It was the afternoon of December 21, 2017 and teachers in the San Francisco Unified School District were mere moments away from a well-deserved winter break. Marisa Martinez, a kindergarten teacher at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, was not closing her door, but opening it. Ms. Martinez was returning from a semester of bereavement leave after losing her daughter, Zamora Moon, to an aggressive and incurable brain cancer known as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
Meeting her at that door were 19 volunteers from Salesforce who came to Harvey Milk through Circle the Schools, an initiative started by sf.citi in partnership with the SFUSD and the San Francisco Education Fund. The Circle the Schools program brings companies and schools together so working adults may volunteer in meaningful and sustained ways. Circle the Schools partners regularly help teachers move back into their classrooms in September, so when the Salesforce team heard Ms. Martinez would be returning in December, they eagerly stepped up to the challenge.
With kindness, humor and a whole lot of muscle, the group of 20 moved everything – Ms. Martinez’s decorations, stacks of books, classroom posters, even a unicorn bust – out of storage and into the room to allow Ms. Martinez to make it her own again. The work was backbreaking, and more meaningful than it could have appeared. The group did more than move furniture. They helped Ms. Martinez piece her life back together.
The 23-year veteran teacher addressed her volunteers that afternoon to explain that having Salesforce team members set up her classroom was not just helpful, but also a lovely synchronicity. Zamora was 7-years-old when she was diagnosed with DIPG, a pediatric cancer that has received so little research funding that children with DIPG today face the same prognosis as children with the cancer in the 1970s: terminal upon diagnosis. Zamora was given less than nine months to live.
Through the incredible generosity of members of the Salesforce community, who learned of Zamora’s illness through volunteering at the school previously, Ms. Martinez was able to take Zamora overseas where she had access to the most innovative DIPG treatments in the world. Ms. Martinez’s eyes still fill with tears as she shares how immensely grateful she is for those private donors, the same ones who have supported her school community for years, and now so directly changed her life.
Ms. Martinez is back to her classroom now and makes only a few requests as we share her story: Pay attention to the little things, the silent backstories that connect us to each other; show up, wherever you are needed, ready to help in whatever ways you can; and know Zamora Moon’s story so you can thoughtfully advocate for funding for pediatric cancers, especially DIPG. Finally, to the private Salesforce donors who helped extend her daughter’s life and the volunteers who showed up that day to help Ms. Martinez continue on, she wants you to know she is eternally grateful.
After a fierce battle against DIPG, Zamora Moon passed away on June 18, 2017, nearly 10-years-old, having lived 22 months past her diagnosis. You can learn more about Zamora’s life and legacy on her Facebook page, which Ms. Martinez still updates, here.