Tag Archives: education

Santa Barbara Education Foundation Turns Hope into Reality by Raising $71,000

On Thursday, April 29, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation hosted the Hope Awards to celebrate individuals and programs making strides for students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District. 

The online gathering raised over $71,000 in critical funding for the Santa Barbara Education Foundation to continue making a positive impact on SB Unified student outcomes.

SBEF tried to make its virtual event feel like its in-person Hope Awards gatherings of years past to properly celebrate the work of Craig Price and Nick Rail for their long-time support of public education. Like in years past, the event featured a student performance. This year the Dos Pueblos High School Jazz Band helped kick off the festivities.

Craig Price is best known for his work in providing counsel in education law locally. What many may not know is that he is a leading advocate of public education. For nine years, Price served on SBEF’s Board of Directors and notably served as its president for two of those years. 

And as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Price’s daughter, Mallory, a teacher at Adams Elementary School, had the privilege of presenting the Hope Award to her father for his support of public education.

Nick Rail during the Hope Awards

Even though Nick Rail is more commonly known in the community as the founder of Nick Rail Music, he has worked for decades to make music accessible to Santa Barbara students by providing new instruments valued more than $100,000 to public school music programs. Rail also created low-cost and high-quality music instruction through the Nick Rail Summer Band Camp, which is now in its 32nd year of operation.

During Rail’s acceptance speech, he summed up his philanthropic motivation by saying, “Our future is only as good as the education we give our students, both in the classroom and in the arts.” He went on to say, “the opportunities I’ve been given to open doors to others has been my blessing in life. Thank you!”

SBEF also wishes to recognize and thank Hope Award sponsors, including Visionary Sponsors: Griffith and Thornburgh and Mechanics Bank; Ambassador Sponsors: Atkinson, Anelson,  Loya, Ruud & Romo, KBZ Architects, RHS Construction, Santa Barbara City College Foundation, Toyota of Santa Barbara and Union Bank; Champion Sponsors:  Arroyo Seco, Bryant & Sons, Cottage Health Systems, DA Davidson, Frontier Technology, Future Leaders of America, LogMeIn, M.F. Strange & Associates, Montecito Bank & Trust, Montecito Journal, Pueblo Radiology Medical Group and Sage Publishing; and Underwriters: Dennis Forster, Jessica Foster Confections, and Noozhawk.

Santa Barbara Education Foundation promotes private support of Santa Barbara’s public education system, serving over 13,000 students in 19 schools. For more information, visit www.santabarbaraeducation.org.

SB Education Foundation

Santa Barbara Education Foundation Executive Director Margie Yahyavi was reluctant to have her office visible during our Zoom call last week, even going so far as to employ a virtual background of a rustic cabin complete with a woodburning stove in place of her actual surroundings. 

“Oh my God, this office is insane,” Yahyavi said. “Instruments galore, wine, jackets, and silent auction donations. It’s kind of embarrassing now that I look at it.” 

All true. 

But what that clutter represents is what SBEF is all about: action over administration, getting things done toward the mission of “providing and supporting programs that enrich the academic, artistic, and personal development of all students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.” Even if it means a bit of disarray in their downtown HQ from time to time. 

Especially during the pandemic when their one-room “office suite” has turned into temporary storage for donated items and much more, as a growing list of needs for students, such as internet access – which we wrote about in our Giving List book that came out last fall – food and other various requests that came in as COVID caused continued havoc. 

Late this winter, that meant finding jackets to keep underprivileged students warm as the new safety protocols for resuming in-person learning required open doors and/or windows, which created cold and drafty classroom environments. Handling that problem on the quick is exemplary of one of the ways that SBEC works. 

“The kids were actually shivering in their classrooms,” Yahyavi said. “The principals asked us if we could get the jackets for these students who didn’t have warm enough clothes. There was really a sense of urgency, because it was cold out and they needed them right away. We were thinking, how are we going to deal with this when there’s such a big need and so many kids? What we landed on was to go school by school and have the principals let us know how many jackets that they needed, the sizes and all.” 

Then SBEF jumped into action, with development and marketing-communications director Melissa Davenport posting on social media, issuing press releases, getting coverage on KEYT and sending out email requests to secure donations of funds to cover the kids who were cold. Harding came first, then Adams and Cleveland, as the nonprofit methodically undertook what Yahyavi called an overwhelming kind of task but one that was urgent. 

“We did a really good job,” she said. “I have to pat ourselves on the back because it all happened pretty quickly, barely more than a month and kaboom, we’ve done every school except one, even the preschools. But we still need some larger sizes, so we’re about 10 grand away from being done.”

Doing a good job isn’t at all surprising. A sampling of SBEF’s signature programs include its wildly successful Keep The Beat program that has raised funds to support music education in local schools since 2003 resulting in all 5,000-plus elementary school students being able to learn to play an instrument during their school day. (It’s leftovers from the latest instrument drive in February that take up quite a bit of space in Yahyavi’s office.) Other popular programs include summertime Band Camp, Drumline Camp, String Camp and, in the non-musical department, summer STEAM Camp for junior high students and annual teacher grants that support the purchase of project-based supplies and tools as well as encourage the development of creative and innovative teaching in the school district. SBEF also contributes to a number of academic – which makes up more than half of the nonprofit’s budget – as well as behavioral, emotional, parent, and peer support programs that are essential to learning and frequently designed to address disparity and inequities in the district. 

Now, as to the boxes of wine and other assorted items jamming up Yahyavi’s workspace? Well, that’s where administration actually comes in. 

The Santa Barbara Education Foundation will host its Hope Awards on Thursday, April 29, and the bottles of vino and other gifts are prizes featured in the virtual events that include a mystery wine pull and a silent auction as well as performances by the Dos Pueblos High School Jazz Band. The online gathering will also honor Craig Price and Nick Rail for their longtime support of local SBUSD students. 

Price is well known for his work in providing counsel in education law and has served on SBEF’s Board of Directors for nine years, including two as president where he played an instrumental role in growing the organization. Rail, the founder of the Summer Band Camp, is also the founder of Nick Rail Music, a network of stores serving as the premier school music dealer for Southern California. The company has been a long-time partner with SBEF to provide new instruments valued in excess of $100,000 to Santa Barbara public school music programs. 

With the awards and the entertainment, the Hope Awards’ return promises to be a celebration for the community, but more importantly the event’s goal is to raise critical funds for the Santa Barbara Education Foundation to continue making a positive impact on public school student outcomes. That means money for the programs, but also to run the organization. Paying the rent and utilities. Furnishing the office. Renumerating the employees, of which, amazingly, there are only four, just one full-time. 

“We’ve been operating on a shoestring budget forever,” Yahyavi said. “When people find out that there’s so few of us doing what we do, they’re pretty amazed, especially when you look at collegiate staff development departments which are huge.”

It’s not glamorous, but it’s necessary. 

Successful fundraising might even allow for continued expansion, which the ED would welcome enthusiastically, pointing out the difference that SBEF’s new Major Gifts Officer Eryn Shugart has made in less than a year. 

“She just proves to me that the more people that we could hire, the more effective we could be,” Yahyavi said.

But that does take more revenue in the form of donations, but even when it’s used for administrative costs, the impact is enormous, said Davenport. 

“Supporting our organization directly goes into the impact that we can make with students today, and that tremendously affects their future,” she said. “It truly changes kids’ lives.” 

So tune into the Hope Awards next Thursday afternoon at 4 pm for a quick visit with SBIFF. (RSVP at https://sbefoundation.org/hope-awards.) Admission is free. Donations are voluntary. And you won’t have to view Yahyavi’s office. We promise. 

For more information about Santa Barbara Education Foundation, visit sbefoundation.org.

Montecito Union School’s Nature Lab Offers Limitless Potential

At the southern end of Montecito Union School lies a 2.5-acre property with nearly limitless potential. After a school-wide visioning process that involved every student, we have named this space and decided upon a bold vision for its use.

When fully realized, the Nature Lab will invite learners to imagine, build, and get messy in nature as they care for the planet and one another. We will do this by creating an experiential outdoor ecosystem that combines:

– Biodynamic/Regenerative Agriculture

– Nature-Inspired Making and Arts Collaboratory

– Environment as Agent of Challenge and Wonder…

– …providing endless possibilities to grow within a unique and ever-evolving natural setting.

Biodynamic/Regenerative Agriculture

When students cross over the Joffrey Bridge into Nature lab, they will be entering a space of wonderment and awe. Students will create a model of self-sustaining agriculture including gardens, produce, composting, and livestock and other animals.  As they harvest, they will decide what to use, what to donate, and what to sell as they engage in both business development and service learning.

Nature-Inspired Making and Arts Collaboratory

At Nature Lab, students will be active creators. This includes nature-inspired making and tinkering such as pottery, collage, wood and metalworking, weaving and textiles, painting, dye, and mixed media projects using the natural materials that abound. While our large solar array will generate 100% of the electricity needs for the whole campus, it will also provide a shaded gathering place for the community or a natural performance and gallery place. The addition of an outdoor kitchen will produce many opportunities for gatherings and for using the produce and crops grown on site.

Environment as Agent of Challenge and Wonder

Students will be able to investigate the riparian zone created by our water feature, the natural playground made from the logs of massive eucalyptus, and engage in student-led inquiries and purposeful play in our low treehouse. Student agency and the pursuit of passions will help us to launch inspired thinkers who will positively impact the world.

The Nature Lab is already being used in its current form, allowing for large-scale engineering, small-scale agriculture, and plenty of opportunities for student activism. If we realize the full potential of Nature Lab, we will have created a lasting resource and a living experiential outdoor facility that will help to nurture, excite, and inspire generations of Mustangs!

Progress Report

Much has already been accomplished at the Nature Lab. First, the house that was on the property was demolished. Though the house was beautiful, it was not up to code for use by public school students, so it needed to be removed.  The removal of this house also made for much more usable space at the Nature Lab.

To provide an entrance befitting the Nature Lab, the Joffrey Footbridge was constructed, linking “MUS proper” to the Nature Lab. This picturesque footbridge meets the functional need to safely get to the property, and also creates a distinct feel for the user that they are entering a place of wonderment and beauty.

The low tree house has also been fully constructed and is already been well-utilized by students. It has served as the site of science experiments, reading circles, impromptu dramatic play, has been converted into a colonial schoolhouse by 5th graders, and has provided a teaching spot for classes utilizing Nature Lab.

Our Nature Lab is already home to a few animals, including three chickens and one sulcata tortoise. The animal enclosures are simple and safe at the moment, but students are already helping us to design animal enclosures that better meet the needs of these animals, are more permanent, and better designed.

A large-scale solar structure has been designed which will generate 100% of the electricity needs for the entire campus as well as provide shade for students using the northern section of the property. This structure will begin construction June of 2021 and should be completed by August of 2021. In addition, a full infrastructure plan has been designed (water, electricity, sewer, and gas) and this should also be completed by August 2021.

That means that by September 2021 we will be ready to really develop this property! 

With the help of student designers and parent volunteers, we hope to create gardens, a farm stand, an outdoor kitchen, and more. We’ll also work to professionally design a water feature which will be a centerpiece of the property and attract birds and other animals while providing an excellent opportunity for students to become scientists as they explore the natural world.

Virtual Event: Santa Barbara Unified School District State of Our Schools with Hilda Maldonado

WHO: SBUSD Superintendent Hilda Maldonado will share the status of the district’s schools. 

WHAT: Santa Barbara Unified School District State of Our Schools is hosted by the Santa Barbara Education Foundation and sponsored by Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, LogMeIn, UCLA Health, DA Davidson, KBZ Architects, Hohbach-Lewin, Oniracom, and Lazy Acres. 

The virtual event features a presentation followed by a Q & A session. This will be an opportunity for the community to learn about the current State of our Schools during this challenging school year.

WHEN: Tuesday, March 30, at 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

WHERE: Via Zoom

RSVP: Reservations can be made at www.sbefoundation.org/state-of-our-schools-tickets

This event is free. Reservations are required. 

Margie Yahyavi


Since 1985, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation has worked with community partners to strengthen the educational experience of all students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District. Throughout the years, SBEF has raised funds to help promote art and music education, provide technology, and create quality facilities. For more information, visit www.santabarbaraeducation.org.

Junior League and Rotary Get Students Moving Remotely

Imagine trying to lead a virtual PE class for a group of first-graders while they are stuck inside their homes with limited space and no equipment. Since school closures in March, delivering virtual academics has been a challenge, but physical education teachers have especially had to think outside the box to keep students physically fit and active from home.

From designing exercise videos to mapping out safe running routes and encouraging walks and hikes, Santa Barbara Unified School District PE teachers have done a fantastic job adapting to the times. But when it came down to it, putting equipment into students’ hands was crucial, and versatile items like soccer balls and jump ropes were high on PE teachers’ wish list. The Santa Barbara Education Foundation partnered with the Junior League of Santa Barbara and local Rotary clubs to make these requests a reality.  

In January, the Junior League of Santa Barbara collected 640 balls to distribute to SB Unified elementary school students for PE classes during remote and hybrid learning. In addition to many in the community who donated new and gently used soccer balls, local law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck generously sponsored the soccer ball drive.

After learning of the need, the Junior League’s Jessica Burns helped kick off the effort. “The leaders of the Junior League of Santa Barbara were thrilled to take up the idea of a Soccer Ball Drive and work in partnership with the Santa Barbara Education Foundation on a project that directly provides schoolchildren with equipment so they can continue their educational programming through these unprecedented times.”

Local Rotary clubs, including Rotary Club of Santa Barbara, Rotary Club of Santa Barbara North, and Rotary Club of Santa Barbara Sunrise, have donated funds to purchase jump ropes for elementary school students. On account of these generous contributions, 850 jump ropes are already in the hands of elementary school students, and more than a thousand are on the way.

According to SB Unified PE teacher Ethan Zolt, “The need for all kids to have access to sports equipment in the home is especially crucial during remote learning.” Zolt has already seen the difference in engagement with his students. “The joy and excitement of receiving this gift were evident, as smiling students proudly displayed their new soccer balls at our most recent PE Zoom classes!”

Santa Barbara Education Foundation promotes private support of Santa Barbara’s public education system, serving over 14,000 students in 18 schools. For more information, visit www.santabarbaraeducation.org.

Simon Pivots to Social Justice

Rachel Simon would be the first to admit she was blessed by the circumstances of her birth. 

Her father is Herbert “Herb” Simon, the Indianapolis-based real-estate billionaire (and owner of the Indiana Pacers!), and her mother is Diane Meyer Simon, the notable political and environmental activist who founded Global Green, U.S.A.

Her father, Simon says, gave his kids “just enough room to make our own way, but was always there to instill the most important core values.” 

Diane Meyer Simon was an active figure in the populist progressivism of the early Kennedy era. “My mom was just, you know, this super-cool woman, she worked for Bobby Kennedy and had all these awesome stories,” Simon says. “She was an environmental activist and so a lot of my interests probably followed from watching her do her work. [My parents are] both extremely engaged in the community and politically active. So, I mean, I lucked out. We all did.”

Together, Simon says, her parents created in her “a very environmentally conscious and progressive thinker.” 

That progressive thinker is now leading the second generation of philanthropy at the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, based in Indianapolis, but with a regional and even global reach focusing on the environment, education, art and culture, and issues of social justice and sustainability. 

As lucky as Simon is to have cool parents with a desire to give back to their communities and the means to do it, she is also grateful for the gifts that come with being the daughter of two distinct regions that are integral to the country’s cultural fabric – the American Midwest and the American Riviera. 

As director of the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, Rachel Simon is bringing her diverse geographic and cultural influences together as she leads the foundation into a new decade brimming with urgent challenges

Simon was born in Indianapolis and spent a good part of her childhood as a Hoosier, before her parents took up primary residence in Montecito. She returned to Indianapolis to attend the Herron School of Art and Design in the early 2000s. She majored in painting, something she laments she doesn’t find enough time for these days, and stayed in Indianapolis upon graduating. 

Simons says she loves the seasons and close-knit community there, but admits that California and Montecito are never far from her mind. Montecito had a familiar small-town feel as her early childhood, and yet the West Coast opened her cultural horizons and helped hone a keen interest in climate and sustainability. 

“As much as Indianapolis raised me, Montecito raised me,” she says. “If I hadn’t spent so much time in California, I definitely wouldn’t think the way I think, and wouldn’t be aware of the things I’m aware of… the social issues that are the forefront of the brain.”

As director of the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, Simon is bringing her diverse geographic and cultural influences together as she leads the foundation into a new decade brimming with urgent challenges, especially related to climate change, sustainability, and social justice. Simon says the foundation has just finished a strategic planning session that will keep its philosophy intact but will focus efforts more directly in some key areas. 

“We are still focused on the environment, arts and culture, and basic needs,” she says, “but social justice will be its own impact area.”

She says the foundation will also work to sharpen its mission and message, especially working with grassroots, community-based organizations. “You know, you can support the education and then you can support equity in education. You can support the environment and then you can support environmental justice, and depending on how you tailor your focus, it could be in a bunch of different areas,” says Simon. “The intersectionality of [environmental and social justice] is so important for people to recognize right now.”

Getting back to parental influences, Simon says she’s “a huge basketball fan” but she won’t give her love to the Lakers, even though she attended USC, just down the road from Staples Center, for a couple years. That’s understandable as Simon is active with Indiana Pacers Foundation. For the Pacers, she has love, for the Lakers, it is “respect.” 

Hey, we can live with that, after all, love and respect is what it’s all really about and that, in the end, seems like Simon’s true inheritance. 

“Speaking of my parents, one of the most important things that they taught us was that we were so blessed and so fortunate… Every day that I work on foundation work, I feel grateful and blessed that I have the opportunity to give back because of the hard work of my parents. So, it’s an awesome responsibility that I’m grateful for.”

Philanthropic Joy

Sara Miller McCune has been discreetly and powerfully fueling the performing arts, education, social justice, and the Jewish community in Santa Barbara County for decades.

The renowned publishing trailblazer (she founded SAGE Publishing as a single woman in 1965 and remains Executive Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of this international scholarly publishing empire), is also the co-founder of the McCune Foundation (in 1990), a locally focused philanthropic organization whose mission is to build social capital in both Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

Sara, who was raised in a working-class Jewish family in Queens, New York, recalls being introduced to philanthropy early. Her family embraced the ancient Jewish tradition of Tzedakah, which in Hebrew literally means “righteous behavior.” It’s also the closest word in the Hebrew language to “philanthropy” but it encompasses so much more than just charitable giving. As she describes it, “Tzedakah” isn’t just about being generous; it’s the moral and ethical imperative for all Jews to put contributing to the greater good of one’s community at the center of one’s life.

She recalls that there was always a box set aside in her childhood home, where family members would deposit their spare change. This money would then be used as part of the family’s charitable giving – their good deeds, or mitzvot. Giving from this mindset, which values connection and mutual support above all else, taught her (and her younger brother) that when a neighbor’s social or economic burdens are lifted, everyone benefits.

“Philanthropy, when it’s done right, strengthens a local economy. It’s woven into the fabric of community life. And what could be better than that?”

-Sara Miller McCune

Philanthropy, as Sara points out, isn’t about charity: it’s about relationship building, and she learned how valuable and joy-inducing this work is at the feet of her parents.

“For me, growing up this way, I wound up discovering eventually, especially over these past few decades, that being a philanthropist makes me very happy. And I feel lucky that I get to give back.”

Sharing resources, Sara has found, releases a very unique and powerful kind of joy into a community. It’s hard to put this feeling into words, but she describes how it frees people to step into creativity and self-sufficiency and problem-solving in really unique ways.

Teach Your Children Well

And this philanthropic joy doesn’t depend on the size of your gift. Sara shares how, based on the example of former SAGE Board Member and publishing colleague Jerry Kaplan, she began the practice of giving her young grandchildren a modest amount of money at Thanksgiving. She instructed them that this money (which was separate from any holiday gifts they’d receive) was theirs to give to any cause or organization they felt passionate about. Then, come spring, during Passover, they’d tell her what they’d done with that money. 

“I loved hearing what they were excited about because it let me get to know them better and brought us closer together. One granddaughter was passionate about ferrets one year, another grandchild wanted to help save the environment, two grandkids gave to a classmate whose house had burned down, and so on. I got to see each of them experience that indescribable philanthropic joy for themselves.”

Philanthropy as an Engine for Change

Sara has become keenly aware of how vital philanthropy is for real, meaningful societal change.

Philanthropists are incredibly in tune with what’s happening in their local communities and are often able to identify problems quickly. She points out the entrepreneurial nature of philanthropy, and the smart risks philanthropists are able and willing to take in order to solve a problem before it escalates and negatively impacts the broader community. But again, this isn’t about largesse.

“People don’t realize that philanthropy provides a lot of employment and creates jobs, on both sides of the equation. Philanthropy, when it’s done right, strengthens a local economy. It’s woven into the fabric of community life. And what could be better than that?”

Finding the Right Philanthropic Partners

Miller McCune understands that strong philanthropic relationships are built on cultivating and expanding a shared passion. For instance, the Board of a performing arts organization should seek out philanthropic organizations that already have a demonstrable commitment to funding the arts: in other words, like attracts like.

“I look for good leadership within the organization,” Miller McCune shares. “Especially with regard to their treatment of staff, their fiscal clarity, and how they are achieving their mission and goals.”

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

Investing in Community and Getting Better Returns than Wall Street

Tom Parker has been marinating in Santa Barbara philanthropy since the 1950s when, as a kid, he and his dad would distribute food to Santa Barbara’s homeless through the local Kiwanis Club. Tom says philanthropy has always been woven into Santa Barbara’s fabric because it’s a small enough place where it’s easy to see the impact of one’s good deeds – and enjoy the gratification that comes with it. 

“Very few businesses give you the kind of feeling of fulfillment a nonprofit can,” says the third-generation Santa Barbaran and president of the Hutton Parker Foundation.

The Hutton Parker Foundation primarily focuses on supporting Santa Barbara nonprofits, especially in the areas of Education, Health & Human Services, Civic & Community Development, Youth & Family Services, and Arts & Culture. The Foundation was started by Tom and his aunt-in-law who are sort of a riches-to-rags-back-to-riches story – with many valuable life lessons learned along the way.

Parker did well in real estate investing as a young man, so much so that when the real estate portfolio of his wife’s beloved aunt Betty Hutton became distressed in the 1980s, Tom had the flexibility – and wherewithal – to move his family to Orange County to work with Betty for quite a few years whilst turning around her ailing business and her underperforming assets.

As with Parker, philanthropy was always a priority for aunt Betty. So as soon as Betty’s financial ship was righted and the family had “enough,” Tom and Betty funneled the rest of their assets into their newly formed Hutton Parker Foundation. “You get to a certain point where it feels better to give back than to consume. If you are fortunate in life, that’s not just an obligation, it’s an ingrained part of you.” Not surprisingly, Parker is grooming his sons Christopher and Jess to take over the foundation and carry on the family legacy.

Parker’s philosophy as a philanthropist is that most of the charities he focuses on are great at their primary mission, but their good deeds could go further if these nonprofits ran better, leveraged assets, and found productive synergies. To this end Tom sees himself as more of an aggregator and super connector rather than a micromanager. He uses lessons learned streamlining his aunt’s businesses and has innovated a system whereby multiple nonprofits pool resources and invest in local real estate, and frequently (with Tom’s help) buy the buildings where they operate.  

“The local nonprofits don’t just need monetary funding; they need entrepreneurial support, innovative ideas, and energy. All these charities do great work, I just try to help make sure their business plans are sustainable.”

– Tom Parker

To facilitate its mission, the Hutton Parker Foundation makes below market loans to nonprofits, buys buildings, and has housed 55 nonprofits in 17 renovated Santa Barbara structures, not just saving these organizations millions in operating expenses, but greatly benefitting the larger community of Santa Barbara. “The local nonprofits don’t just need monetary funding; they need entrepreneurial support, innovative ideas, and energy. All these charities do great work, I just try to help make sure their business plans are sustainable.”

Parker says the key to his system is identifying and sometimes synthesizing collaborations, or as he likes to say, “Whatever you do, try to make sure everybody wins.” By maximizing symbioses, Parker scores a quintuple win for nonprofits, the people they serve, other nonprofits they partner with, and the communities where they’re located. 

Parker’s system (known as “tenant equity”) has been so successful there’s even a book about it: The Hundred Million Dollar Secret: Why and How Foundations Should Invest in Community Instead of Wall Street. Parker says he wrote the book because he was a “boring lecturer.” Although that is likely a fiction, Tom’s book in fact proves that foundations can yield superior returns by investing locally rather than in an ordinary portfolio of stocks and bonds. 

Parker is also a big believer in the utility and importance of data: that how a place (or group) is doing can be measured, providing data that’s invaluable in terms of allocating resources and focusing efforts. This is one of the reasons Hutton Parker is a main underwriter of UCSB’s “Indicators Project” – which literally measures leading indicators in a multiplicity of categories, showing how various aspects of a hyper local community is doing or at least trending.

As recently as this year, Tom “reused” data collected by the United Way during relief efforts for undocumented residents in the 2018 debris flow to spearhead a new outreach to undocumenteds today, during the pandemic. “Investing in our local communities is like watering a thirsty plant – you can see the local communities springing back to life,” says Parker.

For his achievements in philanthropy Tom has been awarded Santa Barbara County’s Philanthropist of the Year Award, the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce Founders Award, the Anti-Defamation League Distinguished Community Service Award, the Women’s Economic Ventures Man of Equality Award, and countless others. More importantly, Tom Parker has won the respect and gratitude of thousands of Santa Barbarans, though it is very clear this is not why he does it.

“For me, it’s the ‘teach a man to fish’ thing,” says Parker. “Helping nonprofits work better and sustain over the long haul is much more satisfying – and ultimately more useful – than simply writing a check.”

Learning, Naturally

Vanessa Scarlett, the science specialist at Montecito Union School, bubbles with excitement at the plans for a 2.5-acre parcel of land adjacent to the school’s bucolic campus.

Over the next two years, the raw space will be transformed into the Nature Lab replete with a pond, plant beds, and even some chickens. For the elementary schoolers the lab will provide both unstructured play and rare opportunities to integrate their learning.

Scarlett gives the example of students building owl boxes. First the students would model their designs in the Innovation Lab, and then use the CNC laser cutter to make those designs a reality. Once installed, they could take motion detecting cameras from the Science Lab and study whether the owls used the boxes and if so, how often.

“There are these two important parts of the Nature Lab,” Scarlett says. “Giving kids freedom in a space that is so magical, and being there with intent and purpose.”

“Research has shown for decades that people learn best by doing. It’s not by sitting and listening to a lecture, or reading a book. It is about doing.”

For Montecito Union’s Superintendent, Anthony Ranii, the Nature Lab is a critical piece of ensuring his students are ready to make positive contributions in a fast changing world.

“When our students become adults, the most complex problems they will have to face stand at the intersections between nature and technology,” Ranii says. “Climate change, wildfires, disease control, waste management, water conservation: all of these require both facility with technology and a deep knowledge of the natural world.”

The organizing force behind the Nature Lab is the Montecito Union School Foundation (MUSF), the school’s charitable arm comprised primarily of parents. The foundation has invested $200,000 in the project thus far, and is looking to raise an additional $400,000 to get it done.

Not only will this latest amelioration further cement Montecito Union School’s status as one of the nation’s premier public schools, but also it promises to seed generations of problem-solving youngsters with deep knowledge of the natural world.

“The world is counting on our students to develop these skills to solve the most complex problems in the world today,” Ranii says.  

Santa Barbara’s Recipe for Academic Success

The Santa Barbara Education Foundation is not your normal nonprofit supporting students. Rather it is like an educational Robin Hood, matching donors with students who need it most. 

Students like Antonña Mollo. During her freshman year, Mollo’s mother died of an overdose and her father was sentenced to 12 years in jail.  

“I grew up so angry at the world, constantly asking ‘why me?’” Mollo says. “Gangs and violence became my sense of peace. My crazy life spread through the halls at school, and for once I was placed in a program that was meant for me.” 

That place was the Academy for Success, a program developed by Dos Pueblos High School Math Teacher Kelly Choi. When some of her students weren’t showing up to class, Choi took the time to ask why. Some were hungry, while many others, like Mollo, had turbulent home lives. 

The program identifies struggling students in the 9th grade. Instead of taking courses from different teachers year to year, students stay with the same cohort of students and a team of teachers to take the classes they need to  graduate.  And the group “becomes a family,” says Margie Yahyavi, executive director of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation. With additional mental health services and counseling, the students flourish: there is a 95% reduction in disciplinary action; 98% of Academy students graduate high school; and 92% enroll in some type of post-secondary education.

(Photo by Benjamin B. Morris ©2016)

But this is only one of many programs that Yahyavi and the Education Foundation’s generous donors support. The nonprofit raises private funds to assist students in three ways: funding programs like Academy for Success developed within Santa Barbara Unified schools by faculty or administration; supporting outside programs that want to work within the schools; and finally by sustaining programs that the Education Foundation developed themselves. 

Yahyavi is particularly proud of the work the Foundation is doing to ensure that vulnerable students stay on track through long summer months. “We are tackling summer learning loss with our robust summer programs,” she says.  

With nearly 60 percent of southern Santa Barbara County’s students enrolled in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, giving to the Education Foundation is one of the most clear-cut ways to lift up educational outcomes for the community as a whole. 

The Promise of Higher Education

The goal was audacious: provide every recent high school graduate in the south coast area of Santa Barbara with two years of college education for free. There would be no eligibility requirements beyond a student’s commitment to enroll full time, remain in good standing, and take advantage of academic advising. 

Since 2016, when the Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) Promise was launched, more than 5,000 students have received free tuition, books, supplies, even bus passes and student health services. 

“We call it a promise for a reason,” says Geoff Green, the CEO of the Santa Barbara City College Foundation. “This is a commitment we are making in perpetuity.” 

The initiative has been a resounding success. It has dramatically increased the number of local students enrolled full-time at SBCC, which research shows leads to higher rates of completion and transfer to four-year colleges. In addition, SBCC Promise students’ average GPA stands above a 3.0. And with student debt hitting a whopping $1.7 trillion, what the SBCC Foundation has managed to do here is a template for the nation – a fact that the White House took notice of in 2016 when the SBCC Promise received national recognition upon its launch.

“A century ago, America had a serious debate about whether universal public high school was even necessary” Green says. “One hundred years later and it is clear that for the vast majority of people, high school isn’t enough.” 

For SBCC graduate Leslie Marin, the Promise made it possible for her to be the first person in her family to attend and graduate from college. After the Promise, she transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara on a full scholarship where she has a 3.7 GPA. 

“[The SBCC Promise] took a huge financial burden off my shoulders and my parents’ shoulders,” Marin says. “I wouldn’t have been able to go to college right after high school; I would have had to take a couple semesters off to pay for tuition and supplies.”

This is but one example of how the SBCC Foundation stands up for its students. When COVID-19 hit, the Foundation distributed more than $2 million in emergency grants to 2,335 students in a mere three weeks to help them stay enrolled and moving forward even as stay-at-home orders were creating a wave of unemployment. 

“So many of our students tend to live at the economic margins,” Green says. “It was our obligation when the pandemic hit to provide a bridge until other support became available.”

Black Youth Give Back to Santa Barbara

Guy R. Walker is President and Founder of Wealth Management Strategies, a boutique financial advisory firm based in Santa Ynez, California. Walker’s journey from Compton, a small suburb of Los Angeles, to Santa Ynez, a small suburb of Santa Barbara, is revealing as it relates to how he came to lead one of the oldest nonprofits serving the needs of African American students and the broader African American community on the Central Coast. 

Walker was himself the beneficiary of a community who looked out for him when he was growing up. Which is how he ended up attending an elite private boarding school during the 1970s. That school is the Dunn School in Santa Ynez. Guy sees the work that he is doing with Endowment for Youth Committee (EYC) as paying it forward. 

In 2015, Walker, along with three other community leaders (Cliff Lambert, Ben Drati, and Chris Johnson), were asked to step in to help resurrect an agency that had ceased to act as a viable nonprofit. Endowment for Youth Committee, a 34-year-old nonprofit dedicated to the educational success and advancement of African American youth on the Central Coast, had experienced a talent drain at the board level and needed to redefine itself programmatically.

In the years since, he and his eight colleagues on the board have narrowed the committee’s focus on, as Walker says, “growing people up and getting them into the world to do good.” To do this, the organization’s Financial Aid program targets students grade 6 through 16. EYC partners with Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara to administer its financial awards. To qualify for the post-secondary grants, students must demonstrate academic excellence (typically GPA scores of 3.0 or better), be active in community service, and provide a personal statement and letters of recommendation. In order to be an EYC Scholar, students are expected to attend workshops and cultural activities and be accountable to their commitments. 

March 24, 2018 – Lompoc, CA: Endowment for Youth Committee (EYC) Dinner-Auction Celebration at the True Vine Bible Fellowship Family Center in Lompoc, CA on March 24, 2018. (Photo by Rod Rolle) Program: Master of Ceremonies – Cliff Lambert Greetings from EYC President – Dr Chris Johnson and Pastor Daryl Fort, True Vine Bible Fellowship Invocation and Dinner Music – Jazz / Gospel Fusion Academy Live Auction “Stand Up for Kids” & Special Awards Closing Comments

The way Walker sees it, developing the next generation of Black scholars in Santa Barbara is not just about contributing to those students, but to the entire community and subsequent generations. “We are creating a pipeline to create greater diversity on nonprofit boards and in corporate boardrooms – in industry and in government. There is an absence of diversity and inclusion on our nonprofit boards and in the workplace” Walker says. “You have organizations trying to serve the Black or Latino community, but they don’t have people that represent those communities on their boards or in positions of influence.” He wants EYC’s scholars to not only thrive in school but as leaders in whatever communities they live. 

He also wants and expects EYC alumni to pay it forward by supporting other young, aspiring African Americans students. “The expectation is that as you succeed and attain resources and have influence, consider using those resources and influence by hiring a young person or providing an opportunity for a young person to gain valuable experience.” 

That theory of change is in evidence with Sheona Richardson Som, who in third grade was recognized by EYC for academic efforts and community service. That recognition included funds being set aside for Sheona to eventually go to college. After graduating from Dos Pueblos High School, she attended San Diego State University, and studied abroad in Oxford. Richardson Som is currently a development director at San Diego State University. But she hasn’t forgotten her Santa Barbara roots. 

“I’m so thankful for the investment that EYC made in me,” Richardson Som says. “I look forward to working closely with the organization and providing opportunities for boys and girls in Santa Barbara County to be their best self and excel in their education and career paths.”

We Are Family

In the 1960s, the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti, Michigan laid the groundwork for our understanding of the value of early education. 

A sample of 58 low-income students received high quality preschool, while a control group of an additional 63 had none. Researchers then followed those children until age 40. On all measures – high school graduation, income, arrest rates – the adults that had high quality preschool did better. The return was a jaw-dropping $16 for every dollar invested. 

So what does Ypsilanti have to do with Santa Barbara? Well, the latter is home to Storyteller Children’s Center, a therapeutic preschool that provides high-quality early childhood education for homeless and at-risk children and comprehensive support services for their families. 

Founded in 1988, the school serves 80 children and their families a year. Storyteller’s recently appointed executive director, Susan Cass, sees the center’s work as “critical to breaking the cycle of poverty in Santa Barbara.” 

“This marginalized population that we serve is a large portion of our county,” Cass says, an allusion to Santa Barbara’s ignominious distinction of having the third highest poverty rate in California. “There are a lot of people in our community struggling without alternatives for childcare. Storyteller provides these families with the support they need to address and overcome their challenges so they can build a better life for themselves and their children.”

Storyteller’s teachers and staff receive double the amount of required training for early childhood educators and are committed to ensuring that children and their families have the tools and resources they need to thrive. Whether it be through mental health support services offered in partnership with CALM and Casa Pacifica, monthly parent meetings, or bi-annual home visits, the children’s center is focused on much more than the child alone. “We are a whole family service,” Cass says. 

One desperately needed in Santa Barbara. A 2017 countywide needs assessment conducted found that more than 35,000 children were in need of early education and childcare, while the number of available slots stood at just under 18,000, after tumbling by more than 1,200 in the preceding decade. For the working poor, whom Storyteller serves, the need is even more acute. 

Cass envisions a future where she and her team can devote more energy to improving the lives of the entire families, which she knows – and research shows – will have a powerful ripple effect in our community, only making it stronger with each passing year.

Ignite Learning

In 2017, Santa Barbara welcomed a new, exciting and wholly unique museum to its ranks: MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation.

Since the grand opening, more than 500,000 visitors, mostly wide-eyed children, have bopped through MOXI’s 17,000 square feet of interactive exhibits. Exhibits like Build It. Test It. Race It. where kids can assemble their own racecars and send them down an oversized track. The builders have variables to play with, the slope of the track and the design and weight of the race cars, which force them to hypothesize and test, both hallmarks of critical thinking and problem solving.

“It’s science plus race cars, which are super fun,” says CEO Robin Gose, clearly jazzed about the exhibit. “And it’s this racetrack on steroids, bigger than anything they have at home, which is really exciting.”

For Gose, her staff and the community volunteers who spent almost three decades dreaming up and making MOXI a reality, Build It. Test It. Race it. and all the exhibits are as much about learning as they are about fun – two inextricably intertwined concepts.

As Gose, who has spent the better part of the past two decades in both formal and informal science education, explains, MOXI is about developing 21st century core competencies for not just its visitors, but also every child in the region.

The Department of Labor predicts that two thirds of all students today will be employed in jobs that don’t yet exist by the time they enter the labor force. Many of those jobs will be in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – areas of learning that MOXI is all about.

“What is needed for this generation of children and generations to come are the problem solving skills and adaptive mindset to face new and bigger challenges,” Gose says. “We are going to need critical thinkers and science advocates as we continue to face pandemics, climate change, rising sea levels, and new challenges being thrown at us all the time.”

To get there is all about, as MOXI’s mission says, igniting “learning through interactive experiences in science and creativity.”

“Don’t just read about science,” says Gose. “Do it! Play and discover and open up that world of curiosity and creativity.”

Gose is not only excited about MOXI’s exhibits, but the museum’s new strategic plan. The museum itself, she says, is “a beautiful proof of concept” for its larger goal of serving the entire community. A key goal of the new strategic plan is to engage and collaborate with local schools to bring the kind of science education found at MOXI to every school and student in the region. “We want to do everything we can to provide equitable access,” Gose says. “We are truly here for the whole community.”