Creating a Community of Heroic Youth

By Giving List Staff   |   January 2, 2021

In April of 1999, two high school seniors walked onto the campus of Columbine High School in Colorado with semi-automatic weapons and proceeded to kill 12 of their classmates and one teacher. 

The tragedy sparked incredible action and lasting change 1,000 miles away in Santa Barbara. That summer two local therapists and educators – Jennifer Freed and Rendy Freedman – experimented with a mix of social-emotional learning and creative expression to show that it is much harder to harm someone if you know who they are. 

The pair and some very underpaid staff led 20 teenagers through a series of exercises that brought the group closer together. AHA! – Attitude, Harmony, Achievement – was born. 

With the novel mission of inspiring communities to feel safe, seen, celebrated, and emotionally connected, AHA! has – over its 22 years – steadily equipped teenagers and educators with social-emotional intelligence to dismantle apathy, prevent despair, and interrupt hate-based behavior.

In 2008, Carpinteria High School was experiencing conflict between Latinos and White surfers. “The parents recognized that there needed to be some type of intervention,” says AHA! co-founder Jennifer Freed. 

That year, Freed, Freedman, and AHA!’s growing team of facilitators introduced a 10-week “seminar” that touched every Carpinteria High School freshman. AHA! staff visited freshman classrooms weekly, delivering a curriculum that focused on emotion management, prejudice reduction, empathy, celebration of difference, and compassion. Through small group discussions and exercises, AHA! facilitators knitted classrooms and campuses together to improve climate and reduce ostracism and bullying.

The results were stunning, as they have been everywhere AHA! has set up shop since. Suspensions went down by 70%, students’ feeling of hope jumped up by 50%, and test scores increased by an average of 11%. 

“The only thing that breaks down prejudice is getting to know people,” Freed says. “It’s all about getting to know the person next to you instead of staring straight ahead.” 

 In two decades, AHA! has brought social-emotional learning to 25,000 students throughout Santa Barbara and Carpinteria middle and high schools, while training 2,000 educators and supporting 2,500 parents. 

Every year, the organization steadily provides in- and after-school programming to more than 2,000 young people, while training upwards of 350 area educators and scores of bilingual parents and guardians.

The result: armies of young people equipped with the social and emotional intelligence to dismantle racism while creating harmony in their communities and inside themselves.


Attitude, Harmony, Achievement


AHA! equips teenagers, educators, and parents with social and emotional intelligence to dismantle apathy, prevent despair, and interrupt hate-based behavior.

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“We were searching for a youth group to support, and AHA! is stellar. It exactly exemplifies and fulfills what we had in our minds. I’ve seen a lot of programs across the country, and I’ve rarely seen one with AHA!’s level of traction, track record, and understanding of how to support young people in being their most whole, best selves.”
Jennifer Buffett, Co-President, NoVo Foundation

Giving Opportunities

THE BEST PART OF giving to AHA! is that all donations go to direct services thanks to one longtime supporter who covers operational expenses!
$5,000 provides AHA! after-school and summer groups for five youths for one year, averaging six to eight hours per week per youth with experienced mentors and facilitators
$10,000 provides three months of Littlest Little Farm programming for 16 youths
$20,000 provides 27 Hero Assemblies to schools (2,700+ students served), inspiring positive attitudes, safe communities, and brave contributions
$25,000+ enables AHA! to offer one school a customized Peace Builders curriculum emphasizing empathy, agency, and kindness and serving up to 40 students for the full school year
$30,000+ enables AHA! to offer one school in-school Freshman programming to develop social-emotional skills and social responsibility, serving 150+ students over the full school year

Board of Directors

Rand Rosenberg, Board Co-President 
Bobby Shand, Board Co-President
Nancy Grinstein, Board Vice President
David Almeida, Treasurer
Lisa Boisset Babcock, Secretary
Kerrilee Gore
Jess McHarrie
Bibi Moezzi
Jim Peal
Marla McNally Phillips
Jack Rivas
Pablo Romero
Stacy Pulice