Tag Archives: children

Life through the lens of a Storyteller Preschooler

Photography Show at Paseo Nuevo: June 5th – July 6th

Storyteller Children’s Center will showcase the photography of its Head Start Children, ages 3 – 5 years old, in the old Macy’s windows in the Paseo Nuevo in downtown Santa Barbara. The show is the result of a curriculum created by teachers to instruct the children about memory, time, and reflection. The exhibition will hang for a month and offers the local community a glimpse into Storyteller Children’s Center’s approach to encouraging healthy life skills. 

Each child was given a disposable camera and taught how to use a viewfinder, a wind advance, and flash. Then, the cameras were sent home for the children to record their daily lives; a learning activity meant to encourage the development of patience, observation, creativity, and inventiveness. All photos presented have been taken by the children from their perspective. 

“There was so much joy among the children in learning a new method of taking pictures and taking the cameras home was a wonderful opportunity for them to have self-directed expression without adult intervention,” noted Teacher, Genezaret Cardoso. As opposed to the digital photography of today, the photos also offer the unique beauty of an unedited moment in time. 

Founded in 1988, Storyteller is a full-time, therapeutic school program that supports children ages 18 months to 5 years in achieving kindergarten readiness. In addition to the approximate 80 students served per year, Storyteller also provides assistance to the entire family unit, with an emphasis on breaking the cycle of poverty for the working poor while preparing children to successfully enter kindergarten. Some of Storyteller’s programs are supported by Head Start of the United States Department of Health and Human Services which provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and families.

Storyteller Children’s Center (Literally) Delivers On Their 7th Annual Lunch With Love Event

Raising funds on behalf of the therapeutic school for homeless toddlers and preschoolers, Storyteller staff, board and volunteers delivered 140 lunches (serving 560 people) to the doorsteps of would-be event guests.

Storyteller Children’s Center held its 7th annual Lunchbox Luncheon this week. As a result of pandemic circumstances, this is the second time the non-profit pivoted from an in-person event to deliver lunch to patrons and donors over a four day period. 

Participants received a delicious lunch by Duo and Mission Rose Pasta, which included a choice between homemade vegan soup, chicken noodle soups or fresh pasta. All lunches served a family of four and included freshly baked bread and a bottle of Grenache from Babcock winery.

“Storyteller’s Lunch with Love has been a great success due to incredible community involvement,” noted Storyteller Development Director, Adrienne DeGuevara.”With the support of volunteers, board members and sponsors, we’ve been able to engage long-standing donors and engage new ones. “

As a special bonus, each lunch purchase included an automatic raffle entry to win an original piece of artwork from Pedro De La Cruz, who created the celebrated Montecito Strong bear and whose artwork famously drew a $100,000 auction bid at the Storyteller Children’s Center Gala in 2018.

“While we’re eager to gather again, we are happy to partake in this effort for a second year,” noted Storyteller board member Erinn Lynch. “It offers a much-needed touchpoint with the people who support our Storyteller children and families. These ‘soul food’ lunches are delivered with gratitude and an acknowledged bond as we work together to take care of our community, despite pandemic circumstances.” 

About Storyteller: Founded in 1988, Storyteller is a full-time, therapeutic school program that supports children ages 18 months to 5 years in achieving kindergarten readiness. In addition to the approximate 80 students served per year, Storyteller also provides assistance to the entire family unit, with an emphasis on breaking the cycle of poverty for the working poor while preparing children to successfully enter kindergarten.

CASA seeks “Purses for a Purpose” to benefit advocacy for child victims of abuse

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Santa Barbara County plans to hold its first ever online auction of designer handbags, Purses for a Purpose, due to an increased need for volunteer advocates.

COVID-19 has not only impacted the non-profit’s ability to fundraise and recruit volunteers, but there has been an increase in the number of children experiencing abuse and/or neglect in the Santa Barbara County community. All resulting in a waiting list of more than 200 children in need of a CASA volunteer – a drastic rise compared to previous years.

With a need to find additional volunteers for the children waiting and support the 185 CASA volunteers working on behalf of 311 children, CASA plans to launch Purses for a Purpose, an online auction to take place April 21 – 27. The event was kickstarted by a generous CASA supporter, donating more than 15 designer bags to the program. 

“These kids can’t wait until we hold our next big gala event, they need our immediate help. Everyone has that purse in the back of the closet that just doesn’t get out enough, especially now! Why not give it a new purpose?” asks Associate Director of Donor Engagement, Kira Cosio. The organization hopes to collect an additional 10-12 new or slightly used purses, valued at or over $200, to help fund the next training class of CASA volunteers. 

Those wanting to contribute a handbag can reach out to Kira at kira@sbcasa.org or call 805-739-9102 ext 2595 to set up a contactless pick up. All donations received are tax-deductible. To learn more about CASA of Santa Barbara County, visit sbcasa.org.

Storyteller Children’s Center’s Annual Lunch with Love Fundraiser

Storyteller Children’s Center is gearing up for its 7th annual Lunchbox Luncheon on Tuesday. As a socially distanced creative pivot from an in-person event, Storyteller will be offering a delivered lunch to our patrons and donors. All participants will receive an amazing lunch catered by Duo and Mission Rose Pasta. Lunch packages will include three choices from the menu: a choice between two soups or fresh pasta and marinara, all served with freshly baked bread and a bottle of Grenache from Babcock winery. Lunches are $85 and serve a party of four. With each lunch purchase there is automatic entry into a raffle to win an original piece of artwork from Pedro De La Cruz. To see Mr. De La Cruz’s work you can visit his website at www.pedrodelacruz-artist.com. Lunches are being delivered on a day during April 13th – 16th between 11 – 1pm. 

Each ticket holder will also receive a link to a short video update on all of our latest projects and programming at Storyteller. 

We hope you will join us for this event to help support our mission to provide high-quality early childhood education for homeless and at-risk children in Santa Barbara County, as well as comprehensive support services for their families. We are currently accepting volunteers to help us deliver lunches to our donors and participants. For more information, please contact Adrienne De Guevara at adrienne@storytellercenter.org.

California Casa Releases 2019/2020 Impact Report: Stronger Together

California CASA announced today that it has published its 2019/2020 Impact Report, which reinforces the organization’s mission as it relates to helping serve the over 83,000 youth in California’s foster care system, local CASA programs, and Court Appointed Special Advocates. This year’s report also focuses on the unique actions the organization took in the wake of unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During this exceptional year, the 44 CASA programs in our state experienced first-hand how difficult it was, at times, for children in foster care to get their basic needs met. California CASA also witnessed the dedication and resiliency of CASA staff, boards, and volunteers in their outstanding support of youth who have experienced abuse and neglect,” said CA CASA CEO Sharon M. Lawrence, Esq. “The 2019/2020 Impact Report showcases the strength of our network and the potential to serve even more children by recruiting, training, and overseeing a growing and more diverse group of volunteer advocates in each county.”

The title of this year’s report – Stronger Together – underscores the cooperative relationship of California CASA and the variety of community members that come together to care for children across the state. In the midst of these tumultuous times, California CASA’s flexibility enabled the organization to operate exceptionally in an environment where county and state guidelines shifted in unpredictable ways. This purposeful approach was enhanced by dedicated CASA staff and volunteers at individual CASA programs adapting to ever changing dependency court and public health requirements that impacted advocates and the youth they are connected to.

The report looks at the how California CASA managed a wide range of initiatives to strengthen the service, quality, and impact of Court Appointed Special Advocates around the state. 

Summary of 2019/2020 Impact in California:

14,150 children in California foster had the support of a CASA volunteer.

8,798 Court Appointed Special Advocates worked on behalf of children.

$17.6M+ worth of volunteer service hours were provided by CASA volunteers to foster youth.

6,628 hours of technical assistance were provided by California CASA to local CASA programs.

$8.5M+ in funding was facilitated by California CASA for local CASA programs.

2500 local CASA staff and volunteers attended California CASA webinar training sessions.

California CASA – a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization ensuring that children and youth in California’s foster care system have both a voice and the services they need for a stable future. California CASA connects the 44 county CASA programs in the state in order to raise awareness of the need for Court Appointed Special Advocates and provides support, advice, resources, and oversight to maintain high-quality programs that serve children’s best interests. California CASA is a member of the National CASA/GAL Association for Children.

More information about California Court Appointed Special Advocates Association can be found here: CaliforniaCASA.org.  

New Leadership Team Implements Bold and Enduring Vision for Storyteller Children’s Center… Through the Pandemic and Beyond

New Executive Director, Development Director, and ECE Program Manager are bolstering support, partnerships, and programs for vulnerable toddlers and preschoolers.

Storyteller Children’s Center supports approximately 80 homeless and at-risk children and families per year

In the midst of the COVID-19-related protocols and lockdowns, Storyteller Children’s Center hasn’t stopped their momentum in serving the social, emotional, and scholastic needs of Santa Barbara’s homeless preschoolers. In the six months since Susan Cass took over in the role of Executive Director, the organization has brought on Adrienne De Guevara as Development Director and Maria Cervantes as ECE Program Manager. They have also remained open for the large majority of the year and achieved accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). 

“As one would expect, it has been particularly challenging for this leadership team to step into our roles during the pandemic,” noted Cass. “The economic hardships and needs of our families and students are greater than ever, so we need to remain focused on the opportunities rather than the obstacles. While new health and safety protocols have impacted our program delivery and revenue from fundraising events has steeply declined, we are committed to finding creative and strategic ways to continue to support our children, families, and staff during this time.”

Storyteller Children’s Center Executive Director Susan Cass
Storyteller Children’s Center Development Director Adrienne De Guevara

Adrienne De Guevara, previously with the Lobero Theatre Foundation, brings her combined experience in fundraising, sales, and event organizing to support Storyteller Children’s operation and program costs. As a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, she serves on the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access committee while also staying informed on the latest trends in philanthropy both locally and nationally. This year she also served on the selection committee for the 2020 National Philanthropy Day Honorees. 

For De Guevara, finding revenue has been all about reaching out and reactivating relationships. She has been identifying and applying for grants, upgrading the website to support online contributions, while managing the second virtual event to replace Storyteller’s annual lunchbox luncheon, “Lunch with Love,” which includes home-delivered meals to donors for a touch-base and connection. 

Storyteller Children’s Center ECE Program Manager Maria Cervantes

“This has been a challenging year for everyone,” said De Guevara. “It’s understandable that we are not necessarily top of mind with donors and funders, because we are all distracted and a bit overwhelmed. My approach is really applying the old fashion method of picking up the phone and saying ‘Hi, how are you?’ It’s incredible to me how responsive this community has been to our expressed needs.”

Maria Cervantes comes to Storyteller with 23 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Maria believes that every child deserves a high-quality early learning program and that ECE educators should be recognized for their research-based approach to development. A graduate of National University in San Diego, Maria holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and will enter into a master’s degree program later this year. In 2016 Maria was awarded Preschool Teacher of the Year by Los Angeles Universal Preschool and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Maria will be overseeing programs at both Storyteller locations.

Cervantes’ primary focus is on supporting the foundation of the Storyteller’s therapeutic-based education: the teachers and staff.

“All teachers are carrying a great deal of added responsibilities and workload this year, and that’s threefold for Storyteller’s educators,” said Cervantes. “Not only do they have the curriculum and COVID protocols to navigate, but they are also trained to provide emotional support to students who have or are experiencing a great deal of trauma. Our students benefit when our teachers are supported with resources, technology, training, compensation, and… empathy.”

Operating out of two campuses on State Street and De La Vina Street, Storyteller Children’s Center supports approximately 80 homeless and at-risk children and families per year. Beyond their year-round educational program, they provide behavioral health services, two nutritious meals and one snack per day, medical screenings and home visits. Parents and guardians must be working or enrolled in a vocational program for students to qualify. The primary objectives for Storyteller are to foster social and emotional resiliency and kindergarten readiness, the most critical markers in the scholastic success of a child.

Why Give?

My parents, Michael and Gail Towbes, moved to Santa Barbara County in 1957, and from the beginning, they were deeply engaged in supporting the community where they lived. Initially, they donated their time and energy as volunteers, and my sister and I often tagged along. It was just part of who we were as a family.

My parents loved Santa Barbara. Our “American Riviera” was the perfect blend between a sleepy beach town and a cosmopolitan mecca; a unique synergy between an intimate, close-knit community and a sophisticated metropolis. They believed that supporting the organizations that make this place special was our civic duty. Although my parents didn’t talk much about what motivated their philanthropy, they instilled these values in the next generation and led by example. In 1980, my parents founded the Towbes Foundation. That first year, they granted a whopping total of $500. We’ve grown a bit since then and in the past 40 years, the Towbes Foundation has granted over $20 million dollars to more than 400 organizations on the Central Coast. I grew up with philanthropy.

George Mason University economics professor, Zoltan J. Acs, author of the 2013 book Why Philanthropy Matters, notes, “Philanthropy does two things. First, it reconstitutes wealth and second it creates opportunity for others.”

Dr. Acs’s philosophy is at the core of why I have chosen to continue the work that my parents began. It’s a basic responsibility for those of us who have resources to give back to society. I believe in the social justice teachings at the heart of Judaism, embodied in the concept, Tikkun Olam, which translates to “repairing the world.” Tikkun Olam compels us to take individual and collective action to make the world a better place. Philanthropy can be an effective tool to catalyze large-scale social change, particularly when we get out of our silos and collaborate with other funders, government partners, and grantee organizations.

Our goal is to give where we can make the greatest impact and where our investment can provide leverage.

The Towbes Foundation has matured over the years. Historically, like many family foundations, our original giving patterns were unstructured. My parents brought their personal interests to the boardroom and let those passions lead their giving. Although my mom passed away nearly 25 years ago, my father continued the tradition of giving a little bit of money to a lot of organizations. This approach, which I call “sprinkling,” casts a wide net, but without much depth. In recent years, and with the dedication of a talented Board, we have begun to look at grantmaking more strategically.

A wise funding partner gave me some insightful advice shortly after my dad passed away in 2017. This person suggested that, given the complex and systemic nature of social problems, it helps to focus on what you know. If the target of grantmaking is lodged in an area of funder expertise, then the funder can be more of an active partner in the work. This resonated with me.

My background is in education and child mental health. I was a special education teacher before becoming a child psychologist and I maintain a busy child-and family-focused psychological services practice in Santa Barbara. Giving to organizations and collaborations that address child well-being makes sense, and there are plenty of needs here to be addressed. As a result, the Towbes Foundation is undergoing a shift from “sprinkling” and toward focusing our resources in the areas we know. Our goal is to give where we can make the greatest impact and where our investment can provide leverage.

COVID-19 has created a myriad of needs in our community.Simultaneously, the country’s racial disparities, amplified by the murder of George Floyd, have highlighted longstanding inequities.Many of these needs and injustices fall in the areas of our expertise: education, child well being, and mental health. These intertwined crisis points have led me to personally re-examine the ways in which I give. 

I think it’s critical to move away from a transactional approach where the rich (and the white) donate to the poor (and the nonwhite), without really interacting or creating community. My goal moving forward is to focus on long-term systemic change through partnership and collaboration. To quote Dana Kawaoka-Chen, the Executive Director of the Bay Area Justice Funders, “For those of us in a position to redistribute resources, this is a moment in which we must urgently act with moral clarity and choose which side of history we want to be on.”

Making our little slice of paradise in Santa Barbara a better place to live for everyone is at the center of why I give. It’s meaningful work, it strengthens community, and it’s pretty fun.

– Carrie Towbes

Never Giving Up in the Fight Against Pediatric Cancer

At age 12, Axel Penaloza was diagnosed with brain cancer. 

“I was so scared,” Penaloza says. “I was thinking, why is this happening to me? I just want to go to school and be free from cancer.” 

He was not alone in his fears. His older brother suffered as he saw his little brother go through treatment, and his parents – both first generation Americans from Mexico– struggled to manage the unknown that is a cancer diagnosis. 

Thankfully, there was a nonprofit to help them: Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation (TBCF). TBCF provides three core programs aimed at supporting children and their families through pediatric cancer: financial, emotional, and educational support.

Low and moderate-income families residing in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo can receive up to $5,000 for expenses at the time of an initial cancer diagnosis. “A cancer diagnosis is an incredible economic hit,” says TBCF board member Sheela Hunt. Additionally, up to $2,500 is available to families whose child relapses after their cancer treatment. In the most tragic moments imaginable, TBCF will cover funeral costs of up to $2,500.

Through its emotional support program, Teddy Bear provides family counseling groups, events aimed at family connection, and “care for the caregivers” like a Mother’s Spa Day. Anything to bring some normalcy in such a horrific time for a family.

Finally, the organization helps children regain their feet in school. Not only do children miss days for treatment, but treatment can also cause cognitive delays. TBCF provides up to $1,000 for tutoring and covers the cost of neuropsychological testing, so that children who experience cognitive issues can get the help they need in school. 

For the Penaloza family, this enveloping support helped get their boy through. Now, 14, Axel wants to be an inspiration for all the children fighting cancer today. 

“I know it takes a long time, but I struggled and struggled with all my heart, and I tried everything and did not give up,” he says. “Now I am free from cancer. 

“Say to yourself, ‘I will never give up.’ Say it so loud that everyone can hear you. You can do this. Never, never, never give up.”

Every Child Thrives

Sure, CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) was the first nonprofit in the country to dive head-first into child maltreatment prevention. And yes, the organization – which provides a wide array of direct services to treat and prevent child abuse – just turned 50.

But CALM’s CEO Alana Walczak doesn’t want to talk about the past. “I want to talk about the story of our next fifty years,” Walczak says.

Her vision is big. Building off its research-driven clinical programs and widespread trust among partners across the spectrum of agencies that touch the lives of families and children, CALM is leading a countywide strategy to end childhood trauma.

“The most important relationship in the world is between a parent or caregiver and a child,” Walczak says. “If we can keep that most precious relationship whole, we can change lives.”

Cute elementary age boy smiles while pediatrician checks his heart and lungs with a stethoscope.

Childhood trauma has become a regular part of the vernacular at the highest levels of government and social change efforts. Here in California, the state’s first ever Surgeon General, Nadine Burke Harris, MD is on a crusade to root out childhood trauma. Armed with irrefutable science that shows adverse childhood experiences – abuse, neglect, domestic violence, parental incarceration, divorce – lead to a wide array of dire health outcomes, leaders like Burke Harris and Walczak are clear-eyed about the urgent need to stop childhood trauma in its tracks.

“It is significantly cheaper to support families earlier,” Walczak says. To that end, CALM does the work even if the government doesn’t fund it. For example, the agency has counselors embedded in preschools and pediatric departments to intervene at the earliest signs of trauma. “That’s the wave of the future,” Walczak says. “We are not going to wait until Kindergarten to find out which kids need our help.”

Santa Barbara’s size poses an exciting prospect for Walczak, the team at CALM, and their 75 partner agencies spread across the county. It may just be possible to live up to CALM’s vision of building resilient communities empowered to prevent childhood trauma and heal children and families.

Roughly 5,500 babies are born in Santa Barbara County every year. Through direct services and trauma training programs across the pediatric health and education systems, CALM is building a web of support for all children and families. “If we do this right,” Walczak says, “we can build a robust continuum of care supporting children from birth with the support of an engaged pediatrician all the way through school with engaged teachers, parents and school administrators. That would be a game changer.” 

Uniting the Boys & Girls Club

During 2020, when so many of us were hunkering down as COVID-19 turned our lives upside down, two Santa Barbara nonprofit leaders were busy formulating the best way to serve children, youth, and families.

Quietly, in early 2020, both Boards, especially board presidents David Bolton and Tony Vallejo along with their executive committees, had a series of meetings to discuss merger details and came to an agreement. In one deft move, the pair and both Board of Directors had unified 11 Santa Barbara Boys & Girls clubs under one banner, giving all the county’s children, teens, and their families safe places to learn and grow.

Laurie Leis, who recently wrote a dissertation on nonprofit mergers, understood that the merger of the 80-plus-year-old club she ran downtown with United’s 10 others including Carpinteria, Lompoc, and Buellton satisfied both agencies’ double bottom line. 

“Let’s just look at the mission,” she says. “It’s going to be better for the kids.” And by combining administrative costs, donors know that more of their donations go straight to programs and children. 

For CEO Michael Baker, a 32-year veteran of Boys & Girls Clubs on the East and West Coast, the move was all about “breaking barriers” for the young people who rely on the clubs every day. “The reason young people get into trouble and join gangs is that they are surrounded by it in many of the communities we serve, it breeds territorialism” he says. “With clubs all over the county, we can break those barriers down and bring kids that would otherwise not meet together.” 

For the families – Santa Barbara’s essential worker workforces – the benefit is undeniable. Parents pay $40 a year for five days a week of after school care and access to the clubs on Saturdays. That is 19 cents a day, Leis says. That helps working parents stay working and ensures the children are adequately supervised. “We give those kids a chance to become who they were meant to be. That’s our motto.”  

Leis and Baker are excited about 2021. Combined they have become the model for youth serving agencies, and plan to reach 5,000 children, youth, and families. 

Both board chairs are pleased: 

Board President Tony Vallejo says: “The merger between our two great organizations has allowed us to streamline operations so that we are able to use our resources more efficiently. In the short time we have been merged we are already seeing success even in these trying times and I am confident that this will continue!”

Vice President David Bolton, and former BGCSB Board President, says: “Bringing two organizations together, especially in these times, helps to reduce combined operational costs which translates to more resources for the kids of our community. As one, all of our clubs are stronger. And, as one, our kids are truly the ones that will benefit most.”

A Child’s Voice

America’s child welfare court system is imbued with incredible power. Judges routinely make decisions that indelibly alter the course of the lives of children and families. Will a child be reunified with his or her parents? Or will that child be separated from his or her family forever. 

Imagine how bewildering this is for the parents. Now imagine trying to navigate this befuddling system as a child who has endured abuse or neglect. 

The stakes are no less high in Santa Barbara County where four children’s attorneys are charged with managing the cases of some 750 clients – whether in foster care or under court supervision with their families. These lawyers simply can’t keep up. 

Thankfully, the county is home to one of the strongest Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) programs in the country. CASA trains volunteers to be the voice of the children they are paired with – writing court reports and ensuring that all the adults in the courtroom know what the child needs. 

“They are absolutely critical, fundamental,” says Carol Hubner, a Santa Barbara County children’s attorney. “There aren’t enough hands on deck. If you were to take [the CASA Volunteers] away, I feel like it would be the last straw.” 

In 2009, CASA had 100 volunteers and served 135 children. This year – thanks to an aggressive expansion plan pushed by the agency’s can-do board – CASA is serving 532 children with 297 volunteers. 

For Montecito resident Kerrilee Gore, a donor to the nonprofit, volunteering as a CASA herself was a chance to do more. Gore took on the case of a 14-year-old girl who had been in and out of group homes. Gore immediately found the juvenile dependency system overburdened, with both attorneys and caseworkers barely able to keep up with the sheer volume of children who needed their attention. With one client, Gore could focus in and slow things down so that 14-year-old girl could be seen and heard. 

“The judge really relies on you, because you are the voice of the child,” Gore says. “The CASA is sometimes the only stable person in these children’s lives. They are the most vulnerable and they don’t have a voice, but you are providing a voice for this child and it changes their entire lives.”