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Best of 2016: Our top stories

Photo by Kristi Moos, Environmental Volunteers.

When it came to figuring out the best of 2016, it was hard to choose. There were so many great stories, from kids giving back, to new programs that inspire at Gunn, nonprofits making a difference and good old fashioned fun at Paly homecoming. And of course, our local election here in Palo Alto drew a lot of reader attention. But after reviewing our traffic, page views and Facebook ‘likes,’ we found our top eight stories.

If you missed them the first time, we hope you’ll take a look now – you’ll find new reasons to appreciate living in a community where so many great things are happening.

Here are the top stories that captured our readers’ attention in 2016

Project Birthday Box

Our readers loved reading about Ember Lin-Sperry and her nonprofit that brings birthday supplies to children at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. NBC News Bay Area also picked up Ember’s story- check out the video here.

Ember with her “Project Birthday Box” bags outside the hospital. Photo credit: Lucille Packard Childrens Hospital

The Art of Yoga Project

This amazing local organization supports incarcerated young women to manage their emotions and better regulate their life choices through a unique program that combines visual arts and yoga. Started by Palo Alto resident Mary Lynn Fitton, the Art of Yoga Project has become a national model for trauma-informed care for girls in the juvenile justice system.

Mary Lynn Fitton, the founder of the Art of Yoga Project, with Rocsana Enriquez, who went through the program as a teen. Photo credit: Art of Yoga Project

Environmental Volunteers

In our high tech world, it’s often hard to find a connection to  nature, especially for kids in communities far from parks and outdoor spaces. That’s why the programs offered by Palo Alto’s Environmental Volunteers (EV) that bring nature into classrooms and take children on field trips are so essential to helping bridge what many call the ‘nature gap’ for over 10,000 local students.

Environmental Volunteer Sue So in East Palo Alto. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.

New BEAM class at Gunn teaches kids why math matters

Gunn High School math teacher Christina Florea was tired of kids asking her, “Why do we have to learn this?” So she partnered with local business leaders to create a course that would teach students applied math principles for marketing and accounting, and allow them to use their new skills to help local companies solve their business challenges. Three years after piloting BEAM as a lunchtime club, it’s now a fully accredited class that’s been replicated in other high schools. What an awesome idea!

Gunn math teacher and BEAM creator Cristina Florea with BEAM students. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse

Palo Alto teen gives hope to children in Africa

How do you get 32 wheelchairs to Africa? Ask Justin La, a Gunn High School junior who started a nonprofit called Rolling Wheels in Kenya. Inspired by a heartbreaking news story about paralyzed children in Africa languishing in hospital beds for lack of wheelchairs, Justin and his family decided to do something about it. They raised $5,000, bought 32 wheelchairs and flew to Kenya to give them to a hospital outside of Nairobi. We loved talking to Justin and learning how his family worked together do something ‘small’ that made a big difference.

Photo credit: La family

Paly Homecoming floats blew us away

We always love a chance to celebrate the pure creativity and spirit of Palo Alto teenagers, which were in evidence in abundance at this year’s Homecoming Parade. Held on a gorgeous fall day, the sunshine lit up the amazing floats that all connected to the theme of “Rumble in the Jungle.” Congrats to the juniors for their first place win with a float that brought the famous 1974 Ali-Frasier fight to life. The juniors’ secret? Recruiting over 200 students to help with float- wow.

Paly junior Katie Look designed the back of the junior float. Photo by Matt Hall.

Palo Alto election 2016: Who was running and why it mattered

While the presidential election took up a lot of air in the media world, here in Palo Alto we some big decisions to make. Eleven candidates ran for four open seats on City Council and for Palo Alto School board, five candidates vied for four slots. We also gave some resources for how to sort through 19 ballot propositions covering local roads and housing, marijuana legalization, gun control and more.

Voting location near Castilleja School. photo credit: Peninsula Press

For the Pedersons, “Live Like a Champ” means winning on and off the field

The Pederson family of Palo Alto has some remarkable athletes. Stu Pederson played for the LA Dodgers before returning to Palo Alto to raise his family, Joc Pederson plays center field for the LA Dodgers now, his brother Tyger is on the Dodgers’ development team and their sister Jayce is a standout player for the UCLA women’s soccer team.

Joc and Champ Pederson celebrate a Dodgers victory. photo credit: John Soo Hoo/Dodgers

But it’s their oldest son Champ who really shows how this family rallies together beyond the sports field. Champ was born with Down’s syndrome, but he’s never let his disability stand in the way of his goals, including working at the Palo Alto Apple store and ushering at Stanford sports events. The Pederson family helped Champ create the “Live Like a Champ” effort to raise funds for the Best Buddies program, which advocates for people with disabilities. We’re embracing “Live Like a Champ” as our theme for 2017- who else is in?

we’re going to “Live LIke a Champ” in 2017

So what’s ahead for 2017?

Your guess is as good as ours, but Palo Alto Pulse will keep sharing positive stories about our community, no matter what happens.


That’s why now is a perfect time to subscribe and keep the good vibes coming your way. Thanks for being part of our journey and don’t forget to reach out anytime with a story idea or comment– we love hearing from our readers!

About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.