Project Cornerstone Celebrates Our Volunteers

School-based volunteers and school staff honored at annual celebration

YMCA/Project Cornerstone’s annual Volunteer Appreciation event on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 honored the nearly 3,300 adult volunteers who generously donate their time to deliver Project Cornerstone’s School Partnerships programs in schools throughout Silicon Valley:

 ·         The Asset Building Champions (ABC) program brings parent volunteers into elementary school classrooms, using children’s literature to address the difficult topics of bullying, teasing, and peaceful conflict resolution as well as the importance of family support, friendship, and healthy decision making. After reading a story aloud to the children, the parent volunteers lead discussions and hands-on activities that reinforce the story’s lesson. Teachers, parents, and students alike enjoy the lessons and activities that make it easier for children to talk about ways to handle common problems and concerns.

·         Los Dichos enables Spanish-speaking families to share their language and heritage with the entire class, promoting positive cultural identity in students of the same background and increased cultural competence for classmates of different backgrounds.  Parents share stories of their heritage in classrooms while promoting positive values such as cultural pride, tolerance, and healthy decision making.

 These programs reach over 45,990 students each month throughout Silicon Valley.  In addition to recognizing the volunteers in these established programs, Project Cornerstone presented awards that recognize and honor the many administrators, teachers, and volunteers whose school-based efforts help create caring, vibrant learning communities where all students are supported to thrive and achieve.

 Volunteers of the Year

This year, Project Cornerstone honored three Volunteers of the Year—Yolanda Lopez, Jodie Oubre, and Reid Meyers.

 YOLANDA LOPEZ is the Los Dichos coordinator for Lowell Elementary School in San Jose Unified School District.  Yolanda has been a part of the Los Dichos program for 6 years and for the last 3 years has been the site coordinator. For the 400 students at Lowell School and the 10 Los Dichos readers, Yolanda brings the monthly lessons to life. Yolanda goes the extra mile to make sure students enjoy the activities that are part of the lesson. For example, with the book “The Woman Who Outshone the Sun”, she made a life size, three dimensional piece of art of the lead character from the book.  This art piece was used in all of the classrooms and shared with the site coordinators at other schools.

 Yolanda also inspires the students at Lowell to be readers. In her own words, “I really enjoy reading the Los Dichos books because I have seen that modeling reading helps my children. When I read they become more self-motivated to read themselves.” Perhaps no higher “award” can be given to Yolanda than the name the students have given her – “maestra” – Spanish for teacher.  

“Yolanda . . . not only talks the talk – she makes it happen every day. She has taken Los Dichos from a Monday through Friday activity to something that is essential to the Lowell community. Yolanda serves as a model for what could be, and for what MUST be – every single day.”  Emalie McGinnis, Lowell Elementary Principal  

 JODIE OUBRE is the ABC program lead at Graystone Elementary School in San Jose Unified School District.  She serves as the parent lead even though her children have already graduated.  Graystone has 32 parent volunteers. It is an active, involved group of parents and Jodie shows the same level of commitment and dedication to the program as if her own children were still in school there.

 Jodie has also become an integral part of the major events hosted by Project Cornerstone – the Annual Asset Champion Awards Breakfast and the Volunteer Celebration. She has served on the Asset Champion Awards Breakfast Volunteer Committee for 5 years and the past two years has chaired the videography committee. She has also served on the Breakfast decorations committee for all the years of her involvement.  Additionally, she has served as a committee member for the annual Volunteer Celebration and she creates artwork monthly that is shared with other Project Cornerstone schools.

 “Words that come to mind in describing Jodi are dedicated, enthusiastic, creative, dependable and always willing to go the extra mile. She understands the heart of asset building and is unfailingly dependable. She does the extra things that are unexpected and is an invaluable asset to our team.”  Anne Ehresman, Executive Director of Project Cornerstone.

 REID MEYERS is a parent in the Sunnyvale School District and she made certain that Cumberland Elementary was the first in the district to adopt the ABC parent engagement program. She has been the ABC co-lead for 3 years now and has helped spread the ABC program to the rest of the Sunnyvale School District elementary schools.   In addition to volunteering with the ABC program, Reid has taken to heart the goal of ensuring that all children find success and all schools provide high quality educational experiences by successfully campaigning to be a school board member.  As a school board member she actively advocates for the developmental asset model and caring schools.

“Reid has been a dynamic and tireless advocate for Project Cornerstone and the Development Assets in our community and school district. Due to Reid’s leadership the Sunnyvale School District Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution supporting the Project Cornerstone movement in all district schools. She was also instrumental in the Sunnyvale Challenge Team being recognized recently for using the Developmental Assets as their guiding principles.”  Benjamin Picard, Superintendent Sunnyvale School District.

 Trailblazers Awards  

The Trailblazer Award honors individuals who develop innovative programs to meet the unique needs of their schools and districts this year’s Trailblazer recipients are the following:

 ·         ELIZABETH EASTMAN has been promoting Asset #9, Service to Others at Escondido Elementary in Palo Alto by creating school wide service projects. She recruited other parents and together they work with students at lunchtime to put together their service project.  Some of the things they have done this year include assemble bag lunches for people who need food;  collected Halloween candy to send overseas to the troops along with thank you cards; and making cat toys for a local animal shelter.  The Escondido PTA have created a committee chair position for their community service projects so that these school wide efforts will continue.

 ·         MARWA SABRY is a parent who participated in the Project Cornerstone parent workshops, which are a 6 week intensive group.  It made such an impact that she wanted to share it with others in her community.  Because the materials were only available in English and Spanish, she translated the materials into Arabic to meet the needs of her community. Then in order to provide maximum flexibility she has organized a group of parents that meet weekly using Skype. 

 ·         JULIE DESAI, ALICE LEE, YIHE DENG, JINYAN ZHAN, LING XIAO, BEILI XIANG and WEIHUA ZHOU have worked together to translate the ABC lessons into Mandarin to meet the needs of the large number of parents at Santa Rita Elementary in Los Altos that speak Mandarin Chinese as their primary language.  By working as a group they have managed to translate 4 years of materials and lessons.  Beili is a major contributor to this project even though she lives in China.

 Leadership Lunch Box

Leadership Lunch Box is awarded to school leaders who pioneered Project Cornerstone programs in their districts or who moved to new schools and brought the developmental assets framework with them.

·         Three school district superintendents were recognized for supporting Project Cornerstone in their districts: MAURICE GHYSELS from the Menlo Park City School District, CARY MATSUOKA from the Milpitas Unified SD, and JOHN PORTER from Franklin McKinley School District.

·         Five school principals were recognized for their outstanding efforts to bring Project Cornerstone to new campuses or take it deeper at their school site: SANDRA MCGONAGLE at Blach Junior High in Los Altos School District; LISA HICKEY at Juana Briones Elementary in Palo Alto School District, ELVIA TEXIERIA at P.A. Walsh Elementary in Morgan Hill School District; LISA TAOIAMA at Sedgwick Elementary in Cupertino School District; and DAVID WILCE at Capri Elementary School in Campbell School District..

·         TRACY CRESSIO at Williams Elementary in San Jose Unified School District and RAYLENE NESBIT at Cherry Chase Elementary in Sunnyvale School District were recognized for creating exemplary programs that give students choices during recess; times where bullying behaviors often occur. 

·         BRENDA CARILLO is the Director of Students Services for Palo Alto Unified School District this school year and she has worked diligently with principals and community partners to spread knowledge about developmental assets in the Palo Alto community.  

·         MYRIAM Cordero is the parent liaison at Lynhaven School in Campbell and has been with the Los Dichos program from the very beginning. Myriam has been an outstanding advocate for the program, for the parents, and for the asset of Positive Cultural Identity.  She has helped shy monolingual Spanish speaking parents grow into school leaders as they find their voice through Los Dichos and she has nurtured their leadership development all along the way.  

Another award given to 28 volunteers at the event was the Volar Adelante (“Soaring Forward”) Award presented to school-based volunteers who develop innovative asset-building programs and strategies that meet the unique needs of their communities.  156 volunteers were also recognized with the You Measure Up Award for their efforts to ensure that the ABC and Los Dichos programs were fully implemented at their school sites.

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2013 Project Cornerstone Asset Champions Breakfast – Blow by Blow

By Soma McCandless
So you missed our annual breakfast. Not to worry, details are below:
People started flowing into our new location, the Santa Clara Convention Center, at 7:00AM. There was a 5 minute walk from the parking lot to the breakfast hall. Along the way, every guest was greeted by many smiling youth pointing the way to the reception. When the doors opened, guests entered a beautifully decorated ballroom with over 120 tables!
As the breakfast began, the 1250 guests were serenaded by the Willow Glen Pep Band. All guests were welcomed.

There were:
Teachers and school staff
Principals and Superintendents
Elected Officials
Police Officers and many more!

The keynote speaker, Steve Young, was warmly introduced by Bay Area businessman and philanthropist John Sobrato. Steve moved the crowd with his stories of both his childhood and young adulthood. Steve was funny and articulate and provided many great laughs. He talked about the incredible support he had from his parents, his own motivation and hardships, and the support his son is now receiving from his school. Through his stories he touched upon many Developmental Assets and the importance of all the work we are doing!

Chief of Police from Los Gatos Scott Seaman and Los Gatos High School Senior Olivia Flechsig were the Master of Ceremonies.

Guests watched as schools, community leaders, and youth were presented with Asset Champion Awards. Many individuals, schools, and organizations were nominated. All nominees were recognized.

The guests were treated to a beautiful vocal performance by Shannon Haley, a student from Archbishop Mitty High School.

And of course we closed with a request for any and all generous donors out there to donate to Project Cornerstone so that we can continue to support asset building throughout Silicon Valley and beyond!

If you missed the breakfast this year, no worries, we will be back next year to once again celebrate all of our local heroes and UPstanders!

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Silent Auction Update

The ONE artwork created by Kathryn Otoshi for Project Cornerstone is now up to $500. Bids will be accepted until 3:00 Wednesday, 3/27/13. Email your bid to The auction will continue at the Asset Champions Breakfast on Thursday morning and conclude at 10:00 a.m.

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Sometimes it just takes ONE Silent Auction

Award winning author Kathryn Otoshi created a one of a kind piece of art to celebrate her partnership with Project Cornerstone.  We are auctioning off the ONE Keepsake Box at our Asset Champions Breakfast on March 28th along with an autographed copy of the book ONE.

DIMENSIONS:  14”wide x 14” high


You can place your bid in advance by emailing Executive Director Anne Ehresman at Updates will be posted on the Project Cornerstone Facebook page and on our blog at  Please include your name, phone number, and the amount of your bid. You will receive a confirmation email that your bid has been accepted and recorded.  Advance bids will be accepted until 3:00pm on Wednesday, March 27th. 


Bids will be accepted until 10:00 a.m.  There will be a silent auction table at the entrance to the ballroom.  Need not be present to win.


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Building Developmental Assets on Valentine’s Day! Sweet! by Brenda Serna

Kids need adults they can trust…
Who did you turn to for advice, comfort, and understanding when you were young? Was there an adult you trusted and enjoyed talking with? If you had an adult outside your family who was there for you during tough times and good times, you probably understand how important a relationship like that is for a young person. Now you can be that adult friend. Whether you’re a parent, neighbor, teacher, tutor, coach, aunt, or older cousin —you can build assets in youth. Other Adult Relationships is Asset # 3 of Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets. We create developmental assets by providing youth withpositive experiences that will help them thrive.
Research Shows…
According to Search Institute only 52% percent of elementary school aged children in Santa Clara County have three or more non-parent adults in their lives. Caring adults are important to the development of young people. Youth who have three or more caring adults in their lives feel happier, do better in school and are less likely to be involved in risky behavior.
Tips for building asset # 3…
Build relationships with the kids in your neighborhood by inviting your child’s friends and any other kids in the neighborhood over on Valentine’s Day to bake cupcakes, cookies or any other Valentine’s Day treat. It would be a great opportunity to strengthen the relationships in your neighborhood. If you don’t know the families in your neighborhood, you might want to consider introducing yourself. This can be the first step to begin creating relationships with youth in your neighborhood. Connect with young people outside your own family and make an effort to interact regularly. They need caring adults to bounce ideas off, ask questions, laugh with, and help sort through sticky situations. If you’re a parent, encourage other caring adults to develop a friendship with your children.

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Cuba’s Literacy Rate

By Linda Silvius

If you are a regular follower of our blog, you may remember that I was lucky enough to travel to Cuba in January 2012 and when I wrote for our blog, it was about the amazing literacy rate in Cuba– 97% of their population is literate. Their students score higher than any other country in Central and South America on standardized tests. Their education is free all the way through university level.  When Fidel Castro led his revolution in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, education was one of two major priorities.  What did he do to move this country from 24% of their population who were totally illiterate to only 3.9%?

One trip to Cuba in a year is lucky – two in a year is VERY lucky!! So when the opportunity arose to go again this December I decided that I wanted to learn what the “secret” was to this amazing literacy rate. Turns out it was no secret at all – in fact they have a Museum of Literacy in Havana that documents the entire process. And I have to say, I walked out of that museum amazed at how a very simple concept had the power to change lives forever.

In January of 1961, Fidel Castro issued a call to young people – students aged 14 and 15.  He summoned them to step up and go into the rural areas of the country where the literacy rate was at its worst. He asked them to leave their homes and live with host families. These young people were to work in the fields with their host families during the day and teach them to read and write at night. One hundred and five thousand students ranging in age from 12 – 15 stepped up and volunteered!! Yes, 105,000 young people volunteered!

These youth were then given a crash course in how to teach reading and writing to people who were totally illiterate. The people who taught the youth were experienced teachers who had gone through the university program for educators and were teaching in schools all over Havana and surrounding areas, in addition to university professors. People who were in political agreement with Castro came from Mexico and all of Central America to teach the youth. This effort was massive and focused.

Every movement has its symbols – and this one was no exception. Each of the youth teachers who went into the countryside took not just their teaching supplies but also a lantern that had been supplied by theSoviet Union. Since the studying and teaching had to happen in the evening, after a day in the fields was finished, and there was no electricity in rural Cuba, the lantern was not only the symbol of the literacy movement, but a very practical tool needed by the young teachers.

The oldest person taught to read and write was 110 years old. The youngest teacher was 8 years old! Many of the youth teachers from the literacy campaign went on to become teachers as adults and some are still teaching! The museum has a documentary film, “Maestra” which tells the story of 3 teachers from the literacy movement. It was clearly a time in their lives when they – as young people – knew they were a resource to their community!

On December 22, 1961, Castro declared that illiteracy had been eradicated from Cuba. It had been less than a year since he challenged the young people of the country to step up to the challenge of ending illiteracy. At that point in time over 20% of illiteracy had been eliminated, with 3.9% remaining. To this day, they have held to that rate!

They have packaged their literacy curriculum/campagin so it can be used in other places. Venezula, Brazil and Nicarauga have all used their curriculum and also eradicated illiteracy. It is also being used in Canada and Australia.

So how did those young people know when their adult students were “done”? Was there a final exam they had to administer?  Did they have to read out loud or write an essay to be graded?  The “final exam” was for the adult student to actually write a thank you letter to Fidel Castro. The Literacy Museum has thousands of those letters on file – and they certainly tell the story of an idea that became a reality because youth were empowered to teach their elders in communities to read and write!


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Twelve Days of Christmas – Project Cornerstone Style

On the first day of Christmas, Project Cornerstone gave to me….

First Day An UPstander on the playground

Second Day Two warm fuzzies

Third Day Three role plays

Fourth Day Four ABC readers

Fifth Day Five parent groups

Sixth Day Six teacher trainings

Seventh Day Seven community meetings

Eighth Day Eight groups of assets

Ninth Day Nine Los Dichos lessons

Tenth Day Ten free fish a-swimming

Eleventh Day Eleven service projects

Twelfth Day Twelve youth a-thriving

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Day of the Dead /’“Dia de los Muertos” by Brenda Serna

Dia de los Muertos is a traditional Meso-American holiday dedicated to the ancestors. The celebration honors both death and the cycle of life. It is also a way to remember people that have passed away, while acknowledging the relationships still present with the deceased.

In Mexico, people celebrate this day by going to the cemetery and taking their loved ones their favorite dishes, music, and other items that symbolize what they enjoyed during their life. Another common practice is creating altars with pictures of their deceased loved ones. Altars are decorated with orange and yellow marigolds, candles and items that represent the deceased.

Two of the special foods enjoyed by people in Mexico during Day of the Dead festivities are the pan de muerto and sugar skulls. Pan de Muerto is a special semi-sweet bread with bone like shapes on the top of the bread. A plastic skeleton is hidden inside and It’s believed that the person that bites into the skeleton will have luck. It is also believed that when people take a bite out of it they are “taking a bite of death” and it protects them from fear of death.

Pan de Muerto Recipe
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours, 40 minutes

1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cup water
6 cups flour
2 packets dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons whole anise seed
2 tablespoons orange zest
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs
Glaze (see below)

Bring all ingredients to room temperature (except for the water which should be very warm) before beginning.

In a large bowl, mix together butter, sugar, anise, salt and 1/2 cup of the flour. In a separate bowl combine the eggs and the water.
Add the egg/water mixture to the first mixture and add in another 1/2 cup of the flour. Add in the yeast and another 1/2 cup of flour. Continue to add the flour 1 cup at a time until a dough forms.
Knead on a floured surface for about 1 minute.
Cover with a slightly damp dishcloth and let rise in a warm area for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Bring out dough and punch it down.
Remove about 1/4 of it and use it to make bone shapes to drape across the loaf (see below.)
Or divide the dough into smaller pieces to create other bone shapes. Let the shaped dough rise for 1 more hour.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes for smaller loaves and up to 45 minutes for larger loaves.

GLAZES (After glaze is applied you may decorate with additional colored sugar.)
Bring to a boil- 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup fresh orange juice. Brush on bread and then sift some additional sugar over the top.
Mix 3 tablespoons orange juice concentrate and 1/3 cup sugar with 2 egg whites. Brush on bread during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Bring to a boil- 1/4 cup piloncillo, 1/4 cup sugar, 2/3 cup cranberry juice and 2 tablespoons orange zest. Brush on bread after bread has cooled.

BONES The most common bone decorations are very simple. Sometimes it’s just a matter of forming ball shapes and pressing them into the loaf in a line. You could also take a piece of dough, roll it into a long cylinder and place a ball at each end. You can get much more detailed if you like, but even a slightly “knobby” looking loaf will get the idea across.

Events in the area:
1. San Francisco Day of the Dead Procession and Festival of Altars
Friday, November 2, 2012

2. The National Hispanic University: Dia de los Muertos 3rd Annual Festival
Saturday, October 27, 2012

3. 2012 Fruitvale Día de los Muertos Festival
Sunday, October 28, 2012

Recommended Día de Los Muertos Children’s Book: The Spirit of Tío Fernando – El espíritu de tío Fernando by Janice Levy

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Asset Building in 10 Seconds or Less by Lori Maitski

Building assets is the accumulation of thousands of moments in life in which a young person is valued, respected and known. Moments take seconds. Here are 10 ways to connect with young people and adults:

1 second          Smile
2 seconds        Smile and make eye contact
3 seconds        Smile, make eye contact, stand tall, and wave
4 seconds        Greet the person: Say Hi, Hello, Hola, Good to see  you, Good morning…
5 seconds        Introduce yourself: “My name is ____,” “What’s yours?” Shake hands
6 seconds        Ask: “How’s it going?” “What’s new?”
7 seconds        Laugh together and share a joke or funny story.
8 seconds        Just be nice. Give someone a compliment.
9 seconds        Ask a question, What do you like to do?
10 seconds      Shine the light on someone doing something right.  Notice, name and       celebrate a positive action.

Developmental assets are experiences, values, relationships, opportunities and competencies. Don’t let the seconds pass you by. It only takes one second to make a difference and build connection, belonging, and support.

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Intentional Acts of Kindness … even at Starbucks! by Soma McCandless

I had a busy day last Monday, and on the way home from work I passed a drive-thru Starbucks. I thought I might indulge in a nice fancy drink to brighten my day. So I ordered through the drive-thru speaker and waited in the line of cars until my turn came to drive up to the window. When I drove up, a smiling attendant held out my drink. I was thinking about work and did not remember paying for my drink, so I said, “Excuse me, but I don’t think I paid yet.”

And she said, “No you didn’t. The gentleman in the car before you paid for your drink.”

I was so shocked and confused. I said, “Really?”

And she smiled and confirmed what she had already said.

I had heard about this type of thing happening to people, but it has never happened to me.

I was amazed and so excited! I looked ahead to see if I could see my hero, but he had already driven away. I smiled all the way home. I knew I’d never be able to thank this person, so I’d have to just “pay it forward.” I wished my kids had been in the car with me. I wished they could see how a small simple gesture could brighten someone’s day. Perhaps by being the recipient of an intentional act of kindness, they could be encouraged to perform an act more often.

The kids read a book in school called, “Have you Filled a Bucket Today?”
In a similar book for adults, “How Full Is Your Bucket?”, intentional acts of kindness are encouraged. Whether gifts are material items or not, given unexpectedly increases their bucket filling power. My Starbucks experience was definitely a surprise and it certainly filled my bucket quickly!

How do we get our kids to be bucket fillers? I am in the midst of reading an excellent book. It truly has very easy ideas on how to raise a ompassionate and caring child. It’s a great read and should be recommended reading for every parent! Its called: The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Children Who Care and Contribute . It is written by two caring brothers who were raised by caring parents just like you and me: Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger. Enjoy!

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