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About the Live Like Coco Foundation

The Live Like Coco Foundation is a non-profit organization helping kids in the Santa Cruz County area grow up healthy and with opportunities to pursue their dreams. Our foundation is named and inspired by Coco Lazenby, a self-described “book lover, cat petter and environmentalist,” who was killed in a car accident in August 2015 at age 12.

To honor Coco’s bright spirit and big heart, our foundation works in four areas that made a difference in her life:

About Coco

Colette Elisabeth Pavao Lazenby was a treasure to everyone she met, and will be remembered and cherished by all for her generous heart, inquisitive mind, zest for life and confident, adventurous spirit. She made the world a better place in the very short time she was on this earth.

Coco was born in San Francisco to Kate Pavao and Aaron Lazenby, and spent the first six years of her life there. She attended Maria Montessori of the Golden Gate and Adda Clevenger schools. After moving to Aptos in 2009, Coco attended Orchard School, Santa Cruz Montessori and Pacific Coast Charter School.

Coco connected with many communities and activities in Santa Cruz County. She played the role of Dorothy in the All About Theatre production of “The Wizard of Oz.” She sang with the Cabrillo Youth Chorus and performed with the Watsonville Taiko drumming group. She published a book review in the Santa Cruz-based publication Stone Soup. She also completed a web site building project with More Active Girls in Computing (M.A.G.I.C.), which she presented at Google headquarters in the summer of 2015.

Coco was always eager to try new things and worked hard to master new skills. She wrote stories, plays and poetry, and made several movies with her cousins. And she loved reading. She usually had a book in her hands; libraries and bookstores were some of her favorite places, and she could sit for hours lost in a book. She even helped build a Little Free Library in front of her house with her Grandma Sweet P so she could share books with her community.

She loved nature and the outdoors: she swam, surfed, rode horses, climbed trees and rocks, and camped. She loved music: sang, played the piano beautifully and was learning to play the guitar. And she was becoming a competent, creative chef. With her Uncle Bud, she won the 2014 “Scratchie,” an annual cooking competition held by her Lazenby family during the holiday season.

Coco cared for the environment and her community. She volunteered for the Homeless Garden Project, Save Our Shores and Team in Training. She organized her classmates to participate in Do Something’s Teens for Jeans drive, collecting clothing for homeless teens. When she was very small, she even drew and posted her own public awareness signs, and once led her family down their street in a protest march against littering.

She was a committed vegetarian who fostered cats and kittens through Animal Shelter Relief, saved bees and bugs and worms, raised money for pet shelters, wrote a letter to the president about animal rights, and most recently began her own pet sitting business with its own website: PeppyPawz.com. Many members of Coco’s family have rescue cats or dogs because of her commitment to animals.

Coco was adventurous. She loved to travel, meet new people and see new places. She had traveled to Costa Rica, India, Jamaica and Japan with her parents. And she had visited Chesapeake Bay, Grand Canyon, Hawaii, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. where she had a special tour of the White House and met the First Dogs.

She knew the Constitution backwards and forwards and thought of becoming a Supreme Court justice. She was also an expert in Egyptian and Greek mythology, and dreamt of being an archeologist. She thought of being a writer, an actor, and a mom to a large group of kids. She knew whatever she did, she wanted to have lots of rescue animals in her life.

She always laughed loudest, gave great hugs and told people to “think about donuts” when they were sad and needed to feel better.

Board of Directors

Kate Pavao

Executive Director

Kate Pavao is Coco’s mother and a freelance writer and editor who specialized for nearly two decades in writing for and about teens and tweens. When she and her husband Aaron were raising Coco in San Francisco, they founded the Mission Parents Group to help families in San Francisco’s Mission District know one another better. There, Kate successfully secured a First 5 grant to facilitate bilingual “Cooking From the Garden Classes,” among other projects. After moving to Santa Cruz with her family in 2009, Kate ran half and full marathons with Team in Training, raising more than $35,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society along the way, and spent a season as the head coach for a Mini Mermaid Running Team at Santa Cruz Montessori. She loves many of things that Coco loved so dearly: camping, traveling, board games, word puns, reading, taking care of animals and everything miniature. She also loves coffee. Kate has a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies from University of California Santa Cruz and a master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism.

Aaron Lazenby

Secretary

Aaron is Coco’s father and has worked for more than 20 years as a writer and editor for Oracle Corp., In his career, he has enjoyed traveling and meeting people from around the world, especially to places like India and Japan with Coco by his side. Besides traveling, he and his daughter shared a love of cooking, dancing, playing video games and watching movies. Aaron is a founding member of San Francisco’s collective radio station Mutiny Radio, and the Mission Parents Group, which he started with is wife, Kate. Aaron has a bachelor’s degree in modern literature from University of California Santa Cruz and a certificate from the Stanford University Professional Publishing Course.

Yvonne Smith

Treasurer

Yvonne Smith was born and raised in Watsonville, and attended Salsipuedes School (now known as Alianza and Watsonville Charter School of the Arts). Like Coco, she was an avid reader; Yvonne even won reading contests when she was in 4th grade with the beloved Mrs. Franich. Like Coco she was also an animal lover (grew up riding horses in and around Corralitos and spent over 20 years volunteering at a local animal-therapy program). She earned an English Literature degree from San Francisco State University with a minor in Technical Writing. Yvonne worked as technical writer for Cisco Systems until starting a family.

Her daughter Morgen (www.morgensmith.com) and son Vinson attended Santa Cruz Montessori with Coco; the families met when the girls starred together in Annie and their bond grew when the girls again performed side by side in All About Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz. Coco introduced many books to Morgen and they spent hours reading, singing, and laughing together. Coco supported Vinson by attending his baseball games and playing with him on the trampoline.

Since Coco was killed, Yvonne and her family have been dedicated volunteers with Live Like Coco. They have participated in beach cleanups and fundraising events, and Morgen has performed several benefit concerts; Yvonne and her family have also sponsored the Run for Reading each year through their family business, Seacliff Construction & Design. Yvonne officially joined the board in January 2023, and works as the foundation’s treasurer.

Jackie Medina

Director

Jackie Medina has been a teacher for more than 10 years, an assistant principal, and currently serves as principal at Starlight Elementary School in Watsonville. She has lead her school and district to develop several literacy projects under the umbrella of her campaign called “Building a Culture of Literacy.” These projects include various family literacy projects, book clubs, early literacy intervention, kinder workshops, read-in activities, and most notably she played an instrumental role in developing the “Birthday Books From Coco” program. She is also a community leader for bilingual education. As Vice President of the Pajaro Valley chapter of California Association for Bilingual Education, she has lead Professional Development and campaigns to support effective dual language programs in her district and beyond. Jackie played an active role in Sacramento, helping create a statewide “Seal of Biliteracy” award for graduating seniors. She also developed criteria for a “Pathway to Biliteracy” award granted to students at the elementary level for proficiency in two languages.

She has lived in Italy, Guatemala, and Mexico for extended periods of time to teach and learn about these cultures. In her free time, Jackie likes to play soccer and is a member of the marathon training team, Team Coco. Running with Coco’s parents, Kate and Aaron, is how she first became connected to Coco. Jackie says, “I’ve always been impressed by the charisma of Coco and her impact in the community. As a 12-year-old, she has a created a legacy the rest of us can only imagine.” Jackie attended the All About Theatre play, “The Wizard of Oz” starring Coco as Dorothy and commented, “I went to the play on opening night because it was my birthday and the Wizard of Oz is my all time favorite movie. Coco was so cute. She nailed her role and helped the other struggling actors along when they forgot their lines. This was the last time I saw her and the way I will always remember her; beloved Dorothy.”

Shari Gallegos

Director

When Shari heard about Kate and Aaron’s nonprofit organization, she was working at Mar Vista Elementary as the interim principal. Kate and her husband Aaron were very active in the Mar Vista Parent Club. Kate ran the meetings and Aaron kept meticulous minutes. She was impressed with their success at organizing school-wide events and harnessing the energy and creativity of the parent community into fun activities for the whole family. It was through their biweekly meetings with Kate that Shari learned about the LLC Foundation and came to know Kate. So, it stands to reason that as a primary grade teacher (20 years) and then a principal (10 years), Shari would gravitate to a literacy driven organization in her retirement years. As a teacher, she often went into children’s homes where the children had no books to call their own. The fact that the books that are offered to our school children through LLC are not only age appropriate but free was the deciding factor in wanting to join the board. Therefore, it is her sincere hope that her love of books, her long career as an educator and a passion for getting books into the hands and homes of kids will serve this organization well. In summary, she looks forward to working with dedicated, enthusiastic people whose devotion to children will have a lasting impact.

Martha (Muffie) Miller

Director

Martha Miller has been a teacher for over 30 years and recently retired from Pacific Coast Charter School (PVUSD) as a middle school literary arts teacher. She served as her school’s longstanding coordinator for the Santa Cruz County’s Student Authors’ Fair each spring, was staff advisor for a quarterly K-8 literary magazine, and secured a grant to establish a thriving student publishing center at PCCS for student authors. Additionally, she acted as her school’s SPECTRA coordinator. She has served on numerous non-profit boards including the Board of Directors for Arts Council Santa Cruz County. Muffie is passionate about her longstanding service on the Arts Education Committee, ensuring that the children of SCC have sustained opportunities to experience the arts. Traveling, being out in nature (and photographing those experiences), reading, gardening and cooking are additional favorite pastimes. Muffie has lived in Aptos for over thirty years with her husband, Dr. Les Miller. Her two adult children, Aaron and Ali (and husband Ken), have (happily) settled in California. She was Coco’s teacher during her 6th grade year at PCCS and remembers Coco as “an exceptional student who always contributed her insightful, often humorous, carefully edited writing to The Scoop, our school’s literary magazine. She was an extraordinary, compassionate human being.”

Jennifer Willoughby

Director

Jen (she/her) grew up in San Jose and moved to Santa Cruz County after college to raise a family with her husband Chris, a farmer in the Pajaro Valley. Jen has a BA in Communication from Cal Poly, SLO and a PPS Credential and MA in Counselor Education from San Jose State University. Jen worked as an adolescent drug and alcohol counselor with PVPSA and has been active in the community for nearly 25 years. Jen has participated in multiple fundraising events with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, including winning the honor of Woman of the Year. Jen has been a member of the PAMF Philanthropy Board for 10 years and helped raise funds for cancer care, surgical equipment, and mental health services for youth. Jen curates book collections for Diversify Your Stack SC whose mission is to promote marginalized authors by sharing books in Little Free Libraries. Jen was a member of the LGBTQIA+ Literature Project with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and helped curate a list of books centered around LGBTQIA+ characters and issues for grades K-12. In her free time, Jen loves to run, sew, and spend time with her husband and two amazing daughters. Jen is honored to be a part of the Live Like Coco Foundation.

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