Holiday Spirit

Shanelle Co, 17, a senior at Mountain View High School meets with Sandy Burgan at Posh Bagel in Mountain View on Dec. 9. Burgan has mentored Co since they met through Mentor Tutor Connection, a nonprofit that pairs students from underprivileged families with adult mentors. Donations to the Voice's Holiday Fund helps support Mentor Tutor Connection and six other local nonprofits. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

Posted November 22, 2019

A helping hand for students
Mentor Tutor Connection offers guidance to help kids succeed

by Mark Noack

Like many of her classmates at Mountain View High School, Shanelle Co is under the gun. Finals are next week, college deadlines are looming, and it seems like there's never been so much to do in such little time.

Co tries to keep her mind focused on one goal: getting into a good university. It would be a proud achievement for her entire family for her to be the first to go on to higher education.

But to be this kind of pioneer is daunting. Her parents, both immigrants from the Philippines, are unfamiliar with the U.S. college system, and her school counselors have plenty of other students in need of guidance.

The good news is Co has some outside help on her mission. For the last couple of years, Co has been taken under the wing of Sandy Burgan, a 60-year-old retiree who is familiar with the trials and tribulations of high school life. On a weekly basis, the two each take a couple of hours out of their busy days to meet up, usually at a coffee shop. Sometimes they talk about academics; at other times they discuss life, stress, friends, family or whatever else is on their minds.

"We got comfortable together really fast," Co said. "I'm glad that I can talk to someone else about these things. Now I really look forward to our meetings."

Burgan nodded along as her protégé spoke.

"I appreciated her back story, and I thought I could help her get into college," Burgan said. "She's very left-brained and good at math, but she also has a very creative side."

The pair met about two years ago through Mentor Tutor Connection, a Los Altos-based nonprofit that links students with seasoned professionals as a way to provide guidance in their education and other aspects of their life. Originally launched in 1996, Mentor Tutor Connection puts a priority on helping students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly those who would be the first in their families to graduate high school or go to college.

At younger grade levels, this mentoring is usually focused on straightforward academic tutoring, helping students with fundamental subjects such as math and reading. For high school students, this guidance verges into other subjects, such as students' social life, self-esteem and stress management. Mentors try to present themselves not just as role models, but also as approachable adults with whom students can freely talk about anything on their minds.

"This is an opportunity for students to have a relationship with an adult who isn't a parent or school staff member," Burgan said.

This year, Mentor Tutor Connection is one of seven local nonprofits that benefit from donations to the Voice Holiday Fund . With the support of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 100% of donations go directly to these nonprofits.

In total, Mentor Tutor Connection has about 90 volunteers providing guidance at schools in the Mountain View and Los Altos area. More mentors are always needed, and anyone interested in volunteering their time is urged by Mentor Tutor Connection to apply.

Burgan joined Mentor Tutor Connection a few years ago after seeing an ad in the Voice. She had recently retired from a sales position at a semiconductor firm, and her own daughter was all grown up, so she decided to go for it.

On the other side, Co wanted someone who could speak from experience about navigating the college entry gauntlet. She applied to join Mentor Tutor Connection as a sophomore, after learning that more than 30 of her classmates were also in the program.

At their first meeting, Co remembers being extremely shy, not sure of what to expect. Burgan tried to put her at ease, asking her what she wanted to get out of the relationship. From there, the conversation got much easier.

For their outings, the pair often meet at a coffee shop and hang out, but they've done plenty of other activities, Burgan said. Together, they've tried out their golf swings at a driving range, taken hikes at the nearby open space preserve and visited local museums. Burgan has become both a mentor and a friend, Co said.

Co is now in the home stretch of her plan to get into college. She has already applied to nine universities, including two University of California campuses and Santa Clara University. Now she is waiting to hear back from all of them, hoping to major in engineering.

No matter what, Burgan said she is immensely proud of her.

"My biggest thing is Shanelle is so smart. I just want her to embrace that."

Make a donation
2021 Recipient Agency

Community Health Awareness Council
CHAC serves Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and seven school districts. Among the services it offers are schoolbased counseling and programs to protect students from high-risk behaviors.

Community School of Music & Arts
The Community School of Music and Arts provides hands-on art and music education in the classrooms of the Mountain View Whisman School District.

Community Services Agency
CSA is the community's safety-net providing critical support services for low-income individuals and families, the homeless and seniors in northern Santa Clara County, including Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

Day Worker Center of Mountain View
The Day Worker Center of Mountain View provides a secure place for workers and employers to negotiate wages and work conditions. It serves workers with job placements, English lessons, job skills workshops and guidance.

Mayview Community Health Center
The MayView Community Health Center in Mountain View offers primary care services to low-income and uninsured patients in northern Santa Clara County. No patient is turned away for inability to pay for services, which include prenatal and pediatric care, cancer screenings and chronic disease management.

Mentor Tutor Connection
Mentor Tutor Connection matches adult volunteers who serve either as mentors with under-served youth in high school or as tutors to students in elementary and middle schools in Mountain View and Los Altos school districts.

YWCA of Silicon Valley
This group operates a 24-hour bilingual hotline and a safe shelter for women and their children. It also offers counseling and other services for families dealing with domestic violence.

As of September 28th, 132 donors have contributed $71,561 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

46 Anonymous14,808
Robert J. Rohrbacher100
David E. Simon & Lynn Gordon1,000
The PS & KW Creger Family Trust 500
Catherine Howard*
Charlene Miyashita50
David L. Hatt250
Dr. Dana E. Backman100
Lisa Topping and Mark Buggy*
Kevin & Robin Duggan*
James and Marilyn Kelly*
Jim & Mia Whitfield*
Pamela Baird & Greg Unangst1,000
David Offen & Gail Nyhan*
Paul & Sarah Donahue2,000
Lawrence K. Wallace50
Mitch & Barb Topol50
Dan Pappas250
Karen & David Keefer100
Andy & Liz Coe100
Bruce & Twana Karney350
Norma Jean Bodey Galiher200
Thomas J. Mucha350
Laurie Bonilla & Ed Perry250
Ellen Wheeler50
Sara and Ricardo Jenez*
Peter Stahl and Janet Sloan1,000
Mark Flider250
Lyle & Sally Sechrest100
Ross S Heitkamp*
Sandra and Craig Peterson200
Ann McCarty*
Murray Family100
Max Beckman-Harned1,400
Sally Evans100
Karen Skold50
Steve Attinger500
Emily Arcolino3,000
Christopher and Mary Dateo1,000
Ed Taub and Sheri Gish108
Marilyn Gildea*
The Depenhart Family750
Laura and Dave Blakely100
Mary DeMasters*
Boris Burtin100
Judy Atterholt & Chris Petti*
Kelly Family1,000
Herta Schreiner & Miguel Garcia200
Wesley D. Smith*
Ann Kapoun200
Linda & Greg Kannall25
Anne Johnston*
Jim & Alice Cochran700
E. Denley Rafferty100
Bruce Heflinger1,000
Patricia & Roger Hayes50
Dolores N. Goodman500
Leslie C. and Anita N. Nichols*
Randy Tsuda & Julie McCullough*
Ross & Karen Heitkamp350
Reese and Kathleen Cutler*
Gary and Yuko Kushner*
Rudy & Debra Robinson 200
David D. Meir-Levi25
Tom & Barbara Lustig*
Elisabeth Seaman500
Cliff and Kara Chambers1,000
Jeral Poskey250
Jerry & Sherri Morrison 700
Judith A. Manton500
Kathleen & Serge Bonte200
Shirley K. Ingalls*
Jas Laskowski3,000
Margaret Chapman100
David Fung*
Leona K. Chu*
Jeff Segall & Helen He200
Kevin & Laurel Smith Charitable Fund3,000
In Memory Of

Jim & Sally Hayden-Myer210
Julie Lovins & Greg Fowler*
Mack & Laila Holombo*
In Honor Of

Edward, Petros & Thalia200
Ed, Petros and Thalia185
Businesses & Organizations

ebernsconsulting, llc150
Hewlett Foundation8,750
Packard Foundation8,000