E3 Youth Bring Holiday Cheer to Kids in Custody

E3 Youth Bring Holiday Cheer by sending cards
E3 Youth Bring Holiday Cheer by sending cards
E3 Youth Bring Holiday Cheer by sending cards

It all began with a phone call to Los Altos Community Foundation (LACF).

Carol Rhoads, a Santa Clara County Juvenile Justice Commissioner, reached out to Judy Crates, Director of E3 Youth Philanthropy, an LACF program. E3 offers local high school youth the opportunity to learn about local philanthropy and gain hands-on leadership experience in grantmaking and service to nonprofits. In her call, Carol explained that the holiday season would be meager for 75 teens in custody at Santa Clara Juvenile Hall and James Ranch because the annual Santa Visits and gift program (an anticipated tradition) was no longer available. With the additional complications of the pandemic, it looked like there would be little joy for these teens over the holiday.

Could the E3 students write holiday cards to uplift the spirits of these teens as a service project?

That call came on the last E3 class of 2020, just days before final exams for the high schoolers. But this didn’t stop them from stepping up to help. Six E3 students formed the “Kids in Custody” team to plan - and expand on - the original scope of the project by also providing gifts for the incarcerated teens. It was a perfect fit for E3 and an excellent opportunity for the students to apply their new knowledge leading service projects to those in need. Even more relevant, they were helping a group of their peers.

From Idea to Action

The team divided the activities, including procuring gifts, cards, books, and snack bags, and got to work. When not in exams, the students found time to organize. They created an Amazon wish list based on teen requests, wrote personal holiday cards, drafted a shopping list of snacks that teens love but don’t get in custody, and they found an E3 family with the space to accept the Amazon deliveries.

“Working on this project taught me how to be independent when decision-making while also working closely with the peers around me to achieve the same end goal,” explained Diya Gupta, an E3 "Kids in Custody" team member and a junior at Los Altos High School.” “I quickly learned how to use my best judgment when completing larger tasks and how to make productive decisions that would benefit those around me the most.”

The students also crafted an email to local parents in the Mountain View Los Altos (MVLA) High School District and other community members with an emotional appeal for project support and a request to help the teens by purchasing requested items listed on an Amazon Kids in Custody registry created by the E3 students. This communication quickly became viral with the parents of students throughout the MVLA high school district.

Collaborations Bring Greater Impact

The team also recruited two former E3 students, home from college for the holidays, to help with preliminary shopping research. At the same time, the County of Santa Clara Probation Department worked on wish lists and coordination. Crates reached out through her network to Judy Koch, founder of Bring Me A Book (an organization that provides book access to underserved children and families), to prepare book lists and order books that the teens requested.

Also, through a collaboration with the Palo Alto University Rotary Club, Rotarians Eliane Neukermans and her husband, Armand, donated $1,000, funding a book for every student in custody, which the youth were able to select. Several other Palo Alto University Rotarians who had previously visited Juvenile Hall made an additional call to action to members throughout the Club as well.

Exams ended with only five days until Christmas Eve! The students filled the snack bags and matched, labeled, and wrapped the books for each recipient. Cards were collected and organized. Almost 100 gift items, large and small, were sorted and placed into 14 sleigh-ready Santa bags.

On December 24 at 9:30 am, two Probation Department vans arrived to pick up the gifts. Mission accomplished. The E3 students saw the power of collaboration for making an impact and provided hope and positive holiday memories for their peers. “Through this project, I was able to learn more about the struggles that the kids in custody deal with daily,” said Liam Gerber, another E3 "Kids in Custody" team member and a student at Mountain View High School. “This experience helped me to have gratitude for the things in my life that so many people, including me, take for granted.”

About the E3 Youth Philanthropy Program

E3 Youth Philanthropy educates, engages, and empowers local high school youth to create positive change in their local communities. Participants learn both the values of philanthropy and also how to address local critical issues. The students learn about local needs, design and implement service projects and grant $10,000 to local nonprofits working in the focus area determined by the group. The program includes a strong leadership component, focusing on building relationships and leveraging collaboration for the most significant impact to do good. For more information, visit:

E3 Youth Philanthropy

For more information about Bring Me a Book, visit: bringmeabook.org.


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