Natalia Salcido Legacy Foundation raises money for student activities

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By Marty Cheek

Christopher Salcido with his wife,
Andora, and daughters Noelle, left, and Natalia.
Photo courtesy Salcido family

Four years ago, Natalia Salcido was excited about planning her Sweet 16 birthday. On May 9, 2015, one week before that special celebration, the Christopher High School cheerleader’s life ended in a car accident.

Natalia’s story continues as her family started a nonprofit through the Gilroy Foundation in her honor. Funds go as scholarships and grants to local youths and programs that support the arts and other endeavors the girl loved. These include sports, cheerleading, leadership programs, theater, and the Girl Scouts. The Natalia Salcido Legacy Foundation held its inaugural Soiree in May event May 18 at the La Vigna Event Center on Hecker Pass to raise money.

“Natalia was an amazing young girl,” said her father, Christopher Salcido. “It wasn’t until after Natalia passed that we really realized her impact with her personality and giving spirit.”

The tragic loss of the young woman’s life happened on the eve of Mother’s Day when she went with friends to buy a gift for her mom. The teen girl driving took her eyes off the road to look at a Snapchat image on the smartphone the backseat passenger wanted to share.

The car went off the road and hit an oak tree. The other teenagers survived the accident. Natalia, in the front passenger seat, was killed instantly. To help in the grieving process, Christopher, his wife, Andora, and their daughter Noelle often meet with parent-teen groups to warn about the dangers of distracted driving.

“Natalia really gave of herself,” Christopher said. “She was a Girl Scout and would go to a senior community here in Gilroy and help out with food and talk with the residents there. She enjoyed that and enjoyed giving her time to the people there. It’s the type of young lady she was.”

Christopher works as a captain in the San Jose Fire Department. Starting at an early age, Natalia often helped with his fire station’s holiday toy drive. The dad and daughter went together to buy toys for the kids. She loved wrapping the presents and presenting them to the kids of families needing assistance.

Her friendly personality made her seek out fellow students who might be feeling sad. She would cheer them up and give them encouragement, Christopher said.

At the celebration of life ceremony held at the Christopher High School gym following Natalia’s death, the Salcido family heard much praise about the young woman’s character.

“Most kids from her school would say she would come up to them and smile and give them her support, especially the kids who felt marginalized,” he said. “She didn’t judge them. She treated them fairly and that was really something else for us to hear from her peers.”

The idea for the foundation honoring Natalia was born when soon after the accident Christopher High School students prepared to travel to Los Angeles to visit a university and the Museum of Tolerance. Natalia had intended to go. The family decided the ticket their daughter would have used should be given to a student who couldn’t afford the trip, worth about $150.

“It was at that moment the lightbulb went on and we’re like, wow, that’s something that Natalia definitely would have done,” Christopher said. “And we saw that Natalia’s story could live on, that she could impact people’s lives like she did when she was with us.”

Funds were raised in Natalia’s name that went to assist young people who might not be able to afford opportunities for personal growth, he said.

“It became her legacy,” he said. “The Natalia Salcido Legacy Foundation has grown tremendously with people helping out. All the time we hear stories of how this young woman helped out. People tell us they want to do whatever they can to continue her legacy. It’s greatly appreciated.”

As the nonprofit grew, the Salcidos decided they could take some of the sadness that comes during the time of her birthday — May 17 — by holding a party to remember their daughter while raising money for grants and scholarships.

The Soiree in May “dress to impress” event was the perfect way to do this. It ncluded a Spanish paella dinner as well as entertainment. The food was top-notch from Gilroy catering legend Dave Bozzo, Christopher promised.

“Natalia had a sophisticated palette,” he said. “She loved having food that was not your average mac and cheese and chicken nuggets type of stuff. We joked that she always had to find the most expensive thing on the menu when we went out.”

Natalia dreamed of a career as a corporate event planner. She started looking for a college and preparing essays but felt a bit discouraged. “I don’t have a story,” she told her father.

He told her, “Well, Natalia, you do have a story. You just don’t know what your story is yet.”

He reflected on the impact his daughter’s short life has had. “Her story is still being written,” he said.

Marty Cheek