PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) is hosting their fourth annual Making It Home Tour on June 5th, a virtual, guided journey through the homes of PATH supporters and tenants across California. We hope that you will join us for a pre-recorded, virtual compilation of unique home tours and personal interviews connecting us all to the question, “What does home mean to you?”.
The Making It Home Tour celebrates the meaning of home. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated an already pervasive problem: homelessness. The necessity of staying inside to keep our communities safe has made us all even more grateful to have a place to call home. What does home mean to you?
A link to the virtual event will be sent to all ticket holders in advance, and we will all come together to watch as it streams on Saturday, June 5th, 2021.
All guests will also receive:
– Access to a private event website to explore on their own time, with in depth tours of each home highlighted in the streamed event, and access to interactive DIY home, decor, and design workshops.
– Event package that will be mailed to your home the week of the event, to enjoy as we watch together on June 5th. Event packages include exclusive PATH wine glasses, premium wine, travel safe charcuterie items, and more. Please see ticket types for details on each package.
Women In Leadership: A Discussion Hosted By Leading From Within And Touchstone Central Coast
In honor of Women’s History Month, local nonprofit, Leading From Within, joined with Touchstone Central Coast to host a virtual presentation and panel discussion recently called Women in Leadership: A Discussion for Everyone.
“The pandemic of 2020, unfortunately, has created a loss of nearly 3 million women in the workforce,” explained Touchstone Central Coast co-creator Emily Smith.
“This past year threatens to wipe out all the progress made over the last several decades to close the gender gaps and if not addressed will exacerbate existing inequalities,” she urged. Smith facilitated the discussion along with co-creator and business partner Diane Adam, a Leading From Within Katherine Harvey Fellows alumna.
The presentation and panel provided an outline for “Servant Leadership,” a model that empowers the team over the individual and examined how to support and create more positive environments for women in the workforce.
Panelists included Connie Alexander, founder/co-executive director of Gateway Educational Services; Nancy Gastelum, associate professional clinical counselor and nonprofit executive; Petra Gomez, Ed.D candidate at USC and program manager, the Santa Barbara Foundation; Sarah Kirwan, CEO/founder of Eye Level Communications; Pamela Macal, CEO McDonald’s Central Coast; Simonne Mitchelson, South Coast estate manager for Jackson Family Wines; and Sevelyn VanRonk, Ph.D candidate at Claremont Graduate University and senior manager of People Strategy of BlueShield, CA.
“Covid-19 has disrupted the workplace in ways we’ve never seen before,” said Smith. “The boundaries between work and home have blurred, workplace structures have shifted, employees lost jobs experiencing financial distress, and burnout has become rampant.”
Smith says it’s been particularly challenging for women who were more likely to be laid-off or furloughed, and who often struggle more intensely with the balance of childcare and work.
“We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work,” was a quote attributed to Amy Westervelt and used in the presentation to demonstrate some of the challenges that women face.
These challenges can present an opportunity to reevaluate and restore critical leadership qualities. Smith queried the 90 zoom participants who shared qualities that they believe define a strong leader, and discussed timeless leadership attributes and the benefits of a service leader mindset.
First coined by AT&T executive Robert K. Greenleaf, servant leadership turns the idea of traditional workplace leadership on its head, focusing on empowering and uplifting others rather than commanding from a position of power or authority.
“Servant leaders prioritize other people’s well-being and growth, share power, and enable their team to grow, develop and perform to the best of their ability,” said Smith. This approach aims to increase retention rates, provide greater collaboration, create a more positive work environment, support a culture of belonging and foster leadership everywhere.
The presentation focused on increasing and honoring women in the workplace; Smith noted that companies that don’t encourage women to join them are missing out on talents and abilities of over half the population.
“Multiplicity of perspectives can spark creativity and innovation and inclusivity boosts morale and opportunity,” she said. She quoted a study by management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company that found the most gender-diverse companies are 21 percent more likely to experience above average profitability.
A panel of female leaders candidly shared thoughts and experiences after the 40-minute presentation, reflecting upon their own successes, challenges and sources of inspiration.
VanRonk revealed a core message learned from her mentor: that when we say yes to things that are draining us, we have less time for things that could benefit us. “No is a complete sentence.”
“The best leadership gift we have is our time,” said Macal. “How you choose to spend time with your people and how you choose to make time for your family are integral,” she said, noting that showing up, being supportive and making time for Sunday family dinners is essential.
Alexander, who is participating in the Courage to Lead program at Leading From Within, shared wisdom that she refers to as “holy boldness.” “In navigating situations, you have to be able to acknowledge and name things that you perceive as wrong because if you don’t then you end up pushing back, and so the lesson I learned is to walk right into those tough conversations and show up with some holy boldness,” she explained.
Kirwan shared a story about the mentor at her first job out of college and how her female boss instructed her solely on what to wear (stockings, suit and heels). It’s a lesson that’s informed her own mentorship style, which Kirwan says concentrates on empowerment, building confidence, having empathy and teaching young woman to own their value — with or without the heels.
The panel also shared impressions of what Leading with Love means to them. “Being honest, having integrity, and giving back to the community by providing resources and support to others,” said Gomez.
“Self-care is critical,” said Mitchelson, who candidly shared that she always felt “other” coming from an immigrant family raised in a majority white Michigan town. This feeling followed her to the Central Coast where she said it’s difficult to find people who look like her in management, or even in the wine tasting rooms. “It’s important to know and love yourself and to bring that love into your leadership.”
Gastelum stressed the importance of mental health, crediting her own meditation practice with granting her the space to focus and reflect. She also encouraged the value of hope as being a catalyst for vision and fortitude.
“For me, it’s that loving moment when you can put the oxygen back in the room after watching it go out,” said Alexander. “It’s giving breathe and making space to ensure the little brown girls that I serve get the equity they deserve.”
Leading From Within was honored to partner with Touchstone Central Coast to offer this forum. The nonprofit has remained active throughout the pandemic by collaborating with other organizations to continue offering learning opportunities for their extensive network of local leaders. For more information, visit http://leading-from-within.org.
Touchstone Central Coast provides support and training to individuals and organizations desiring to learn, grow, and lead with a servant’s heart. For more information on upcoming workshops, visit https://www.touchstonecc.com.
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 email@example.com 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.
All Together for Animals Concert
As you already know, COVID-19 has had a dire impact on the Santa Barbara Zoo and all of our nation’s AZA-accredited institutions. Due to the pandemic, the Santa Barbara Zoo has lost nearly a year of revenue. But it still needs to feed, care for, and provide medical attention for its animals – every single day. Until the Zoo can re-open to 100% capacity, it will continue to struggle financially.
To help raise immediate funds, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have teamed up with a lineup of today’s top country artists to produce an incredible virtual concert fundraising event – “All Together for Animals” concert on March 31, 2021, featuring performances by Brad Paisley, Old Dominion, Ashley McBryde, Wynonna Judd, Riley Green, Jessie James Decker, Shy Carter, and others!
Tickets are $30 ($15 of which directly benefits the Santa Barbara Zoo) and viewers will receive exclusive access to our “All Together for Animals” concert on March 31.
Purchase tickets and help the Santa Barbara Zoo animals and animals all across the country. Make sure you use this exclusive link below so that the Santa Barbara Zoo receives these much-needed funds!
Feeding Our Community: The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County Adjusts to Meet Our COVID Needs
To say that the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has been busy is an understatement – the nonprofit distributed 9,708,944 pounds of food over the course of a year, including some four million-plus pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits.
Sounds like a lot, right?
Sure, but that’s the year preceding the COVID crisis in California.
From March 9, 2020, to March 8, 2021, the Foodbank doled out 18,421,361 pounds of food, including just shy of eight million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.
To get there, it took an operational plan to place a priority on both feeding the county, but also doing it safely for all involved.
When the pandemic began to pervade Santa Barbara County in mid-March 2020, it resulted in an increase in need for healthy sustenance due to the mandatory stay-at-home orders, business restrictions, and lockdowns.
This is not to mention the viral infection taking hold, but the Foodbank stepped up – quickly.
Within weeks, the organization whose formal mission is to transform hunger into health by eliminating food insecurity through good nutrition and food literacy, pivoted to abide by the new protocols.
The Foodbank created the Safe Access to Food for Everyone (SAFE) Food Net, working with government disaster response agencies and nonprofits, as well as the education, healthcare, and business sectors to establish more than 50 SAFE Food Net distribution locations.
These sites were in neighborhoods throughout the county so residents could safely find sustenance near their own homes. More than 20 of the locations even offered complete no-contact, drive-thru service for enhanced safety.
Among other programs, Foodbank also launched a home-delivery service that provided 1,500 low-income, high-risk seniors already partaking of its Brown Bag program with boxes of healthy groceries and fresh produce food delivered to their doors. The nonprofit also tripled the program, enrolling more than 3,000 additional seniors in home delivery and adding other households that were experiencing severe medical circumstances.
How was the nonprofit able to respond so rapidly with a massive upscaling to meet the unprecedented demand? The organization isn’t new to disaster, especially two years removed from the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow.
“I think we’d become a little bit complacent before the fire and debris flows,” Foodbank CEO Erik Talkin explained. “They enabled us to really rethink our approach and increase our ability to respond to a disaster over a long period of time and avoid staff burnout.”
Of course, the pandemic required a completely different kind of pivoting, he said.
“Obviously foodbanks have been all about trying to get people to come to one place and get large amounts of food at one time. That wasn’t going to work with COVID, where that would be the last thing you would want to do,” Talkin said. “So we had to really upend our model and learn to do new things to build that capacity and scale up.”
That included finding ways of storing and moving much more food than before, which the Foodbank solved temporarily by borrowing two additional warehouses to augment its current facilities.
But that didn’t solve how to find people who weren’t familiar with how the program worked.
“That was a real challenge, having to identify a system where people could indicate they needed food delivered so we could plan routes and get volunteers to drive those routes and make sure that they received food in a safe fashion,” Talkin said.
A First-Time Experience
The pandemic produced food insecurity among people who work in the tourism-related services, or even restaurants and other food industries.
These people never imagined they would need this kind of help.
“With the pandemic, so many people need help. It’s affected a wide variety of people. Who are we to say who is the type of person we want to serve? There’s so many people of all sorts who need help,” explained Talkin, who has published Lulu and the Hunger Monster, a children’s picture book that aims to enable kids to feel fine if they or their family needs help with food.
Now that many county residents have already been fully vaccinated, and with increased supply of the three approved vaccines, can we expect the Foodbank to return to its pre-pandemic programs?
Not so fast, said Talkin.
“Although the pandemic is winding down, the need for our services is not realistically going to be dramatically reduced for another 18-24 months,” he said. “People have built up a lot of debt. People are still unemployed or underemployed. And the federal subsidies are coming to an end. All the studies that we’re doing and the national studies from the Congressional Budget Office related to unemployment show there will be a need for emergency food at much larger levels right through most of 2022.”
So, no, the Foodbank won’t be scaling back services in the near term.
And it will be keeping some of the lessons that it has learned, including how it operates educational programs, with some staying online even after it is safe to be in-person.
All this increase in demand and services, of course, means a continued need for financial support – even though the Foodbank continues to turn $1 donations into eight meals.
That’s courtesy of volume purchasing and strong partnerships with farmers and other food partners.
But it does have one need – a new facility in Santa Barbara.
Currently, the Foodbank is working out of a small, converted fire station with no loading dock, causing it to lean heavily on its North County warehouse.
That means it needs to truck all the food down, which Talkin says doesn’t “make sense environmentally.”
“Or worse yet, if there is an earthquake or other disaster and the roads are cut off. So finding land or a location to build a new South County warehouse is a big focus for us at the moment,” Talkin said.
While a donation leading to solving that problem would of course be more than welcome, Talkin noted that everything helps.
“Our greatest need is for the community to engage with us in whatever way they feel comfortable,” he said.
“I’m just amazed at the community’s response and how they’ve supported us already. I think it’s because they know it’s absolutely vital to have a strong Foodbank for a resilient community. That’s how you keep people fed and healthy during a challenge.”
Latest on School Reopening
In addition to the majority of the business sector permitted to reopen indoors with modifications earlier this week, most county public schools – bolstered by happy and tired parents and caregivers – reopened in early March. Montecito public schools, Montecito Union School and Cold Spring School, have been open for in-person learning since late September, after applying for and receiving a waiver from the County’s Health Officer. Both schools have since conducted the majority of in-person learning outside, modifying both campuses to accommodate outdoor, socially distanced curriculum. Both school superintendents report that there has been no COVID-19 transmission at either school, and all staff and teachers have tested negative. The majority of teachers at the two schools have had the first round of the COVID-19 vaccination.
Crane Country Day School has also been open since October, and Kristen Peralta, Assistant Director of Admission tells us vaccines arrived last week for Crane employees. “There was an immense sense of peace that they were one step closer to safety and would soon be relieved of the burden that had been upon them since beginning On-Campus learning last October.”
By the end of the week over 90% of Crane’s employees had received at least their first dose of the vaccine. “For a school that has been providing full-day, on-campus learning five days a week since October, as well as an online learning option, this is a significant step in the right direction,” Peralta said, crediting Crane’s Health Administrator, Nurse Savannah Aijian,for helping coordinate the effort. “Sharing vaccine information and availability became a group effort as chains of emails were sent among Crane employees, including 5 am messages to let others know that appointments were available,” Peralta said. “Teachers rallied to cover their colleagues’ duty stations so that they could get to their vaccine appointments. The glimpse of hope and sense of gratitude sparked camaraderie, and the vaccinations marked a milestone in the academic year and in the school’s history.”
In the five months that the majority of the Crane community has been on campus, students, parents, teachers, and staff have become accustomed to the safety measures implemented this year, including handwashing stations, a daily health questionnaire, a full-time school nurse, plexiglass at every desk, coyote badges around campus marking a six-foot distance, and 23 unique outdoor learning spaces. Experiential learning areas in the various quads and plazas around campus have allowed teachers and students to spread out, enjoy fresh air, and look at their education outside of the four walls of the classroom. “Teachers have been grateful to be offering their students an exceptional education whether they are on campus or at home. The school is grateful that its decisions and the precautions of Crane families have together successfully allowed for a 0% transmission rate of COVID-19 on campus. Finally, the entire community can now be grateful that the widespread vaccination adds another thick layer of protection to our schools,” Peralta said.
Crane will continue to offer a slightly modified two-prong approach with the vast majority of families choosing on-campus learning, while a smaller set of families in third through eighth grades continue to rely upon Crane’s online learning option. “I am hopeful that if we continue to wear masks, and we continue to socially distance, we will be able to slowly return to a more normal school environment,” said Head of School Joel Weiss.
Last month, in order to help prepare local school campuses in Santa Barbara for the reopening, One805, a local nonprofit, donated 1,000 masks and 50 disaster kits to Harding Elementary School. “The new double masking recommendations from the CDC combined with the community beginning to open up has increased a need for masks,” said Angela Schmidt, One805 Executive Director. “Never has it been more important to work together as one county to abide by all safety recommendations.”
One805 was formed to create a way for all members of our community to support First Responders and contribute to the public safety needs of Santa Barbara County; the organization was formed following the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow in January 2018. “We are the only organization that supports multiple First Responder agencies. The One805 Advisory Council, which helps direct donations to where they are most needed, is comprised of the department heads of 11 separate First Responder agencies from Carpinteria to Santa Maria and throughout the county,” explains John Thyne, a founding board member. The group also recently delivered 300 disaster kits to the Lompoc Police Department; each hand-packed kit contained two masks, soap, sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, tissues, and a note of encouragement.
“It’s remarkable to witness the impact One805 has had on the overall safety of our community” says Schmidt. “We established an emergency Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/One805sb to consolidate messages from multiple agencies during emergencies and we work on public safety initiatives county-wide.”
One805’s slogan is Prepare, Equip, Support, and they do all three. To learn more visit www.one805.org.
Bilingual Volunteers Needed for Vaccine Clinics
As vaccination efforts begin ramping up, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics will be holding vaccine clinics more frequently. Please contact Taryn Ouellette at (805) 963-1174 if you are interested in becoming a bilingual vaccine clinic volunteer. Right now there are two a week at various locations, but they hope to ramp up to five a week. 65% of patients are Spanish speakers. Over the last two years, SB Neighborhood Clinics have served 30,000 patients, which means 60,000 patients will need to be vaccinated. Visit sbclinics.org for more information about Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics.
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.
Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics Receives Consecutive 4-Star Rating from Charity Navigator for Six Consecutive Years
Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics (SBNC) is again proud to announce our sixth consecutive 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator. Less than 12% of charities receive six consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics continues to demonstrate strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency.
Since 2002, using objective analysis, Charity Navigator has awarded only the most fiscally responsible organizations a 4-star rating. In 2011, Charity Navigator added 17 metrics, focused on governance and ethical practices as well as measures of openness, to its ratings methodology. These Accountability & Transparency metrics, which account for 50 percent of a charity’s overall rating, reveal which charities operate in accordance with industry best practices and whether they are open with their donors and stakeholders. On June 1, 2016, Charity Navigator upgraded their methodology for rating each charity’s financial health. These enhancements further substantiate the financial health of the 4-star charities.
“This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator sets Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics apart from its peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness,” according to Michael Thatcher, President & CEO of Charity Navigator. “We are proud to announce Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics has earned our sixth consecutive 4-star rating. This is our highest possible rating and indicates that your organization adheres to sector best practices and executes its mission in a financially efficient way,”
“Only a quarter of charities rated by Charity Navigator receive the distinction of our 4-star rating. This adds Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics a preeminent group of charities working to overcome our world’s most pressing challenges. Based on its 4-star rating, people can trust that their donations are going to a financially responsible and ethical charity when they decide to support Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics.”
The pandemic has challenged us like never before. Thanks to our amazing clinical staff, in collaboration with the skilled support staff and led by our competent administration leadership and selfless, dedicated volunteer board, we have remained open to serve our patients with respect and compassion as we struggled with this enormous challenge.” states Charles Fenzi, MD, CEO/CMO.”
Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics rating, and other information about charitable giving, are available free of charge on www.charitynavigator.org. More-detailed information about Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics rating is available to Charity Navigator site visitors who become registered users, another free service.
Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics is comprised of two dental clinics, four medical clinics, and three intermittent clinics, all offering behavioral health services, that served over 22,000 individuals in the community over the past year and is an independent, nonprofit health-care organization dedicated to providing high quality, affordable, medical, dental and behavioral healthcare to those in need in Santa Barbara County, regardless of one’s ability to pay, in an environment that fosters respect, compassion and dignity.
About Charity Navigator
Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org, is the largest charity evaluator in America and its website attracts more visitors than all other charity rating groups combined. The organization helps guide intelligent giving by evaluating the Financial Health, Accountability and Transparency of more than 8,000 charities. Charity Navigator accepts no advertising or donations from the organizations it evaluates, ensuring unbiased evaluations, nor does it charge the public for this trusted data. As a result, Charity Navigator, a 501 (c) (3) public charity itself, depends on support from individuals, corporations and foundations that believe it provides a much-needed service to America’s charitable givers. Charity Navigator, can be reached directly by telephone at (201) 818-1288, or by mail at 139 Harristown Road, Suite 101, Glen Rock, N.J., 07452.
More Than $13 Million in Rental and Utility Assistance Funds Made Available by the County of Santa Barbara through United Way of Santa Barbara County
Grants intend to prevent homelessness by providing rent assistance to residents. Grant applications can be found by visiting unitedwaysb.org/rent.
United Way of Santa Barbara County (UWSBC) has more than $13 million in rental and utility assistance funds generously allocated by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors for eligible County of Santa Barbara residents, that have experienced a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This Emergency Rent Assistance Program is intended to prevent homelessness by providing rent assistance to residents who can demonstrate the need for rental support.
Upon application approval, applicants may receive up to $6,000 over 3 months toward rental and utility expenses. Applicants can re-apply every 3 months up to maximum of 15 months. Assistance payments to applicants will be paid directly to landlord and/or utility providers on behalf of the applicant.
“This rental and utility support is a lifeline for families who are dealing with the myriad of economic impacts due to COVID-19,” said Steve Ortiz, President and CEO of United Way of Santa Barbara County. “We are honored to have the County of Santa Barbara’s trust and partnership as we work to distribute these funds and provide significant relief to Santa Barbara County individuals and families during these difficult times,” said Ortiz.
The program will be available to all county residents at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), though qualifying individuals at or below 50 percent AMI will be prioritized. This program has strict eligibility requirements.
The program application process opened February 15 and will be available until all funds are expended or by December 30, 2021, whichever is first. To review eligibility requirements and to apply, please visit www.unitedwaysb.org/rent
About United Way of Santa Barbara County
United Way of Santa Barbara County (UWSBC) has the unique and positive vision that “in our community, everyone has a hopeful future.” Since 1923, UWSBC has served Santa Barbara County community through funding, volunteer development, and by utilizing its own unique initiatives that involve dozens of local nonprofit and public sector agencies. UWSBC’s local community driven Power of Partnership™ priorities help children, families and seniors with a focus on Education, Income and Health. To learn more, please visit unitedwaysb.org.
Several years ago, my elderly neighbor gave up driving due to recurring hip injuries and a debilitating autoimmune disease. Sometimes I’d look across our cottage complex and notice a taxi waiting to take her to doctor appointments or grocery shopping – she was old-fashioned enough to not even own a smartphone, so Lyft and Uber were out of the question. Finally, after trading in her walker for a wheelchair, she found out about Easy Lift, the Santa Barbara nonprofit whose mission is to restore some dignity to the disabled through providing mobility.
Now I’d peer out the window to see the nonprofit’s easily recognizble Dial-a-Ride vans pulling up to her door, and watch the friendly, always punctual driver lower the mechanical lift and then wheel Rose into the van before making sure she was secure in her seat. Then the van would take her wherever she wanted to go, whether to get medical treatment or pick up prescriptions or even to just go visit a park. The rides cost a mere $7 roundtrip, just a fraction of what two cab rides used to set her back, a godsend on her fixed income as a retiree.
It was one of the things that made life worth living, I remember her telling me. “Stories like that warm my heart,” says Ernesto Paredes, Easy Lift’s longtime executive director. “It’s what has kept me motivated and inspired over all these years because for a lot of people, we are truly their only line of transportation and connection to our community.”
Paredes admits he didn’t always feel that way, at least not when he first started at the organization back in 1991, 12 years after Easy Lift began operations and just one year after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect.
“Back then I thought I’d be with this nonprofit for a year to get some experience and then I’ll move on to somewhere else,” he says. “I thought transportation wasn’t sexy, it’s not sheltering someone or feeding someone, it’s just access. But you don’t realize the importance of transportation until you don’t have it.”
Just think about when you drop off your car at the mechanic for the day and you’re dependent on someone else to pick you up and then take you back again, Paredes suggests. “You can really feel helpless, and it’s just one day,” he says. “That’s the way some people feel every single day, like prisoners in their homes unless they have a service like Easy Lift to get them out.”
With that principle in mind, Easy Lift has grown to provide, via its fleet of 30 vans, an average of 300 rides a day on demand for the elderly, disabled, and anyone physically or cognitively unable to ride MTD, even temporarily, plus nearly 1,000 rides per month for low-income Medi-Cal residents to travel to and from non-emergency medical appointments through a partnership with CenCal Health.
The ongoing pandemic has put a dent in that demand, of course, anywhere from 40-60 percent depending on restrictions, Paredes said, as the ill and elderly are most vulnerable to suffer serious effects from contracting COVID-19, so voluntary trips have declined drastically. But, Paredes points out, those who require treatment like dialysis can’t just postpone it. So the drivers, whom the ED calls the heart of the organization, have stayed true to the task, working diligently to comply with the CDC guidelines for distancing and disinfecting, although, Paredes says, it’s almost impossible for them to be six feet apart at all times because they have to secure the wheelchairs to the floorboards.
“We try to prepare them and educate them and give them the proper tool, but they’re the ones who put themselves in harm’s way,” he says. “That just tells you how great our drivers are.”
When the pandemic first forced the stay-at-home orders and demand decreased, Paredes also arranged for idle vans to be used to support the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County to transport food from their storage area on Hollister to its locations in North County. Easy Lift also stepped up to take over for HELP of Carpinteria, the all-volunteer nonprofit that provides similar door-to-door transportation service to non-driving residents of that city, because the organization would have had to shut down as most of its drivers were seniors who themselves wanted to shelter at home.
“We spoke to their board and their executive director and offered to continue transporting their seniors free of charge, which we’re still doing today,” Paredes said. “It’s really about looking out for our brother and sister nonprofits because we’re all in this together. The pandemic has made a lot of us closer because of what our community members are going through. And it’s also given me and my fellow EDs a chance to shift from merely managing our organizations to really leading, look at our business models and see if they’re still effective.”
That spirit is what drives Paredes to let potential donors know that while his organization can always use more funds – partly because people often mistakenly think that Easy Lift is part of the MTD system, he said – he wants donations to go where they’re most required.
“We always need ongoing support, but we’re not trying to create a war chest of money,” he says. “I’m a community member first. If there are other organizations that need the money more than us, we should help the ones that are really suffering. Just follow your heart.” •MJ