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Updated: Apr 6

Hello Hope Horizon EPA friends and family,

We had a wonderful time at our gala on Sunday night and wanted to share with you a few photos and a glimpse of what our students and staff spoke about during the program in case you missed it. There was tremendous energy and our students showed great resilience and flexibility as we dealt with sound issues. We were honored to have David Canepa, our local congressperson, start the evening off with an award for our many years of service.

At the gala we introduced our Open Door Circle, a sustaining donor program that helps us plan, project and remain committed to the whole child for the whole way. Many of you are already sustaining donors who have laid the foundation and enabled us to share God’s love to multiple generations. Your generosity has been invaluable and we look forward to welcoming more friends like you into the Open Door Circle.

We are grateful for each of our guests, hosts, sponsors, volunteers, partners, auction item donors and most especially for our students who all contributed to a successful and fun evening. Thank you!

Hope Horizon EPA staff

A reflection from our emcee and current Hope Horizon EPA high school student, Jesus:

Watching the students, it reminds me of when I was growing up in EPA. I heard about Hope Horizon from my mom's friend and my parents thought it would a good idea for me to go to the spiritual program. I didn't really want to go at first. I didn't know anyone. In middle school I felt a bit trapped and alone. Middle school was a hard time. But the first time I went to the spiritual program, I met a friend. He was funny and welcomed me and made me feel like I belonged. Five years later, he's one of my closest friends.

Elementary school students Daniela and Juan Pablo interview academic program staff Waniya and Mona:

Daniela and Juan Pablo: Hello Everyone, my name is Daniela and I am Juan Pablo. We are students at Hope Horizon. Tonight, we will be interviewing Miss Mona and Miss Waniya, two staff at Hope Horizon.

Daniela: Miss Waniya and Miss Mona, can you share with us your position at Hope Horizon and how long you have worked here?

Waniya: Thank you both, my name is Waniya, and I am the assistant director of programs for academics at Hope Horizon. I have worked here for the past six years.

Mona: I’m Mona and I’m the program manager for our elementary academic’s program at Hope Horizon. I’ve been here for 2 years.

Juan Pablo: Miss Waniya and Miss Mona, what is the best part of the work you do at Hope Horizon and why are you inspired to do it?

Waniya: The best part of the work I do at Hope Horizon is supporting the students of East Palo alto. I love making sure the students feel seen, heard and encouraged. I am inspired by the students at Hope Horizon who are continuing to question, inquire and discover new possibilities around them while having fun.

Mona: The best part of the work I do here is supporting our students’ learning and seeing their growth throughout the year. I love the moments when they make connections between what they learn at school and their own lives. I’m always inspired by their determination to keep growing and have fun.

Daniela: Miss Waniya and Miss Mona, what are three things that represent you and who you are?

Waniya: I would say that the three things the represent me are faith, community and honesty.

Mona: My top three are creativity, exploration and family

Juan Pablo: Miss Waniya and Miss Mona, what do you think makes Hope Horizon unique.

Waniya: I think what makes Hope Horizon unique is the simple fact that we embody the definition of unique. We are one of a kind and we are unlike any other organization in East Palo Alto. We are able to partner with other organizations in the city to give multiple wholistic opportunities to our students like taking swim lessons at the local YMCA.

Mona: Furthering what Ms. Waniya shared, I believe the collaborations with other East Palo Alto programs brings an added richness to what we provide for our students at Hope Horizon. And our holistic approach allows us to not only focus on academics but on the spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being of each of our students as well. That mission is shared between all our programs.

Middle school student Leilani interviews elementary school student Brandon

Leilani: Hello everyone, my name is Leilani, and I am a student at Hope Horizon. Tonight, I will be interviewing Brandon who is also a student at Hope Horizon. Brandon, how old are you and what grade are you in?

Brandon: I am six years old, & I am in first grade.

Leilani: Brandon, what class are you in at Hope Horizon and who is your teacher?

Brandon: I am in the first-grade class and Miss Lani is my teacher.

Leilani: Brandon, when was there a time that you had to be powerful and strong?

Brandon: When I am reading and doing homework.

Leilani: Brandon, what are you thankful for at Hope Horizon?

Brandon: I am thankful for store day because store day is where l can buy plushies, Squishmallows, dinosaurs, candy and chips.

Leilani: Thank you for sharing, Brandon, I think you are brave and strong. And I am thankful for you. Thank you everyone, for your support at Hope Horizon.

Staff member Jon interviewing middle school students Ethan and Friaco

Jon: Hi everyone! We are super blessed and are super grateful to have you all here with us tonight! Tonight, I have the opportunity to share with you all two students that I have gotten to know very well over the past two years. So, without further ado, guys, would you like to introduce yourselves?

Friaco: Hi I’m Friaco, I am 13 years old and I’m in 7th grade.

Ethan: I’m Ethan, I am 13 years old and I’m in 8th grade.

Jon: So, I’ve heard that you have been a part of Hope Horizon for a long time, since even before my time, so that being side, can you guys tell me what programs you guys are a part of and how long you have been attending programs here?

Friaco: I have been in Middle School Spiritual and Academic programs and I have been coming here since I was ‘wee small’.

Ethan: I have been participating in the Middle School Spiritual Programs and Robotics, I have been in Academics before and I have been coming to programs since I was ‘wee large’.

Jon: Sounds like you guys have a lot going on here! With all of the things that you guys are doing, what would you say was the highlight of this year?

Friaco: For me it was going to Hume and making new friends with people I wouldn’t expect to make friends with.

Ethan: For me it was having fun at Hume and being apart of all of the fun stuff that we did there. Though sacrifices were made.

Jon: For those who didn’t know, because of your support, we were blessed with an opportunity to go to Hume Lake, where we were able to participate in a lot of fun activities like a box sled where Ethan hurt his back going down a massive hill. But though we had a lot of fun this year, we also learned a whole lot. What would you guys say was the most important thing that you guys learned this year?

Friaco: I think that for me it was that we should treat and love our neighbors like ourselves.

Ethan: For me, it was that God is going to be there for you no matter what.

Jon: Those definitely important lessons that we should definitely learn and consider in our own lives. With all of the things that you have learned and done, how has Hope Horizon impacted you the most?

Friaco: It was the chapels at Hume and the lessons that we listen to about the book of Ephesians.

Ethan: For me it was definitely the chapels and Hume, but I think being a part of Jon’s program has been really impactful on me.

Jon: Well, I assure you I don’t pay them to say that. But I am grateful to you guys for that. I am super blessed to have you as my students and you guys definitely make my job here a very fulfilling one. And thank you to you all because without you, connections like this would not be possible!

From our High School students, Larissa and Jeremiah

Larissa: Hi Everyone, my name is Larissa, I am in 11th grade, and I have been a part of Hope Horizon since I was in 5th grade. In that time, I participated in five programs and was recently an intern for Camp Hope Horizon. These programs have provided me with a fun and safe community. They have also given me knowledge, strong connections with friends and staff, and new opportunities to experience and learn.

Jeremiah: My name is Jeremiah, and I am in 12th grade. I am graduating this year and was recently accepted to Sacramento State University. I will most likely be moving there in the fall. I have attended Hope Horizon since I was in the 6th grade. I have been a part of 7 different programs. Through this non-profit I have found solid friendships and support, especially with the people on this stage. These friendships I thought would never last. But now, these people are some of the most important people in my life. But now, these people are some of the most important people in my life. Thank you all for supporting Hope Horizon. It is because of people like you that my childhood was safe.

Larissa: As you can see, Hope Horizon has provided us with many opportunities and strong, supportive relationships. As an intern, my job was busy and chaotic with camp. But mostly, it was fun and meaningful because I was able to give back to the students at Hope Horizon in the way I was supported. I look forward to more leadership opportunities and I am constantly thankful for Hope Horizon and it’s impact in my life.

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“I looked at things from the 1,000 foot level, it was my job,” said Bennie Ingraham, the regional outreach director at Menlo church for 24 years now.

The term “regional” refers to the local Bay Area, like Redwood and East Palo Alto. They encompass 80% of the outreach, while the other 20% of outreach responsibilities goes to more 20,000 feet stuff—global missions.

“We don’t have to go overseas to serve, the world is getting smaller.” This is definitely true of the Bay Area, but Bennie also believes that an integral part to Christian discipleship is our calling to serve our neighbors, as well as to serve with them.

In charge of 2 campuses in the region (Menlo Park and San Jose), Bennie’s job involved connecting people with opportunities to serve (such as volunteering in Hope Horizon’s robotics or tutoring program) and organizing programs like prayer walks or Compassion Weekend projects (now called Serve Your City) in East Palo Alto and other nearby areas. She believes that serving in this capacity is part of Christian discipleship: “It's part of one's discipleship, to serve others and learn from them. One of the things that I loved most about my job is that when someone serves, whether it be at a soup kitchen or volunteering with a kid over overseas, it changes people. It changes your thought process and you see the world through God's eyes. And, so, not everyone could go overseas or go internationally. But yet, there's lots of things we can do here in our community.”

Volunteering with organizations like Hope Horizon grows disciples in Christ (the students)—true—but Bennie believes that the unique value that something like Hope Horizon gives to the East Palo Alto community is how it helps develop great leaders too.

“I think the thing that's great about it—Hope horizon really focuses on people in the community and developing leaders.So, a person is going to become a great leader and be in that community… I mean, that's a benefit to the community. So, It's not like we're pulling them away, you know, they're staying where they are. One thing that we said about Hope Horizon is that it might be kind of a smaller organization , but it goes deep. It’s kind of a narrow but deep organization. They really invest in their kids that come to their programs. In turn, that really can impact their families as well. They sprinkle leaders within the community.

We talked about how brain drain is a problem on a global scale, and how developing community leaders is so crucial. Bennie tells the story of a mundane but impactful moment during a mission trip to Ukraine:

“Focus on people and what they have. We go somewhere, and it's so cheap for us Americans to provide for needs and programs. We can just do this and do that, but it's not helpful for them. A long time ago, we took a mission trip to Ukraine. We hosted a birthday party at an orphanage for approximately 50 kids. And we wanted it to be a great party and celebration. The director after the party said to us… You know, you have ruined it for us because we can never do the same thing. Yeah, not to say we can't ever better their situations, but it's about meeting them where they’re at. I think that’s important.”

Bennie believes that Hope Horizon is doing that kind of difficult work of meeting the community where it’s at. “I think over the years, I have seen that Hope Horizon really supports the kids academically and spiritually and is committed to them for the long haul.”

Bennie recalls her moment of realization of the kind of deep work that Hope Horizon does at an event on the open field where there were many different stations for all the ways that people can get involved at Hope Horizon. “That was a page turner for me, because, I was like… Wow. They're involved in so many aspects of a kid’s life.” Hope Horizon tries to be there end to end. At the open field event, Bennie saw how even one of Menlo’s days of volunteering to paint a classroom fits like a puzzle into the bigger picture.

As Bennie prepares to leave her 1,000 foot job, she plans to land on the ground through what she calls her “retirement rhythm”. Bennie now has the opportunity and plans to get herself involved as a volunteer at organizations like Hope Horizon. Always seeing the programs from a big picture perspective in a necessary coordinating role, she finally has the opportunity to be personally involved. She’s not quite sure yet as to what the best fit would be, “Very rarely does God ever say—Okay, do this and you’re going to be great. I think the way He operates, I get to try different things. I believe in Hope Horizon so much and they’ve given so much for me too. Feel like now I’ve got the time, now I can do that.” Bennie asks for prayers that she be attentive to what God wants her to do and learn as she becomes more intimate with Him.

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Eric Gerhardinger is simultaneously a man with a five year plan, and a student who never grew up. The combination of these qualities, contradictory as they may seem, brought him to Hope Horizon’s Elementary Spiritual Program as a volunteer.

Eric works primarily with the fifth graders during the program’s dinner events (on Mondays and Wednesdays). He arrives early to help set up, eats dinner with the students outside, asks how their weeks are going, and plays sports with them—American football, soccer, foursquare, or basketball. During the prayer and worship part of the evening, Eric leads a discussion with the fifth graders on the verse of the year:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)
The last part of this verse—‘Love your neighbor as yourself’—thematically links what brought Eric to this program at Hope Horizon, and his strongest takeaways from his year and a half of volunteering thus far.

While seeking out opportunities to volunteer, Eric found Hope Horizon on Central Peninsula Church’s website. This was in mid 2021, which was also during the fallout of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the many anti-Asian hate crimes that have been occurring in the Peninsula and San Francisco. After those events, Eric felt a strong calling: “To me, it seemed like the only answer is Christ. It gave me a renewed sense of urgency to go out into the community and share the gospel. I’ve always been on the operations side. If you need someone to run your organization efficiently, I’m your guy. But the events of 2021 shifted my thoughts. What’s needed in our communities is the gospel. It motivated me to be in the frontlines, to learn to share the gospel, especially in the underserved communities in my neighborhood.”

In his earlier years, Eric has always been quite self-directed. However, he learnt that striving to be in charge of his own life only got him so far: “I would reach a lot of dead ends, and five years ago, I came back to the Lord in earnest. When there are big decisions on the horizon, they are all directed by the Lord.” His shift in perspective during 2021 brought him to Hope Horizon, but his decision to volunteer is absolutely also part of a long-term plan—this time, more loosely held. “I was looking for a way to learn how to share the gospel directly. In the future, I hope to transition to full time ministry and missionary work. It’s not in the immediate horizon, but I realized that the thing I can do right now is to go out and teach the gospel.”

And although Eric admits to being a bit of a pushover with the students, he is putting his God-given talents to good use in the elementary program. Specifically—his talent of being a big student. Growing up in Ohio, Eric was part of a large family. He credits them for keeping him always young in spirit. He has also lived in California for 12 years. “Growing up, I moved around a lot. Because of that, I struggled to have mentorship and to have people want to invest in my life.” Due to his experience moving around, he sees the mentorship work at Hope Horizon as a vital part of students’ lives. This kind of work is especially urgent coming out of the isolation of the pandemic.

“We initially had three students regularly showing up. God has blessed it, and we now have 20+ students. After lock down, there was a lot of bullying behavior going on. A lot of conflict going on between multiple students all at once. After they’ve spent so much time by themselves, going back into large groups can be overwhelming. So many new faces. A lot of it was anxiety related. I myself, as an adult, was struggling with similar social rust. But this year, we have seen a drastic reduction in all of that. They are treating each other a lot kinder, a lot more patiently. Not as much name calling going on. They have grown and matured as disciples in Christ, blessing Hope Horizon as a place of peace. I can see it happening week by week.”

Eric links this change in behavior to practices like gentle reinforcement, positive feedback, and consistency of message. But he thinks that the focus on Matthew 22:37-39 played the biggest role. “Having that message come across every week, it was very helpful for the students. They’re seeing the truth that in God, there is this agape love, which I hope to be displaying to them every week.”

His most memorable moment is when some of the students in the program embodied this “love your neighbor as yourself” ethos: “One of the boys got injured playing sports. It wasn’t too bad, but I saw other boys pick him up and carry him together to the Hope Horizon office. I don’t think that would have happened a year ago. I’ve been seeing the children within the program grow together, and help each other.”

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