Holiday Spirit

Mentor Emily Chen and mentee Isabella Meza-Perez from Mentor Tutor Connection at Red Rock Coffee in downtown Mountain View on Dec. 8, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Posted Jan. 8, 2023

Connecting students with caring adults, Mentor Tutor Connection makes an impact
The local nonprofit is a recipient of donations to the Voice's Holiday Fund

by Zoe Morgan / Mountain View Voice

Los Altos High School junior Isabella Meza-Perez knew about Mentor Tutor Connection long before she got matched with a mentor of her own. She watched as her older sister and cousins took part in the program and saw the relationships that were built as a result. Her now 22-year-old sister is still in contact with her mentor years after graduating high school.

It was cool to see the experiences her relatives had with their mentors, Meza-Perez said. Now, she is getting the same chance herself.

In the roughly one year since getting paired with mentor Emily Chen, the two have done an array of activities together, including teaching each other new recipes, exploring potential career options for Meza-Perez and going on a picnic.

"It's just cool to have someone who's not an educator be an adult to have conversations with," Meza-Perez said.

That's one of the goals of the program. Established in 1996, Mentor Tutor Connection recruits and trains volunteers to mentor students in the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, with the goal of providing caring adults who will make an impact in young people's lives.

"The mentor's role is to be there for them, to meet them where they are, to listen without judgment, and to support and encourage and guide them," Executive Director Carol Olson said.

Mentor Tutor Connection also operates a tutoring program that serves elementary and middle school students in the Los Altos and Mountain View Whisman districts.

The Los Altos-based nonprofit is one of seven beneficiaries of the Mountain View Voice's annual Holiday Fund . Through the charitable giving drive, readers can make donations to support groups doing important work in the community.

The Mountain View Voice and Silicon Valley Community Foundation cover all administrative costs to run the Holiday Fund, allowing donations to go entirely to the nonprofits. Last year, the Voice's Holiday Fund raised $84,000.

The mentors who volunteer with Mentor Tutor Connection act as supportive adults for students who is facing challenges in their life, Olson said, often helping their mentee to see their own potential.

"That's really a big part of what our mentors do – helping a person see the potential that maybe they haven't seen in themselves yet," Olson said.

In the younger grades, tutors work with students who have both academic and economic needs. According to Olson, the idea is to focus on students who could use help in their classes, but can't afford private tutoring.

"Our program is really to help those kids catch up and to feel confident and supported and empowered and to really engage in school," Olson said. "We feel that if we support kids who are not as confident and engaged in school early on, that's going to serve them so well in their futures."

Key to Mentor Tutor Connection's success is the close partnerships that they have formed with the three school districts in which they operate, Olson said. Typically, the mentors work one-on-one with around 115 high school students each year. About 300 elementary and middle school students were involved in the tutoring program annually before the pandemic, but that was down to around 140 last year, Olson said, which she attributed in part to Mountain View Whisman's now-relaxed restrictions on on-campus volunteers.

She expects the number to increase, noting that the demand for Mentor Tutor Connection's work has only grown as students grapple with the academic and emotional impacts of the pandemic.

"We are this year finding that the demand for tutors and mentors from the schools is greater than ever," Olson said.

During the pandemic, Mentor Tutor Connection pivoted to offering mentorship and tutoring online. According to Olson, the organization got a "tremendous" outpouring of support from the community, with volunteers stepping up to help kids out during remote learning.

"There was a lot of work to really come up to speed and get us going online, but we did it quickly," Olson said. "Our tutors were so willing and wanting to support kids, because we all knew that they needed it."

While the support that the nonprofit provided during the pandemic was critical for students, Olson said that there's a lot more joy now that mentors can meet with students face-to-face.

Mentors and mentees often pick activities based on shared interests, Olson said. Meza-Perez and Chen both like to cook, so Chen taught Meza-Perez how to make dumplings for Chinese New Year and Meza-Perez showed Chen how to make her sister's recipe for brown butter chocolate chip cookies.

Both Meza-Perez and Chen said they enjoy that their interactions don't focus solely on academics, but rather on their lives more broadly.

Chen said that she feels lucky to get to spend time with Meza-Perez and is constantly impressed by her mentee's level of maturity and thoughtfulness.

Raised in Fremont, Chen decided to volunteer with Mentor Tutor Connection after moving back to the Bay Area two years ago. Mentoring Meza-Perez has given her a chance to give back, but also to explore the area again after many years away.

"It opens up this new world where I get to share these kinds of experiences with someone who can really enjoy them and benefit from them too," Chen said.

Though Chen's mentorship of Meza-Perez isn't limited to academics, she does help her stay focused on her goals at school and also to consider her options after graduation.

Meza-Perez enjoyed taking chemistry last year and has an interest in makeup, so Chen set up a conversation for her with a cosmetic chemist. Meza-Perez said that she enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the field.

Since meeting Chen, Meza-Perez said she's appreciated the chance to have an outside adult perspective and to have someone invested in her future.

"I like hanging out with her because she gives me a lot of advice and she actually cares about me and my success," Meza-Perez said.

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 October 1st, 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