inspired to pursue secondary education, develop leadership and decision-making skills, serve their communities, and acquire the ability and wisdom to lead healthy lifestyles.

Big Idea: Virtual Leadership Mentoring Program for High School Girls

The overriding goal of our new virtual program is that girls will learn to set and achieve goals, boldly confront challenges, resist peer pressure, see college as attainable, and explore nontraditional fields. The virtual setting eliminates transportation issues and will allow girls throughout Santa Cruz County to participate more easily. Participants will meet twice a month for 12 interactive, virtual sessions.


Organization Mission: Jacob’s Heart exists to improve the quality of life for children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses by supporting their families in the challenges they face. We provide emotional, practical, financial and peer support to hundreds of local children with cancer and thousands of their family members. We envision a community where every child with a serious or life-threatening condition has a strong, supported and informed family empowered to fully participate in their care.

Big Idea: Medically Fragile Children

Caring for a medically fragile child is always rife with fear and uncertainty. Financial stress compounds when your child is seriously ill. Siblings are confused and scared. A simple trip to the grocery store is always a risk when caring for an immunocompromised child. Early in 2020, no one could have imagined the challenges that were about to befall the children and families we care for at Jacob’s Heart. We seek support for our new laser-focused emergency relief plan to address the immediate physical and emotional needs of families of medically fragile children during the pandemic: safe housing, food, transportation to treatment and crisis counseling.


Organization Mission: We help kids in the Santa Cruz County area to grow up healthy and with opportunities to pursue their dreams. Our foundation is inspired by Coco Lazenby, who was killed in a car accident in 2015 at age 12. We work to provide local children with opportunities that made a difference in her life.

Big Idea: Improving Book Diversity

This year, we are stepping up efforts to improve language diversity and to represent a wider variety of ethnicities, family backgrounds and abilities for our literacy program. Our program provides books to students at local public schools, at little free libraries we’ve placed throughout the community, and to local organizations that reach our most vulnerable communities. We also sponsor a forest and community garden, pay for scholarships, and organize beach cleanups and field trips, among other efforts to improve the lives of local kids, with a focus on those in low-income communities.


Organization Mission: Senderos is a volunteer-based organization that forges pathways to success for Latino youth through free traditional music and dance programs, and fosters educational opportunities. Senderos has established cultural pride in the face of racism and gang involvement, and has grown from serving seven youth in 2001 to more than 150 youth and young adults each year.

Big Idea: Equity in Education and Arts for Latino Youth

In 2021, we will focus on academic and cultural arts equity for Latino youth. Senderos will provide homework help, tutoring, and mentoring for youth, and computer literacy training for parents. Distance learning has illuminated the disparities for low-income, immigrant families. Where possible, improved connectivity, headsets, and quiet learning spaces could make a difference. Senderos also seeks to build our scholarship fund to motivate first-generation students on their pathway to higher education. Finally, we aim to enhance methods to engage youth in our free, now virtual, music and dance classes.


Organization Mission: The Teen Kitchen Project builds healthier communities by cooking food. Chefs and nutritionists help volunteer teens cook nourishing meals that are delivered to individuals and families in crisis due to severe illness throughout Santa Cruz County.

Big Idea: Support the Critically Ill with Home Delivered Meals

Help us increase delivered meals by 200% to support those who are isolated due to illness during the pandemic. Your support will provide uninterrupted meal delivery service to 500 Santa Cruz County individuals and families who are impacted by a life-threatening illness. We’ll also continue to engage teens as a paid, stable workforce in order to deliver a total of 97,000 meals in 2020, representing an increase in production of 140% as we respond to the evolving impact of the pandemic.


Organization Mission: Watsonville Wetlands Watch works to preserve, restore, and foster appreciation of the wetlands of the Pajaro Valley, and involve the Watsonville community. Our education programs reach over 4,000 students with outdoor learning that helps to develop the next generation of environmental leaders.

Big Idea: Climate Change Leadership Institute, Expanding Urban Forest

In response to Covid-19 and to support our initiative Wetlands Action for Climate Change, we launched a paid job training program that helps Watsonville teens expand their leadership skills and take local actions to curb climate change and address environmental justice issues. Funds raised from Santa Cruz Gives will enable the development of the Climate Corps Leadership Institute, a multi-year paid internship for teens, and will also support the expansion of urban tree plantings in Watsonville. Teens will plant trees on streets, parks, schools, and neighborhoods and will develop small group action projects to affect big changes related to climate change resilience and urban forests in Watsonville.


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Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.
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