MENLO PARK (KPIX 5) Esmeralda Perez used to worry a lot about her self image.
"I didn't want to go outside most of the time because I was so insecure about how I looked," she revealed.
But as she created her self portrait, the 15-year-old's attitude transformed:
"I turned out to love myself more," Perez smiled.
She is one of several students who described their journey of acceptance in front of a supportive audience at Cafe Zoe in Menlo Park.
The arts program is part of Girls to Women, the nonprofit founded by former East Palo Alto mayor Patricia Foster in 2007.
Girls to Women hired professionals to teach a three-month art and photography class at Oxford Day Academy in East Palo Alto.
Although some boys took part, Foster designed her nonprofit to serve the city's low income girls and women.
"I want them to be strong, courageous," Foster explained. "I want them to find their way."
Over the years, Foster has partnered with other groups to offer opportunities like free afterschool tutoring, technology training, gardening, and a summer program at Girls to Women's Beech Street headquarters. This year, she's introducing arts and nutrition workshops off site, at schools and other community locations.
Her dedication inspires Visual and Media Arts Program Director Van Nguyen-Stone.
"Patricia Foster is a treasure to East Palo Alto," declared Nguyen-Stone. "It's always about how could we support our young women to be confident, strong, to empower our young girls to be able to speak up."
Foster says she is the one who's inspired.
"They're bolder and better than I could ever be," she smiled.
So for empowering thousands of girls and women, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Patricia Foster.
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