2014 Asset Champions Breakfast Honorees

Asset Champions” Honored for Work Supporting Youth at Project Cornerstone Awards Breakfast

1,000 people representing local governments, businesses, schools, community organizations, and the faith community as well as parents and youth attended Project Cornerstone’s annual Asset Champions Breakfast on Friday, March 21 at the Santa Clara Convention Center. The event honored the individuals and organizations whose commitment to building positive relationships with young people makes Silicon Valley a better place for young people to live and grow.

The theme of the 2014 Asset Champions Breakfast was Celebrating UPstanders. Co-masters of ceremony were Kiya and Niya Paul, Willow Glen High School juniors, and Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Chief Scott Seaman. Keynote speaker was Respect Insititue CEO Courtney Macavinta.    Santa Clara County Board of Supervisor’s President Mike Wasserman spoke and congratulated Project Cornerstone on 15 years in Silicon Valley. Entertainment was provided by the Lowell Elementary Mariachis and by Heather Appling, who sang “The Greatest Love of All.” Janice Fry, chairman of the YMCA of Silicon Valley board of directors, closed the program.

 SPARK Award Presented to Dr. Barbara Varenhorst


Dr. Varenhorst is a pioneer in the peer helper movement and has made a tremendous impact on youth. Over the span of her career, she has focused on the assets of youth as resources and positive peer influence while training thousands of youth to be resources for each other.

As a psychologist in the Palo Alto Unified School District in the 1970s, Dr. Varenhorst recognized that students were seeking help from their friends and peers before the adults in their lives, when it came to problem solving or decision making. This inspired her to develop a Peer Counseling curriculum and training at Gunn High School, teaching young people communication skills, human dynamics, and when to get assistance from caring adults. Programs such as Peer Helpers, Natural Helpers, Peer Mediation, and Peer Ministry all came from her original work.

Forty years later, after a series of teen suicides in the community, Dr. Varenhorst returned to Gunn High School and inspired student leaders once again to become peer helpers with coping strategies for personal relationships, family issues, and academic challenges. Most recently, she’s continued her work at Saratoga High School, with students and staff who are committed to student empowerment and positive peer influence.

“We honor Dr. Varenhorst today as a true role model for all of us to remember to empower our young people with responsible, meaningful tasks, and for being such a powerful ‘spark’ in the lives of thousands of young people throughout her career.” 

Linda Silvius, Director of School Partnerships, Project Cornerstone

 Johnson Tran Receives Positive Peer Influence Award

JohnsonTranJohnson positively influences his peers every day, serving as the youth voice representing Santa Clara County in policy organizations throughout the county and nationally. 

As chairperson of the Santa Clara County Youth Task Force, he currently is leading efforts to host a Youth Resources Fair that focuses on college and career planning. He’s also been instrumental in developing the task force’s by-laws and work plan. His most recent accomplishments include mobilizing more than 200 young people to participate in Day on the Bay, a multicultural community resource event in Alviso. 

Johnson also serves on the Leadership Council for the Opportunity Youth Partnership, an organization that focuses on strategies to connect resources with people (ages 16 to 24) who are not engaged in school or work.  Since working with both organizations, Johnson has successfully utilized social media to engage his peers with the details of meetings, conferences and events. His desire to include other youth in these efforts is what makes him exceptional, as he focuses on bringing to the meetings other youth who are experiencing challenges and obstacles in their lives. As a result, he’s exposing his peers to the bigger world and the role they play in it.

“I think that you, Johnson, are a very inspiring person. Thank you for everything that you have accomplished thus far, and continue the work you are doing.”  Brenda Mercado, Friend

 Leticia Tapia Receives Positive Cultural Influence Award


Leticia’s efforts working with staff, parents and students at Payne Elementary School in Moreland School District demonstrate a caring adult promoting positive cultural identity. Her contributions to the Spanish-speaking population have increased parent involvement in the school community. Through encouraging and mentoring parents to be volunteers in the Los Dichos program, she supports parents in learning how to present a lesson to the students, how to lead sensitive discussions on conflict resolution or building peace, and how to take pride in the gift of instilling a strong Spanish language foundation in their child’s learning experience.

As the Spanish-speaking lead teacher for Parent Project Junior classes, Leticia facilitates discussions with parents that are focused on academic support strategies to assist their child’s learning at home and at school. Parent feedback shows that the skills learned have had a positive impact on their relationship with their children.

Leticia also serves as a lunch-time yard duty supervisor, supporting a safe, responsible, and respectful school environment throughout the day. Her tremendous warmth of character and the respect she shows students enables her to be a caring and trusted adult that they interact with daily.

“Leticia is highly respected for her grace, her commitment to our educational mission, her deep generosity, and her obvious love and respect for our students, parents and staff. The influence she has had and the contributions she will continue to make to children, parents and staff as a Spanish-speaking leader in the Payne School community are making an impact.”   Theresa Molinelli, Principal, Payne Elementary School

Officer Ron Cooper Receives Adult Role Model Award


As a Mountain View Police Department School Resources Officer, “Coop”— as he is affectionately called by students — has mentored, inspired and acted as a positive adult role model for young people for 10 years.  Prior to becoming a school resources officer, he was an engineer with IBM who was inspired to make a difference in the lives of youth. In the past decade, Officer Cooper has provided support for many at-risk youth, reminding them that their life choices have consequences and guiding them to make positive choices that will lead to success. He also focuses on helping youth build stronger relationships with their families.

Officer Cooper runs the police department’s award-winning Dreams and Futures summer gang prevention program for fourth through seventh graders that emphasizes teamwork, self-esteem, decision making and standing strong against drugs, alcohol and gangs. Many graduates of the program return and share their experiences of making positive choices and finding success in life. 

In 2002, Officer Cooper started the police department’s Cops that Care annual holiday giving program, which raises money to buy toys for more than 1,700 children each year. He also started a boxing league, coaching and mentoring youth in all aspects of their lives.  He was honored by the Mountain View/Los Altos/Los Altos Hills Challenge Team in 2008 as a Champion of Youth and by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 as a Community Quarterback.

 “All of Coop’s kids are grateful for all that he has done. He has really inspired many with all that he’s done and all that he’s given. Ron Cooper is definitely an admirable person.”   Alicia Herrera, student

 TeenForce Receives Community Values Youth Award


TeenForce is rooted in building developmental assets in Silicon Valley youth. With the motto of “Our Teens, Our Jobs, Our Community,” Founded by John Hogan, TeenForce is a social enterprise helping solve the teen and foster youth employment crisis by meeting the hiring needs of business while concurrently creating a business community that values youth.   

Through TeenForce, young people are discovering their potential by working jobs and receiving support on their path to self-sufficiency. They gain critical life skills, recognize their role in the community and meet adult role models and mentors. Work can include helping a company with web design or providing care for an elderly person at an assisted living facility. As the youth succeed in their roles, they gain self-esteem, enabling them to feel they have control in their lives and hope for their future.

While taking on the challenge of employment for youth in foster care, TeenForce addresses critical issues such as low high school graduation rate and lack of interest in youth pursuing college or vocational training. Through their connection with the Foster Youth Employment Coalition and the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund, TeenForce helps young people gain confidence and skills while improving adult/teen relationships. Teens can then become healthy, caring and responsible young adults who value their roles in the community.

Since TeenForce began in 2010, it has placed 318 employees with 73 businesses. These teens have worked 101,597 hours and earned more than $900,000. The organization is creating a community of businesses who recognize and value youth while making a positive impact in a teenager’s life.

“TeenForce has helped me develop job skills for the future by helping me learn the skills I need to be effective in a corporate environment.”

Ja’nai Spain, TeenForce participant

 P.A. Walsh Elementary School Receives Caring School Climate Award


The students, staff and parents at P.A. Walsh Elementary School in Morgan Hill Unified School District begin each weekday morning with a pledge to show respect for others, make good choices and problem solve at home, at school and in their community. This creates a school climate of respect and caring that continues throughout the day through visual reminders and a variety of activities.

Across the campus students, staff and parents are greeted with street signs on the buildings that include Caring Street, Respect Road and Trustworthiness Way. Students and staff are proud of what the signs represent, and they are reminders that the P.A. Walsh community values each other.  

Through the Project Cornerstone ABC and Los Dichos programs, parent volunteers teach lessons about bullying, positive self-concept, and positive cultural identity. The Expect Respect Club has engaged the school community in an anti-bullying campaign. During recess, the Funvisor volunteer parents work hard to ensure that all students are engaged and not isolated.

In the Taking It Personally workshops offered in English and Spanish, parents are learning about the impact caring adults have on youth. Together, they’re incorporating changes in their lives to create a community where all youth can find success.

On-site counseling is available for students and parents in an effort to prevent behavior issues from arising and for students to feel safe. Students who make poor choices are asked to spend time helping others on campus, oftentimes by reading a caring book to another student. P.A. Walsh School is creating a campus with the caring environment that children need in order to thrive.

 “Isn’t it amazing how people don’t make fun of other people here anymore?”

Student, P.A. Walsh

 Don Callejon School Receives Caring School Climate Award


The creation of a safe, caring school where students feel respected and valued has been an essential component of Don Callejon’s school success for the past seven years. This has involved balancing a focus on students’ academic achievement and their personal growth.

Don Callejon School’s K-8 students represent the cultural and economic diversity of Silicon Valley. Staff, families, community members, and students have worked diligently to overcome cultural and socioeconomic differences among students. Programs have been introduced to boost academic skills, improve school climate, and create consistencies at all levels.   

Middle school students engage in cross-age interactions through buddy classrooms, community building based on demonstrating respect and responsibility, the sports program, activities between elementary and middle school, the drama club, and the outdoor adventure program. These programs increase self-esteem and pride and have resulted in students taking more responsibility for their own behavior and academic success. The buddy program is especially powerful, as it empowers middle school students to act as role models for their elementary buddies, allowing them to realize the significance of their behavior choices.

“We are fortunate to have a school that offers so many programs, thus allowing each student many opportunities to explore their interests and their community in a safe and nurturing environment. Each morning, the school day begins with announcements and warm words of welcome by the members of the middle school and the school principal. The Don Callejon School staff and community promote, in both word and action, students who are self-assured, considerate individuals who are always looking for ways to better themselves and their community.”

Jennifer Whitten, parent volunteer

 Yerba Buena High School Receives Caring School Climate Award


Yerba Buena High School in the Eastside Union High School District has made a significant impact in creating a caring school climate by reducing the use of school suspensions by 85 percent. This is due to a philosophical shift that created a more caring and student-focused environment that keeps students in school where they belong.

In the 2009 – 2010 school year, Yerba Buena, a high school of slightly more than 1,600 students, had an alarming rate of 682 suspensions. School leadership recognized that many students came to school burdened by the stress of poverty, neighborhood violence and prior unsuccessful school experiences.

Working with a community consortium, school administrators, counselors and teachers began receiving daily reports about what was happening in the neighborhoods that might affect one of their students emotionally, such as a fight or robbery, domestic violence or deportation of a family member. Utilizing this information, adults at the school began to reach out to troubled students and provide support, often diffusing the emotion that may lead a youth to act out. As a result, in just one year, school suspensions plummeted to 77.

Teachers also provided an alternative to sending students home and instead enabled disruptive students to remain on school grounds, receive counseling, complete class work and participate in school beautification activities. Now students feel they are valued at school.

“The teachers and administrators at Yerba Buena care about their students. One teacher always has food available to ensure that no student is hungry at the start of his class. Another teacher makes home visits. Another goes to the local recreation center and plays handball with the students. This caring makes an impression on the students who attend the school.”

Student, Yerba Buena High School

 About Project Cornerstone

Project Cornerstone is committed to helping every child feel valued, respected, and known. We are building a community where all adults support children and youth so they find their spark and thrive. Project Cornerstone works within the YMCA of Silicon Valley and with over 200 community partners and schools to intentionally build in youth the positive relationships, opportunities, values, and skills—known collectively as “developmental assets”—that provide the foundation for a healthy, successful future.  For more information visit www.projectcornerstone.org.

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