Tag Archives: families

Celebrating the Generation Before Us

At 27, Heidi Holly already knew that the elder community “was her tribe.”

In the 35 years since, Heidi has steadily led the Friendship Center, which operates two adult day centers where seniors and those experiencing memory decline and other health related conditions spend their days engaged in “joy sparking” activities that enrich their golden years.

“Every day since I have been involved in this amazing purpose and work,” Heidi, the center’s executive director, says, “I have been able to hear all these jewels and pearls of wisdom from our older aging adults, our Veterans and Individuals with disabilities.” 

The centers serve more than 800 seniors and their families each year. 

That second part is incredibly important. Family caregivers and adult children caring for their loved ones often struggle to manage their careers and caretaking responsibilities. The result, too often, is that the only option for those older adults is to live out their days in a long-term care setting. By providing a place for older adults to go every day, their caretakers are afforded some respite, which keeps them at home. 

“A success story is someone who stays in our program until their demise,” Heidi says. “Because we are cost effective and have enabled them to live a fuller life with their family.”

The center has two locations: one in Goleta and the other at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito. At both, clients interact through exercise and games centered on keeping their brains active. As Heidi says: “You are never too old to make new friends.” And this social interaction staves off the isolation so many elders feel, which negatively impacts their emotional and physical health. 

“This is a happy place and a happy time and our seniors really thrive,” Heidi says. But they are not the only ones. 

One day, Heidi was hurriedly walking through the Montecito Center’s courtyard thinking only about her multitudinous tasks as executive director. One of the clients, an elderly woman, stopped her and said: “You need to slow down in your life and be mindful of your surroundings and the present.”

The woman then told Heidi that it was her intention to spend the rest of her life dancing and singing. 

“We need to slow down and recognize what the generation before us contributed,” Heidi says. “We have so many lessons to learn from them. That’s what keeps me motivated.” 

Uniting the Boys & Girls Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both board chairs are pleased: 

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

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