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Best of 2017 Part 2: Our Top Stories this Year

I AM YOU co-founder Damian Ardestani n Palo Alto. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.

In a year that was marked by a barrage of news about change and conflict, it’s refreshing to look back at our top stories and see so many positive local efforts that took place in 2017. The most popular stories on Palo Alto Pulse, as measured by traffic to our site and Facebook reach, included some cool businesses, along with many ways local people are reaching out to help others and make a difference.

If you missed these stories the first time, we hope you’ll take a look now as they offer a unique lens on our dynamic Palo Alto community, and provide inspiration for 2018. The stories noted with an * were suggested by readers, so please reach out if you have an article idea for Palo Alto Pulse- we’d love to hear from you!

I AM  YOU Offers New Hope for Refugees

Readers loved learning about this inspiring organization, which is helping build education and job training support for people living in Greece’s refugee camps. The founders of I AM YOU traveled to Palo Alto last January to raise funds for their efforts and share their story with local leaders.

Displaced teachers living at a refugee camp are teachers with I AM YOU. Photo by I AM YOU

I AM YOU co-founder Rebecca Reshdouni with Shari Guggenhime in Palo Alto. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.

bfab Brings On Demand Beauty for Busy Women*

This cool Palo Alto business brings blowouts, make up and more to your home, saving precious time and energy. Started by two women, bfab has forged a niche for weddings and proms, along with catering to female executives who want to look great and can’t make room in their schedule for a trip to a blow dry bar. We tried bfab and it was great!

Paly girls ready for prom, thanks to bfab

photos by bfab

Morocco Library Project Spreads the Love of Reading Across the Continents *

The idea for the Morocco Library Project came to Barb Mackraz “like a lightbulb” when she was visiting a village outside of Marrakesh in 2013. She returned to Palo Alto, started collecting books and worked with a local nonprofit partner to establish the first library for an after school English program. Since then, Barb has helped to raise enough funds and books to open more than 30 more libraries across rural Morocco. With the support of Books Inc., the U.S. Embassy, and many local champions in Palo Alto, Barb aims to continue expanding the number of libraries to reach as many motivated young people as possible. The libraries started by the Morocco Library Project are each unique, but they share one special element: they are all painted purple, Barb’s favorite color.

Barb Mackraz with FatimaZahra Taghlaoui, a founding team member of the Morocco Library Project.

Photos by the Morocco Library Project.

As Kneaded Brings Artisan Bread to Palo Alto

Gunn alumna Iliana Berkowitz never dreamed of being a professional baker when she headed east to study political science. But her habit of baking to ease the stress of finals lead to stints at top restaurants in Philadelphia before she returned home to the Bay Area to found As Kneaded.  Her goal? Bring the artisian bread that is ubiquitous in San Francisco and Berkeley to the Peninsula, and prove that a female baker can compete with any of the guys. You can find As Kneaded’s delicious loaves at many local markets, including Signona’s Market at the Stanford Shopping Center, Piazza’s Market in Palo Alto (starting January 4th), and the Market at Edgewood (starting January 11th).

A few of As Kneaded selections. Photo by As Kneaded.

BEAM Program Grows Beyond Gunn to Take On the World

Gunn High School’s BEAM program moved beyond its Palo Alto borders this year when schools in Mexico, Japan, the Netherlands and Germany began implementing its unique approach to teaching math, business skills and entrepreneurism. Thanks to a partnership with a local nonprofit called Neighbors Abroad, school leaders in Palo Alto’s ‘sister cities’ have enthusiastically embraced the program. BEAM’s founder, Gunn math teacher Cristina Florea traveled to Europe this summer to meet with educators and answer their questions. BEAM looks like another Palo Alto innovation that is quickly catching on across the world.

BEAM founder and Gunn HS Cristina Florea in the Netherlands this summer. Photo by BEAM.

Local Family Bridges a Political Divide to Honor a Daughter’s Memory *

On paper, Lisa Benatar and Jon Jackson have little in common. She’s a liberal woman living in suburban comfort in in Palo Alto, while he is a rural veteran who voted for President Trump. But these differences mask a deeper tragedy they both share: losing someone close to you without warning. Lisa’s daughter Emily died of meningitis when she was a sophomore in college, while Jon watched many of his closest fellow soliders die in Iraq. That’s why Lisa and her family chose to raise funds in Emily’s memory for Comfort Farms, an organization started by Jon to train fellow veterans in farming as a way to help sooth PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). This moving story was a reader favorite this year, and we are grateful to Lisa for sharing it with us.

The Benatars with Jon Jackson at Comfort Farms. Photo courtesy of the Benatar family.

tractor purchased by Comfort Farms with funds raised in Emily’s memory

Pursuit of Excellence: Making Futures Bright for 30+ Years*

Started at Jerry and Dick Smallwood’s Palo Alto kitchen table over 30 years ago, Pursuit of Excellence (POE) has grown into a high impact nonprofit that donated $580,000 last year to help local, low-income high school students achieve their dream of graduating from college. And knowing that most of its students are the first in their families to attend college, POE goes beyond financial support to provide hands-on mentoring for all four years that students are enrolled. Thanks to its commitment to high quality and support, over 75% of POE scholars have graduated from college since the organization began in 1984.

POE scholars celebrate in Palo Alto. Photo courtesy of POE.

Carol Mullin of POE with Luna Marrero, 2017 graduate of San Jose State. Photo by POE.

Local Lawyer Reunites Family Separated by Travel Ban *

Local attorney Harrison “Buzz” Frahn is not an immigration lawyer by training. But last January when he heard about two Iranian brothers en route to emigrate legally to the United States who got stuck in limbo due to President Trump’s travel ban, Buzz jumped at the chance to help. With support from other colleagues at Simpson Thacher, Buzz pursued every legal angle and reached out to elected officials to plead the brothers’ case. Fortunately, when the travel policy was blocked on constitutional grounds, the brothers were able to travel and family was reunited at SFO in early February. A few days later, they came to Simpson Thacher to say thank you to Buzz and his team for helping bring them together.

Buzz Frahn with the brothers and their families, along with Simpson Thacher lawyers Linda Nyberg, Jonathan Mincer and Drew Simon-Rooke. Photo by Buzz Frahn.

Harrison J. “Buzz” Frahn. Photo credit: Simpson Thacher.

Cool Blocks Engage Neighbors on Climate & More

Palo Alto’s “Cool Block Challenge” has three big, important goals: reduce energy usage, prepare for disasters, and forge strong neighborhood bonds. Based on the experience of the 20 “Cool Block” teams that worked together this past spring, the program is not just meeting these goals, it’s exceeding them. In fact, the pilot was so successful that it’s being rolled out to 30 more blocks this year. If a Cool Block team comes to your neighborhood in 2018, don’t miss the chance to participate in this unique and unforgettable experience- we loved it.

The Crescent Park Cool Block group is one of 20 neighborhood groups that worked together last year. Photo by Palo Alto Pulse.

Arts Showcase Shines a Light on Mental Illness

Castilleja’s 2017 “Arts With a Heart (AWAH)” Event focused on the ways that art can be used to give people diagnosed with mental illness a chance to express their feelings and heal from trauma. This moving show brought together visual art from ArtLifting, dance and spoken word, and raised over $20,000 for Children’s Health Council of Palo Alto.

AWAH dancers bring art to life. Photo credit: Castilleja School

Jordyn Perkins, ArtLifting artist. Photo by ArtLifting.



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.

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