Youth Works: Success Story

Our must! charities Youth Board has invested time and funds into Youth Works, an organization that teachers leadership skills, and job skills to prepare youth for the working world.  At must! charities we are data-driven and LOVE seeing success like this!

September 1, 2017
Number of youth participating: 34 working

As of August 31, 2018
Number of youth who have participated this grant year: 83 worked, 32 of them new this year; an additional 199 individuals (76 new) participated in our programs other than working (4-H Science & new activities this year: Run Club, Coding Club, Homework Club, summer camp, swimming lessons ).

Jobs have included  farming, woodworking, payroll, cooking, planting/tending rose cuttings, pulling grades for group, staffing Templeton Wine Festival and Templeton Beer Festival, recycling, teaching cooking, teaching & delivering programming for Oak Park Coding Club, writing thank you notes.


Success Story: Tim and Catherine’s Story at CASA

Did you know there are over 490 kids in our county who are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and need a Court Appointed Special Advocate? CASA advocates make recommendations to the court, based on the best interest of the children. Let us share with you what that looks like for a child in our community.

CASA volunteer, Catherine, has been advocating for 11-year old Tim for over a year. Tim has a strong bond with his father, and his case plan was on track for reuniting with his father. Unfortunately, Tim’s father did not follow through with his court-ordered plan and soon Tim was placed with an elderly relative.

Tim thought this would be a permanent placement for him. But due to the relative’s age and health problems, she was not able to handle the demands of a child in her home. He was heartbroken. He was then moved to two successive foster homes, both of which were not good fits for him.

Throughout all of this time, Catherine maintained weekly visits with Tim and close contact with his caregivers. One day at the end of the school year, Catherine was talking to an employee at Tim’s school. The employee said that in the past she had operated a specialized foster home. Catherine asked if she might be interested in fostering again.

Soon after, arrangements were made for Tim to live under her care. It has been a great fit, and the foster mom is now pursuing adoption of Tim.  This is just one example of a life positively affected by a CASA volunteer advocate.

Success Story: The Smith Family

Last year, must! charities partnered with ECHO, El Camino Homeless Organization.  ECHO is a transitional shelter in Northern San Luis Obispo County that is helping families and individuals find permanent housing. ECHO is for people who are ready to make a change in their lives. People like The Smith Family.

As a newly blended family, Scott and Amy brought together two boys as step-brothers Christopher 7, and Matthew 10. Both boys know what it’s like to be homeless and hungry, to sleep in their car in a parking lot, and to wish for a home with air conditioning when it’s 100 degrees outside.

Through the help of the ECHO Case Management Team, they were connected to afterschool programs so Scott and Amy could focus on finding full time employment. After a short time at ECHO, Scott was able to secure a full-time job with a construction company and Amy found part-time work at a restaurant.

It was at this point, with financial guidance from the ECHO team, the family was able to start saving money and create a savings plan that would allow them to obtain sustainable and permanent housing once they moved out of ECHO. Paired with assistance from The Link, the family was able to find a program that would subsidize a portion of their housing for a temporary time period. This was the final step in securing the housing they needed.

After six months at ECHO, they are now in their own home with two full time jobs and Amy is enrolled in college courses. The brothers are doing well in school and they were excited to have their own room and even more excited for their new bunkbed!

This family gives us a picture of second chances and is just one example of lives positively affected by ECHO.


Why Must: Thacher Winery

Boys and Girls Club Success Story: Tommy

The Boys & Girls Club provides educational support, dropout prevention, and guidance. They are a safe place to learn and grow – all while having fun.  As must! charities inaugural project, we have maintained a presence with their club for the last six years and continue to be inspired by their successes.

There are children in our community that without the Boys and Girls Club, would have no place to go after school. Kids like Tommy, who first entered the club at aged 5.  Tommy was aggressive and also would cry inconsolably at what seemed to be pent up anger and stress.

Despite this, the staff saw a kind-hearted child who complimented peers and was gentle with the younger members. Together with his mother and Tommy, the club worked to find solutions to his outbursts and address his rejection of club rules.

Over time, Tommy began to recognize when he was getting angry and now comes into the club’s office before an outburst. The club’s cooperation with his family and Tommy’s willingness to address his unhealthy instincts has created daily progress and milestones.

He has stronger connections with same-aged peers, follows the rules more consistently and feels better about his place at the club.

Tommy is a prime examples of what the Boys and Girls Club strives to do. Support, engage, improve and impact children’s lives.

ECHO Success Story: John and Megan

ECHO, El Camino Homeless Organization is a transitional shelter in Northern San Luis Obispo County that is helping families and individuals find permanent housing. In 2017, must! charities partnered with ECHO in an ambitious $500,000 project. As a three-month program, ECHO is for people who are ready to make a change in their lives. People like John and his daughter Megan.

John moved into ECHO with his daughter after a long period of homelessness, arriving with only the clothes they had on their backs. He was discouraged and exhausted, after months of not being able to pay bills or maintain steady employment.

Working with an ECHO case manager, John identified his goals as finding a steady job and home. He wanted Megan to feel safe and secure. ECHO connected John with job resources and communication skills training. Within a few weeks he was hired as a mechanic at a local auto shop. With financial management coaching, just two months later, he saved enough money to buy a vehicle. A month later, he found housing through a connection at his place of employment.

Today John has a stable job he enjoys and Megan is attending school with all of the supplies she needs to learn. Both are enjoying their new home.

Upon moving out John said, “I was able to meet these goals by taking the tools and support provided by ECHO staff and that gave me the confidence to do what I needed to do. Staff treated me like family and whenever I went to my case managers with a problem they provided support and helpful resources. They truly want everyone to succeed and I felt very supported.”

This is just one example of lives positively affected by ECHO.


General Store: Why must! charities

While stopping in for a visit on Must! Monday, we had a chat with the ladies at the General Store.  We are so grateful for partners like them, who give from the heart.

CASA Success Story: Mark and Adam

Two years ago a CASA volunteer, Mark* was assigned to a youth named Adam* age 16. Adam was experiencing self-harm, depression, had suicidal ideation, suffered a near drug overdose, and had run away. Adam had been detained from his parent’s custody due to the parent’s own mental health concerns going untreated. At that time, he said he felt his parent was too mentally unstable to take care of him.

Unfortunately, he was never able to reunify with his parent. Adam remained in the permanent plan of long term foster care called Permanent Planned Living Arrangement (PPLA).

Fast forward to today. Adam has now reached majority, and is transitioning into a young adult and participating in the Assembly Bill 12 Program which offers him mentorship and support.

When Mark was first assigned to Adam, his social worker, described Adam as dressing in a somewhat “emo” style (colorful hair, piercings, etc.) When Mark met Adam he noted his flat affect (would not look people in the eye, but look down), seemed extremely sad, wore long sleeve shirts that covered up scars on his arms from cutting and did not care much about school. His case appeared to be challenging. However, Mark was never put off by Adam. In fact, he immediately reached out to Adam and was able to advocate for Adam’s best interests while being flexible with how Adam preferred to mainly communicate through text messaging.

Mark advocated for Adam in his school setting and to improve his grades. He recommended mental health services for Adam. Mark’s caring and commitment to Adam were instrumental in helping Adam “reach for the stars”!

During this past year Adam has matured in various ways. He no longer seems sad, carries himself with a smile, and appreciates all that is done for him by his social worker, his foster parents and Mark, his CASA volunteer. Most importantly, he has grown into a young adult with a good future. In high school, he participated in sports; where his coach taught him good sportsmanship. As an athlete, he was accountable for his academics. He learned to make meaningful connections with his peers and team-mates. He has also learned to advocate for himself.

Once he asked the Juvenile Dependency Court judge if he could seek employment, which the Court supported as long as he was able to maintain school academics and schoolwork while working part-time at a restaurant. Adam worked hard to develop coping skills and continued to maintain on psychotropic medication. Throughout the time Mark advocated for Adam, he sometimes felt that his relationship with him seemed distant. Adam would often text Mark instead of speaking to him in person, and Mark feared that once Adam turned 18 he would not want Mark to continue on as a CASA Mentor.

However, this past month while at a court hearing, Adam told the judge he definitely wanted Mark to continue to be his advocate. Adam thanked his social worker, his foster parents, and Mark for being supportive. Mark was over joyed and pleasantly surprised to hear that Adam wanted him to continue on as a CASA Mentor. Mark now helps Adam as his CASA Mentor as Adam transitions into being a responsible and productive young adult.

(*names changed to ensure confidentiality)

Must! Charities Annual Report Hot off the Press

Must! Charities is rooted in four areas: Collaboration, Accountability, Comprehensive Change and Sustainability.  The 2017 Annual Report highlights how those areas drive the results-oriented approach to project collaboration.  Review the organization’s financials, project impacts, and how the life of a project works.  The entire report is available for download HERE.


From ACEs Connection: Middle School Tackles Everybody’s Trauma

A great article by Laurie Udesky from ACEs Connection on incorporating ACEs training into a middle school.  READ MORE:

Middle school tackles everybody’s trauma; result is calmer, happier kids, teachers and big drop in suspensions

During the 2014/2015 school year, things were looking grim at Park Middle School in Antioch, CA. At the time, staff couldn’t corral student disruptions. Teacher morale was plummeting. By the end of February 2015, 192 kids of the 997 students had been suspended — 19.2 percent of the student population.

“I was watching really good people burning out from the [teaching] profession and suspending kids over and over and nothing was changing behavior-wise, and teachers were not happy about it,” says John Jimno, who was in his second year as principal at that time.

John Jimno

So, Jimno and the staff took advantage of a program that Contra Costa County was integrating into its Youth Justice Initiative and, in doing so, joined a national trauma-informed school movement that has seen hundreds of schools across the country essentially replace a “What’s wrong with you?” approach to dealing with kids who are having troubles with asking kids, “What happened to you?”, and then providing them help.

And, in just two years, by integrating this radically different approach into all parts of the school and rebuilding many of its practices from the inside out, suspensions plummeted more than 50% to just 8.4 percent of the student population in just two years.

The program that the Park Middle School educators piggybacked on in Fall 2015 was the Sanctuary Model, a trauma-informed method for changing organizational culture from one that is toxic to one that is healthy. Jimno and a group of teachers and administrators participated in monthly county-wide “train the trainers” workshops where they learned how to integrate the model into their school; then they trained the rest of their staff. The model, developed by Dr. Sandra Bloom, a psychiatrist and assistant professor of Health Management and Policy at the School of Public Health at Drexel University in Philadelphia, has been implemented by hundreds of organizations and communities across the U.S., including public and private schools, health organizations, residential treatment centers, domestic violence shelters, and drug and alcohol treatment centers. The Sanctuary Institute has been teaching the model since 2005; integrating it into an organization takes at least three years.

The Sanctuary Model is similar to a small group of organizations — including CLEAR (Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience), Turnaround for Children, Compassionate Schools, and HEARTS (Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools) — that teach a trauma-informed, whole-school approach based on the science of adverse childhood experiences.

“Adverse childhood experiences” comes from the landmark CDC/Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, which showed the link between 10 types of childhood trauma and the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. Those traumas include living in a household where a family member has mental illness or substance use problems, or where parents have divorced or there’s been emotional or sexual abuse.

Subsequent ACE surveys include racism, witnessing violence outside the home, bullying, losing a parent to deportation, living in an unsafe neighborhood, and involvement with the foster care system. Other types of childhood adversity can also include being homeless, living in a war zone, being an immigrant, moving many times, and attending a school that enforces a zero-tolerance discipline policy.

The ACE Study found that most people (64%) have at least one ACE; 12% of the population has an ACE score of 4. Having an ACE score of 4 nearly doubles the risk of heart disease and cancer. It increases the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic by 700 percent and the risk of attempted suicide by 1200 percent.

Part of the trauma-informed training provided to Park Middle School educators highlighted how unpredictable, ongoing stress from ACEs can damage the structure and function of kids’ developing brains, and can cause them to be on high alert for danger, easily triggered into a state of fight, flight or freeze, and incapable of rational thought, according to 8th grade science teacher Sara Buckley. Buckley found the brain science around ACEs part of the training especially interesting. (For more information about ACEs science, go to ACEs Science 101; to calculate your ACE score, go to Got Your ACE Score?)

Sara Buckley

“After the training, you come in and you see it all and you think ‘I understand what’s happening with this kid. I know the neighborhoods they live in, and it has nothing to do with who you are as a teacher, classroom control or their respect for you. They’ve had some experiences that have altered the way they act, and the way they think and their brain development.”

Using tools from the training with her students, Buckley has been able to make new inroads in building trust. “I have a girl in class. When she’s angry, she will burst out cussing. She will walk out of class,” says Buckley. The student is also frequently tardy. So, Buckley talked with the girl and found out her anger stems from her not being able to live with her mother, who struggles with drug use, and having to live with another relative instead. Buckley acknowledged the student’s anger, but gently pressed upon her that she had to find another way to deal with it.

“So, I said, ok, what’s your plan when you’re angry? Because you can’t be cussing like that in the middle of a classroom, in a library, in a courtroom, or anywhere. It doesn’t work.” The girl came up with a plan that if she’s triggered, she’ll step outside the classroom until she calms down, explains Buckley.

Not long after she developed the plan, a classmate said something that angered the student, says Buckley. “She looked at me. I looked at her,” Buckley says. “And she left the classroom and came back a few minutes later when she felt calmed down.”

Buckley says the training also helps her communicate to students when she herself needs to have a moment. Just after the training, while her students were quietly taking a test, some students in the halls screamed out sexual obscenities. The next day in class she said to her students, “I want you to know it really upset me to hear that and that you had to hear it, and I’m still really upset. I need a moment here.” Her students obliged. “They understood and they were really quiet for a moment. I never would have said that five years ago. I would have kept it to myself, but they would have been able to tell I was upset.”

The Sanctuary Model puts as much emphasis on teacher and staff self-care as on caring for students. Sometimes teachers need more than a moment in their class. They need to step away. So, they have a “buddy system.” “I can call up Mr. Jimno and say I need a few minutes, could you take over my class?” says Buckley.

Or if there are students who are pressing a teacher’s buttons, they may be asked to sit in the back of a “buddy” teacher’s class. 7th grade teacher Johri Leonard says he often takes in those students who sit at the back of his classroom and calm down.

The ability of students and teachers to pay attention to what triggers them and pause and reflect before they react didn’t just happen. It has been made easier by a rich array of new practices — including mindfulness meditation, a staffed wellness center, individual student check-ins, restorative meetings after tangles between students, or students and teachers, teacher safety plans, and yoga — that have been embedded in the school culture to help students and teachers.

Mindful moments

At 9:30 am, a student stands at the front of Leonard’s ancient civilizations and history class. The lights are off. The student rings a chime and tells her peers to breathe in and out. Most have their eyes closed. One student is quietly examining her chartreuse-painted fingernails. The student at the front is leading them through mindful meditation, a practice that’s been taught to all students. This year the majority of teachers use it with students anywhere from daily at the beginning of class, to once or twice a week, or on an as needed basis, such as before students take tests.Johri Leonard

Johri Leonard

Leonard says he thinks the three-minute meditation at the beginning of each of his classes has made a huge difference: “I have very few behavior problems in my class,” he says. Last year, he also started showing a mindfulness meditation video prior to tests and quizzes: “Test scores went up. In some cases, the kids still didn’t pass, but their scores went up. Can I say it’s because of the mindfulness?” he asks. “I don’t know for sure, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.”

6th grade meditators

Sixth-grader Cayla White says she thought the mindfulness was boring when she first learned it, but it’s grown on her. “It relaxes my mind. It makes me a little more tired, but more relaxed and comfortable,” says the 11-year old as her face lights up with a smile.” She’s also found occasion to use some of the techniques outside of school — say when she gets angry at her younger brother. “I’ll breathe and open and close my palms,“ she says, or she’ll do a ‘shakeout’. She demonstrates by tightening her limbs and her hands into fists, and then shakes them out. All examples are ingredients of the mindfulness program learned by students and staff developed by the California-based Niroga Institute,

Research into measuring the impact of mindfulness on students is hard to quantify, but many studies have shown that it helps students focus, reduce stress and build resilience. A recent analysis of 24 studies, for example, showed “large effect sizes on measures of cognitive performance and small to medium effect sizes on stress reduction and resilience.”


Many of the students at Park need more than mindful moments. If triggered, they can visit the wellness room housed in a modular structure. It’s carpeted in grey, and lavender permeates the room from a diffuser. The room has a “talk” area, a “chill out” area with comfy black armchairs separated by dividers, and an open area for yoga poses. The room is staffed by Mish Guker, a wellness counselor, and Katie Byram, a marriage and family therapy and school-counseling intern from St. Mary’s College, who sees students individually and in support groups. Here they can curl up under a weighted blanket or cuddle a weighted stuffed animal, listen to mindfulness music, squeeze stress balls, zone out on iridescent water-filled wands, or just sit quietly and take deep breaths.

There’s a 10-minute limit to visits, so the students don’t miss class. If they need more time with a counselor or psychologist, the counselor will set up a longer appointment, says Jimno.

At the wellness room, the students are expected to identify how they’re feeling and choose the activity they’re going to use to calm themselves. Jimno, who has kind blue eyes and a tendency to pepper his speech with decisive hand gestures, points to a chart indicating a range of emoji-like emotions that serves as a prop. “When they come here, they have to identify what they’re feeling right now,” he says. If a student chooses the “I’m angry” emoji, the staff will say: “What would you like to do to fix that?”

A 7th grader with brown eyes and round cheeks has been a frequent visitor to the school’s wellness room. “If someone stresses me out where I’m not having a good day, it calms me down,” the student says softly and deliberately. “I talk to a counselor and they help me feel better. Or I’ll listen to music and calm down, or I’ll squeeze a stress ball.”

Before there was a wellness room, “I would get in trouble a lot of time because there was nothing that I could do with my anger in a healthy way,” he says.

Later in his office, Jimno says the student was involved in several fights the previous year. That behavior, he says, is tied to what the child has experienced. “He’s got deep trauma. His mother died at an early age, and he was bounced around from place to place for a while. Now he’s in a stable place.”

Guker, the wellness counselor, says she’s worked in a number of schools up and down California and had thought of herself as jaded. Not so at Park Middle School. “Honestly, these are some of the worst stories I’ve heard,” she says. “There’s domestic violence. There’s drug use. There’s gang activity. There’s neglect, disinterest, parents that are gone or not parenting or absent. The kids have some pretty serious problems.” But, she says, “They’re actually quite resilient.” She cites a group of sixth graders who frequented the wellness room last year, but are not coming so often this year. “They told me they’re using mindfulness at home and have taught it to their families.”

Jimno has collected data on the use of the wellness room and found that last year 823 students made use of it in the second quarter of school. This year, for the same time period, that number has gone down to 710 visits. Jimno is still in the process of analyzing what the data shows. But one thing he feels certain about. “I know this: If those 710 visits didn’t happen, you’d have more suspensions if you weren’t taking care of those kids who needed help.”

Since Park Middle School has shifted to trauma-informed practices, suspensions have been reduced overall, but it’s a system that Jimno says will need to be tweaked and fine-tuned. He cites this example to explain his reasoning: Over the last several months, about 39 new students, many of them 8thgraders, came from other schools and were unfamiliar with and resistant to the trauma-informed practices culture, he explains. “There were a few weeks where there was one event after another,” he says. Students were getting into fights in the quad. Teachers were being tapped out. Suspensions rose sharply. One of the solutions was hiring a teacher to work with some of the students who needed closer attention in a smaller classroom. Another was one-on-one meetings with several students who were regularly showing up late to class and torpedoing the flow. In one case, the student’s P.E. class was changed to provide her more time to change out of gym clothes so she could get to her next class on time.

Things have quieted down now, he says. But he’s working to obtain grants to keep the staffing in place at the wellness room and expand what he can offer to keep trauma-informed practices embedded at the school.

Despite challenges, for teacher Sara Buckley the shift to an approach that looks at students through a different lens has also changed her for the better. “It’s made me way more patient and way more insightful about what could be causing certain things, and probably more compassionate too.”

Jimno says he is always looking for ways to improve the school culture, but he says, he definitely sees progress. “Are our practices trauma-informed? I don’t think we’re there yet. I think we’re getting there, but we still are learning. It’s not a quick fix, it’s probably a longer-term fix, but we’re learning a lot about it.”

A lanky 7th grader with shining brown eyes and studded ears leans into Jimno inside the school office.  “I need to have a 3-minute check in with you,” he implores. Jimno smiles, as he reaches out and playfully pivots the student around. “I know you!” he teases. “You want a 20-minute check-in!”

For this young man, a check-in with a trusted adult is not just a casual request; it’s what’s helped him be able to stay at the school, says Jimno.

“At the beginning of last year, we didn’t know if he would survive in this school,” says Jimno. “He had a ton of disruptive behaviors, a lot of removal from class, a lot of conflicts with a lot of kids at lunch.” About 42 students currently have daily check-ins to help keep them on track academically or help them cope with behavioral or mental health challenges.

The check-ins, which the student helped plan, involve the 7thgrader assessing and troubleshooting how he is doing in terms of homework, mood, behavior in class, arriving at classes on time – and they appear to be working. The disruptive behavior has subsided, explained Jimno, reflecting on this past year. “He came to a really good place right now.”