Tag Archives: community support

Taking Care of Those Who Take Care of Us

By the time the Thomas Fire turned toward Montecito in December 2017, Santa Barbara County’s first responders had already spent weeks preparing for the worst. 

Eric Phillips, whose home sits at 1,060 feet above the sea, knew his family was particularly exposed. When the fire struck, he didn’t need news reports because he watched from his security cameras. Firefighters scurried about as smoke poured over them. 

“It looked like midnight, but it was three in the afternoon,” he says. Then the cameras went out. “I figured ‘that’s it, the house is gone.’”

But it wasn’t. Like for so many others throughout the region, incredible effort by firefighters, police, and sheriff’s deputies paid off – saving homes and lives. “I was pretty blown away,” Phillips says. “I thought, ‘we have got to do something for these heroes.’” He and others considered a thank you barbeque.

Then, on January 9, 2018, a historic rain storm hit the scorched mountainsides causing the devastating debris flow that killed 23 of our neighbors. The weary first responders jumped into action again. 

With friends like Kirsten Cavendish & Richard Weston-Smith, John Thyne III, Ursula & Pat Nesbitt, Pat Smith and Sheila Herman, Phillips’ idea of a “little barbecue” to thank the first responders snowballed. In February 2018, these friends along with an army of volunteers, and a growing list of stars including Katy Perry, Alan Parsons, David Crosby, the group Wilson Phillips, David Foster and Kenny Loggins hosted “The Kick Ash Bash” on the grounds of Nesbitts’ Bella Vista Ranch. 

Battle-fatigued first responders, their families, and the community’s many thankful residents enjoyed a benefit concert with local celebrities, raising $2 million for charity. Supported by the likes of Yardi Systems, Inc., One805 immediately poured $1.4 million into three custom mobile command centers for the county’s fire, police, and sheriff’s departments to protect the community from future disasters. The safety of Santa Barbara county is central to the mission of One805.

“We quickly learned that [first responder] budgets move at a glacial pace,” Weston-Smith quips. “Real life doesn’t work like that. In a disaster, things are destroyed and they need up-to-date equipment and safety gear right away.”

Following the success of “The Kick Ash Bash”, Weston-Smith, Phillips, and Thyne launched One805, a nonprofit serving public safety agencies equitably across Santa Barbara county. The organization’s only staff member is Executive Director Angela Binetti Schmidt, the wife of a first responder herself. 

This low overhead and active board allows One805 to convert donations into fast action, quickly buying 45 decontamination foggers to protect the community from COVID-19, personal protective gear and other emergency equipment. The group collaborates with an advisory council made up of Department Heads from over a dozen Santa Barbara first responder agencies who decide where donations are needed most. 

One805 is also intent on supporting the mental health needs of our essential workforce, whose ranks regularly are witness to terrible tragedy.

Today, One805 is a permanent 501(c)(3) public charity, raising funds for Santa Barbara county public safety initiatives and assisting all three Fire, Police, and Sheriff Departments– purchasing equipment, counseling, and taking care of those who take care of us.

An Expression of Santa Barbara’s Global Philanthropic Reach

In 1948, an Estonian immigrant named William Zimdin – who had experienced the ravages of World War II – founded what would become the largest charitable distributor of medical supplies in the world: Direct Relief. Importantly, Zimdin did so right here in Santa Barbara.

Direct Relief’s global work begins at home, and has long worked closely with and supported both local and statewide firefighting and public health agencies as well as colleague Santa Barbara nonprofit health organizations, including the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics and the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade.

Over the last decade alone, the charity – which is entirely funded by private philanthropy – has provided $7.8 billion in medical aid to more than 100 countries and every single U.S. state. Across the United States, Direct Relief partners with 1,300 safety-net clinics and health centers, which serve more than 30 million people who are unable to pay for care. It is the largest provider of charitable medicines in the world, largest supplier of free PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic, and uniquely accredited among nonprofits to distribute Rx medications in all 50 states.

The organization’s motto is to serve anyone at any time, and its mission is “to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.”

To do so, Direct Relief leverages donations of medicine and medical supplies from 150 of the world’s largest medical and pharmaceutical companies, so that it can in turn give those vital resources to the people who need them most – whether on the tail end of a hurricane, a fire, or during a raging global pandemic.

This highly leveraged business model has allowed Direct Relief to expand the frontiers of its work efficiently, and with all of its fundraising costs covered by a supporting foundation endowed by bequests.

When Hurricane Maria laid waste to Puerto Rico, it took the island’s medical infrastructure with it. In short order, 84% of the territory’s temperature-sensitive medicines were lost, and Direct Relief quickly realized it couldn’t send insulin with the grid – and the refrigerators attached to it – knocked out. So the nonprofit quickly set up battery backups and solar power generation at 89 Puerto Rico clinics to provide refrigeration for medicines. The project was so successful that the nonprofit is launching a similar initiative in California, where an ever-growing fire season and rolling blackouts threaten the medical system’s ability to respond in times of emergency. Direct Relief’s headquarters is powered by the first microgrid approved in the continental U.S. and allows it to fulfill critical roles here locally in during power outages.

But for all this work across the globe and nation, Direct Relief remains rooted to its home: Santa Barbara.

United in Crisis and Community

For the nonprofits that matter, mission statements are much more than words on paper. They are the foundation of that organization’s future, and statements of commitment. 

In 2020, after four months of board-led strategic planning, the nearly 100-year-old United Way of Santa Barbara County updated its mission and vision to better reflect its role and responsibility in guiding the community during times of natural, economic, and public health crises, as well as times of stability. 

“To enrich the lives of children and families and build resilient communities by leading local programs and partnerships that improve school readiness and academic achievement, financial empowerment, and crisis response and recovery.”

As with declining local and national academic scores, the Thomas Fire or the debris flow, United Way coordinated a powerful community-wide mobilization in the wake of COVID-19. While only having a full-time staff of 17 and 45 temporary staff each year, the organization expands its capabilities by engaging with partners in philanthropy, the nonprofit community, and public agencies to: raise $10.1 million for COVID-response efforts; support 2,500 individuals and families with funding to meet basic needs; all while providing 40,600 students with unique academic programming in partnership with school districts. 

One of those students, an eight-year-old girl, was failing to attend her virtual classes because she was so busy helping her two younger siblings with their remote learning and homework. 

“We have been here as a solid organization that adapts quickly and then delivers results,” says President and CEO Steve Ortiz, himself a 15-year-veteran of United Way. 

For Ortiz, assessing and responding to varying community needs is what United Way was built for. The organization is built on measuring results so that every one of its programs – whether supporting students or mitigating the fallout of the deepest public health crisis our generation has known – is built out of data and continuously improved. And unlike most other nonprofits, its history gives it credibility as a convener, a quality it uses to forge the partnerships needed to respond to the most pressing issues the community faces. 

“We are too small to be able to accomplish everything we do alone,” Ortiz says. “If we are able to set goals that are aligned with one another, we bring together our strengths for a much stronger result” – the united way.  

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.”

Much More than Lights and Sirens

Firefighters do a lot more than fight fires. 

On any given day, Montecito Fire’s 33 active duty firefighters wake up to uncertainty, not knowing what emergency they will respond to next: trail rescues, sickness, trauma, structure or brush fires, mud flows, or even threats of a global pandemic. 

They are always there, and it is for this reason that we trust them with our lives. For the same reason, you can trust the Montecito Firefighters’ Charitable Foundation with your money. 

Founded in 2006, the foundation’s board is fully comprised of active duty firefighters whose mission is to “provide relief to the poor, disadvantaged, underprivileged, disaster victims and those facing emergency hardship situations based upon need (financial or other distress) at the time the assistance is given, specifically as related to children, firefighters and their families, and burn victims and their families.” With a minimal annual overhead of less than $15,000 for legal, accounting, and other administrative costs, virtually every dollar the foundation receives goes straight towards helping people. 

“We’re just firefighters,” says Aaron Briner, a founding board member and a department Battalion Chief. “We don’t know marketing. But we do know how to work really hard and mitigate your emergency.” 

As a charitable foundation, the Montecito Firefighters’ Charitable Foundation knows how to do one thing very well – issue responsive grants that deeply impact individuals. 

When 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed in an Arizona inferno, the foundation provided support to their families. Similarly for an engineer, Cory Iverson, who died in the Thomas Fire. When a local foster youth wrote a letter explaining that she needed help paying for college, the foundation set up a fund. And when a severely handicapped child needed a new wheelchair, the foundation footed the bill. 

Like I said, firefighters – notably, your local Montecito firefighters – do much more than fight fires. The work of the foundation mirrors the work that they do every day: responding to whatever comes their way.  

For the charitable board, the work they do with the foundation is an extension of what they do every day on the engines. “It is simply another avenue to help assist people in their time of need and something I can be part of long after I retire from the fire service,” says Briner.  

Would you expect any less dedication from these public servants who put their lives on the line for this community every day?