Tag Archives: financial support

United in Crisis and Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Giving Up in the Fight Against Pediatric Cancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”