Tag Archives: nonprofits

Shifting Directions: Human Rights Watch Now Following an Inclusive Path

For more than 40 years, Human Rights Watch has enjoyed an international reputation for taking on and often accomplishing its mission to scrupulously investigate abuses to widely expose the facts and then relentlessly press those in power, ranging from governments to armed groups to businesses — all in the name of change.

Its ability to effectively employ researchers, lawyers, and others functioning as investigators, journalists, and advocates — roughly 450 people of 70 different nationalities in some 90 countries around the world — has been the envy of rights organizations dating back to 1997 when HRW shared in the Nobel Peace Prize as a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Santa Barbara is the site of one of four local committees in California among 23 around the world that make up the expansive reach of HRW, and our hometown office works on issues both international and California-centric, including climate change, immigration rights, and juvenile justice.

HRW Santa Barbara Director Lis Leader has only been here since 2014 — taking on the position at the urging of Montecito writer-activist-philanthropist Victoria Riskin — and has adjusted direction in response to the needs of the community that proved to have desires to have more hands-on involvement in human rights.

“One of the things we have found is our committee members get very frustrated because they don’t want to just be writing checks. They want to be feeling like they’re having an impact,” Leader said of the local Santa Barbara committee members who are part of the international network of dedicated human rights supporters that drive the activities of the HRW Council.

“So, we try and help initiate advocacy issues on topics like poverty and immigration.”

But those opportunities aren’t always available directly through HRW, she said, so the solution was to look at other local nonprofits that might meet that need.

“We’ve started to partner with local grassroots organizations to whom our community members can be introduced,” she explained. “Then they can be involved with a much more hands-on organization that is smaller and more local.”

Directing supporters and sharing donors with other nonprofits might seem disingenuous, as HRW, like just about all NGOs, can always use more financial help. But to Leader, where that money and energy goes doesn’t matter as long as it’s headed in the right direction.

“Ultimately our goal is to uphold human rights and to fight against human rights abuses,” she said. “There’s no conflict of interest, because other nonprofits need money too. And my feeling is that seeing it as a problem is not how people work, especially in this community. People give to the organizations that matter to them and that are doing the work they care about.”

Indeed, Leader doesn’t see fundraising as a zero-sum game in Santa Barbara. 

“It’s actually a win-win situation all around. These organizations are supporting our advocacy efforts. We’re trying to support them with their local efforts and we’re getting in return some hands-on opportunities for our committee members.”

Recently, Leader spearheaded an even greater shift in direction for the Santa Barbara committee, largely in response to heightened awareness about access in the wake of race issues and the pandemic’s hitting poorer communities harder. 

“We have often been regarded as an elitist organization because it’s run on membership, and every city has a different policy and how they determine what the base fee is to join,” she said, explaining that Santa Barbara’s minimum contribution was $2,500 a year.

“We realized, especially with Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ, and Asian issues, that we need to be as diverse, inclusive, and equal as the people that we benefit all over the world. We hadn’t been doing that with our committee here.”

So, at the beginning of the year, Leader and the committee’s chair and vice chair met and jointly decided to eliminate the membership policy entirely.

“It was an obstacle to being inclusive,” the director said. “And we also recognized the fact that people’s lives have changed, and their finances may have changed since the pandemic. We can’t assume that we should just keep doing business as usual. It was important to have a really positive change on a local basis, as well as on the international arena. We made every effort to reach out to all organizations in this community to create a committee that is a more diverse reflection of who we are.”

The upshot is that anybody who self-identifies as a supporter of human rights is now welcomed to join the HRW-Santa Barbara committee. What does that mean for the nonprofit’s finances?

“From my perspective, it is still a group of people who can support us financially with whatever they can afford,” Leader said. “If it’s nothing, that’s fine, because their voice is equally valuable and they can support us by promoting our advocacy work and helping us when we need letters written, petition signed and bodies showing up on the steps of City Hall. And they can gain information by joining our presentations and helping more local grassroots organizations that they are interested in. If they’re self-identifying an interest in human rights, that’s good enough for me.”

To be clear, opening up the local committee was just a small response to recent social change movements in the United States, Leader said, noting that HRW has been focused on the Black Lives Matter movement for more than a year.

“A lot of the reports you see in newspapers lately about (the anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre) have originated from Human Rights Watch. We have had a crisis and conflict department and researchers who are in that division every time there’s been a riot at a BLM protest. Our researchers make sure that the police are acting appropriately and that crowds are acting appropriately and that the information that’s coming out of those instances is accurate.”

Leader said the pandemic itself induced an increased HRW focus on abuse that was either exacerbated by or endemic to lockdowns.

“We realized at the beginning that it would act as an excuse for a lot of administrations to crunch down on human rights and for other organizations and people to further human rights abuses across the board,” Leader said. 

“There has been a huge rise in domestic abuse in this country, and a huge increase in sex trafficking and a huge rise in poverty, and the list goes on and on and on.”

All of which resulted in HRW having more work than ever before, Leader said, while at the same time suffering a decrease in financial support that afflicted just about every other nonprofit organization in the world. But while funds were fading, Leader said she felt “honored to work for this organization because the first thing they said is we need to safeguard our most valuable asset which is our staff. “

She said that instead of furloughing employees or making jobs redundant, the executive team took salary and benefit cuts while at the same creating a resilience task force to help struggling employees, including with psychologists and other support.

“The support from HRW mirrored the kind of care and consideration it gives its work,” she said.

The pandemic also solidified Leader’s desire to continue to think globally and act locally when necessary.

“We recognize that we can’t operate in isolation from everybody else. The pandemic has taught us that this time is a time when we have to unify, we have to work towards common goals. We have immigration issues here,” Leader said.

“We have juvenile justice problems here. We have sex trafficking in California — Sacramento is the country’s sex trafficking capital. We have so many problems here that we can focus locally and help small organizations and get involved at a much more grassroots level. We shouldn’t be intimidated by the prospect of losing funds, but I don’t think we will. Why shouldn’t we shout out about the great organizations that are doing fantastic work. The bold change is to take the risk and make a difference in people’s lives here.”

To that end, Leader’s personal passion project started two years ago is a Human Rights Watch club at UCSB, where she’s helped them with support for advocacy efforts on issues that matter to the students, such as monitoring the Isla Vista Foot Patrol who, students say, were walking through the tiny district like “a little gang of police” and approaching people without wearing masks during the height of the pandemic. There are concerns about their attitude towards students and student attitudes towards police, Leader said.

“These kids, they just devour topics that are relevant to them and ask great questions and pursue finding out how they can help,” she said. “It’s really wonderful to see them just be interested and enthusiastic and passionate about things. The little club is expanding and they’re making presentations to other clubs.”

Maybe the students won’t be able to afford to attend HRW-SB’s Voices for Justice Annual Dinner when the benefit finally gets rescheduled for later this year. But they’re making the kind of grassroots difference that forms the heart of Human Rights Watch.

For More Information

Phone: 310-477-5540
Email: sb@hrw.org

Women’s Economic Ventures Selected for $50,000 Award to Invest in Contract Workers, Small Business Owners of Color Hardest Hit by COVID-19

Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV) will receive $50,000 in funding to assist minority entrepreneurs and 1099 workers as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant, awarded by Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest integrated, nonprofit health system and NALCAB – the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, will also provide technical assistance and training as part of WEV’s work to provide culturally relevant support to low-wealth entrepreneurs and 1099 contract workers of color.

“The pandemic has been particularly challenging for minority and women-owned businesses”, said WEV CEO Kathy Odell.  “WEV is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to partner with NALCAB and Kaiser Permanente to provide much needed training and capital to minority-owned businesses in Ventura County. This innovative program will provide forgivable loans and targeted training to help them move forward with confidence and build successful, sustainable businesses.”

Through a competitive process, organizations in California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, DC were eligible to apply for grants up to $60,000 administered by NALCAB. The grants will support resiliency among entrepreneurs, including adapting their business model more effectively to the constraints of public health guidance, and assistance in navigating and accessing federal, state and local government, as well as philanthropic, emergency relief and business assistance resources.

Through its commitment to foster economic opportunity for traditionally underserved communities, Kaiser Permanente has also designated $15 million in grants to increase access to formal training, business networks, and recovery and growth capital to help businesses led by Latinos and other groups to overcome systemic economic disadvantage.

“With the understanding that a return to ‘business as usual’ is still far off, it is urgent that the small businesses and entrepreneurs of color who have suffered disproportionate financial setbacks during the pandemic receive aid and assistance to maintain their vitality,” said Stephanie Ledesma, interim senior vice president for community health programs at Kaiser Permanente.

About Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV), www.wevonline.org

Women’s Economic Ventures is dedicated to creating an equitable and just society through the economic empowerment of women.  WEV is a business resource network for anyone looking to start a business, grow a local business, or improve their business skills. WEV provides small business training, advisory services, financial literacy programs and small business loans in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. While WEV’s focus is on women, it welcomes people of all gender identities into the WEV community. Business courses, programs and loans are provided in both English and Spanish.

Since 1991, WEV has provided business training and small business advisory services to more than 19,000 people throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. WEV has made more than $6.4 million in small business loans and helped more than 5,000 local businesses start or expand, generating an estimated $770 million in annual sales and creating nearly 12,000 local jobs.  WEV is a U.S. Small Business Administration’s Women’s Business Center and Microlender, as well as a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). 


NALCAB – National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders – is the hub of a national network of more than 130 mission-driven organizations in 40 states, DC and Puerto Rico that that serve ethnically diverse Latino communities across the US. Members of the NALCAB Network invest in their communities by building affordable housing, addressing gentrification, supporting small business growth, and providing financial counseling on issues such as credit building and home ownership. Our mission is to strengthen the economy by advancing economic mobility in Latino communities. The NALCAB Network serves hundreds of thousands of low and moderate-income people, the vast majority of whom are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

The Curtain Rises Once Again: Ensemble Theatre Company Announces Full Slate of Productions for 2021-22 Season

Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) executive artistic director Jonathan Fox was already talking about reopening when he was interviewed for the original Giving List book connecting philanthropists and nonprofits that we published last November. At this point, to the surprise of no one, six months later that still hasn’t happened as the pandemic pounced once again with a third wave over the winter, resulting in continued lockdowns and scotching any plans to offer even a vastly reduced 2020-21 season.

But the coronavirus crisis only served to confirm Fox’s desire to serve the community — both artistically and otherwise — with whatever ETC could come up with. 

“Like every other organization, we had to think fast to figure out what we could do in lieu of performances with live audiences,” Fox recalled, noting that ETC considered outdoor productions, Zoom readings, and even screening its archive videos as some other Santa Barbara performing arts companies did.

“But I was not very happy with the archived videos that were available to stream because we don’t have the library of, say, the National Theatre in London, and I just didn’t want to present something that I thought was not up to the quality that we are now used to.”

Indeed, figuring out a direction required reexamining the role of theater in a modern society, Fox said.

“I think theaters in general are grappling with the question of, ‘What is our mission?’ Is it to sell tickets to live performances or is it our mission to serve and present theater to the community?”

Fox, of course, opted for the latter, but things still had to happen “in ways that made sense for us,” including measuring up to Fox’s and ETC’s ever-increasing standards of quality as the only professional theater company in Santa Barbara. 

Want to get involved? Scan this QR code with your smartphone’s camera to learn more about the Ensemble Theatre Company.

Initially Fox turned instead to education, one of ETC’s core missions, and turned the Young Playwrights Festival into a virtual program complete with presentations of the student-created, 10-minute plays that culminated months of work including weeks of study and personal guidance from professional playwrights. (Ironically, this year’s Young Playwrights Festival, which aired last weekend, might be the last production to be shown only virtually due to COVID restrictions. The replay is available on demand on ETC’s YouTube channel.)

For the larger community, Fox also arranged a virtual town hall discussion about American Son after ETC’s planned Santa Barbara debut of the gripping Broadway show about racism and the police was the first victim of the lockdown. After the George Floyd killing, subscribers had asked if ETC could offer a play reading, but the rights are controlled by streaming behemoth Netflix. Instead, Fox asked Coffee with a Black Guy’s James Joyce to co-host, and they were joined by more than 100 local residents over Zoom for what Fox called “a very lively discussion, to say the least, about the play but also about racial issues here in Santa Barbara.”

As winter approached, Fox found himself “wanting to give a gift of theater for the season to the community,” and approached the actors’ union about producing an adaptation of A Christmas Carol live with the actors on stage but no audience in the seats. When that fell through at the 11th hour, Fox instead created an enhanced virtual offering that found the actors in modified costumes in their homes, with the intended radio play becoming a little more like a parlor reading, intimate if not quite as interactive.

In February, ETC offered a valentine to the community via connecting local actors Meredith Baxter, Michael Gross, Gregory Harrison,and Amanda McBroom, among others, along with beloved Montecito author T. Coraghessan Boyle, for The Look of Love, a free on-demand streaming program of short tales and music — all meant to offer healing as the pandemic neared its one-year anniversary.

But this wasn’t your typical Zoom issue: longtime ETC-associated helmer Jenny Sullivan directed while professional videography came largely from ETC education director Brian McDonald (although Boyle’s reading of I Walk Between the Raindrops, written in the aftermath of the 2018 debris flow from his Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, was shot by his son). 

“We tried to do something where people weren’t just sitting in front of their computers with their headphones on reading to their iPhones,” Fox said. “It was much more like a performance, although it wasn’t even close to coming to the theater and seeing something live.”

Stretching further, just last month, Fox mounted his most adventurous and ambitious project yet, producing and directing An Iliad, a 100-minute-long version of Homer’s epic poem reimagined for the 21st-century stage as a one-man show. The production featured the return to ETC of the virtuosic actor John Tufts, accompanied by original cello music performed live onstage by Santa Barbara Symphony’s Jonathan Flaksman, with multiple cameras and a highly polished, well-rehearsed presentation, although, again, viewers could only see the searing production via video on their computers, TV screens or other electronic devices.

This last event actually lost money. But that wasn’t the point of producing it, Fox said, alluding to the earlier question of the theater’s mission.

“There were just so many reasons it was worth it to try to do something along those lines,” he explained. “We wanted to see how much interest there was in streaming, and I wanted to work with cameras for the first time. But personally, I got such a joy out of being back in rehearsals for a real live performance. It was definitely a learning experience, but I also thought my instincts were pretty good on how we did it for the camera. 

“We had some people say they wish they could see it live after watching the stream. And we got some feedback that while the production was really high quality, they still really missed the other aspects of going to the theater, being with other people, being inside the space, meeting the actor after the show.”

The productions also reached audiences across the U.S. and beyond, which while not part of ETC’s core mission, can only help with awareness of the company’s excellence and enhance its reputation. Most heartening, Fox said, was a common response.

“We had so many people tell us that they’d almost forgotten how wonderful live theater is and that they were really excited about the Ensemble coming back to the New Vic, which is truly a state-of-the-art theater, a real jewel for the city. It really seemed to whet people’s appetite.” 

Fortunately, that hunger is about to be sated, as ETC has booked a full five-play 2021-22 season that launches in October with Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical starring the decorated actress Linda Purl and featuring a live three-piece band that was supposed to close out the 2019-20 season. Also, on the board is the long delayed, but still timely, debut of American Son, with three more selections yet to be announced. 

Having a full slate to offer was important for Fox, who said he presented the ETC’s board with two different ideas for the season, one vastly scaled back and the other big and bold.

“The majority said, ‘Let’s go big,’” he said. “We want it to be exciting. We want people to know we’re really back. So that’s what we’re planning.”

The next official event, however, is a fundraiser, a benefit to refill some of ETC’s coffers that, while never truly threatened, did see a sinking of levels akin to a moderate drought year’s effect on Cachuma Lake. A campaign over the winter with a goal of $400,000 actually raised more than $460,000, which Fox called “an extraordinary, extraordinary experience because we had so many people who donated telling us we want to make sure that you are coming back.”

That result was among the strongest evidence of community engagement that buoyed the executive artistic director during the pandemic. 

“We could not have survived this past year, past 15 months, without the financial and emotional support of our community,” Fox said simply. 

ETC will celebrate its re-opening with Curtain (Back) Up! on August 15, the title playing off the Curtain Up gala that heralded the opening of the theater’s home at The New Vic almost a decade ago.

Guests will gather in the garden at the Santa Barbara Club for appetizers followed by a sit-down dinner inside the club before returning to the garden for dessert and an auction, as well as entertainment provided by faculty and graduate students from the music department of UCSB. At the event, Ensemble will also be awarding its first-ever Extraordinary Awards to patrons of ETC who have made exemplary contributions of time, talent, and support over the years. The initial recipients being celebrated on August 15 are Debby and Peter Stalker, Derek Westen, and Dana White.

Single tickets are available for the event at $300; visit https://etcsb.org/support for details and other ways to arrange tax-deductible donations that subsidize ticket prices, fund education outreach programs, and support artistic freedom.

But even before the August 15 fundraiser, community members can show their support by purchasing season tickets to ETC 2021-22, which can go a long way toward indicating that the ambitious program will be rewarded. 

“No one really knows how many people will be coming back or if they will need more time before they do come back,” Fox said. “We don’t know at what level or how close we’re going to get to where we were before the pandemic, both in terms of ticket sales and rentals of the theater. It’s going to take a while to build back that business. So, the community’s financial support is as important as ever. Season ticket sales will tell us that we are on track to getting back.”

Website: https://etcsb.org
How to contact: 805-965-5400 •MJ

Showing its MOXI: Innovative Spirit Helps Organization Continue to Support Children’s Quest for Knowledge

Every organization had to pivot to produce programs during the pandemic. But for the MOXI museum, innovation comes with the territory. Indeed, that’s what the “I” in the nonprofit’s name (Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation) stands for. 

“What the pandemic forced us to do is to take what we do best — which is hands-on, interactive science learning — and translate it into a virtual environment,” explained Robin Gose, MOXI’s executive director. “We were very passionate about making sure we did it, because we were watching as kids were Zooming in from home, and realizing that they, especially elementary school kids, need that human interaction and hands-on learning. We had to find a way to continue to offer things that worked in the remote learning environment so that their minds continue to stay engaged with design thinking and creative problem solving.”

Sounds simple enough, and not at all unlike what everybody else was trying to do to cope with the COVID crisis. But how exactly does one go about duplicating the kind of hands-on experience MOXI is famous for when you’re not allowed to get within six feet of one another? 

Hello, innovation. 

And welcome Virtual Design Labs, a creative concept that calls for a MOXI staffer to Zoom in live with the teacher and the students to creatively present some type of a challenge related to a museum exhibit. 

“It’s interactive,” Gose explained. “The kids get to see the exhibit; they get to talk with the staffer, and we make it really fun.”

For Quiet Quest, the project is called The Sneakiest Sneaker where the kids — part of a class, homeschool group, or learning pod — come up with a design to invent something where they can walk as quietly as possible. There’s even a sound meter to measure success. 

“The students can take any shoe, a sneaker, a flip flop or just something they make out of cardboard and use all different kinds of materials to design it to be quiet,” Gose said. “It’s a very open-ended exploration. Will it be quiet if you wrap toilet paper around it? Or if you glue on cotton balls? Or wrap it in a kitchen towel?

“The kids get really excited for using materials that they have at home, and it becomes a really fun challenge. It’s all about getting the kids to be excited about trying to solve a problem and being creative with what they’re building without having to use any special tools or materials.”

The Case of the Missing Tracks, which connects to the popular Roll It exhibit — that’s the one with tracks supported by moveable pegs attached to a wall that kept this correspondent occupied for nearly an hour during a pre-pandemic visit — asks the students to come up with a solution to keep the ball rolling even though the tracks and pegs are gone. With guidance from their teacher and staffers, the kids build and test prototype “ball coasters” or chutes and ramps. 

“The students can use an old paper towel tube, a magazine, or whatever they find that might work,” said Gose. “Their homes become a toolbox, with the challenge to design ramps that will take the place of the ‘stolen’ tracks. It’s fun and it’s playful and it gets the kids engaged that also offers a direct connection to what the teachers are teaching.” 

While Virtual Design Labs have a nominal fee, the museum has also been offering free MOXI at Home Activity Guides that are also all connected to motion and related to exhibits at MOXI, including the McMillan + Kenny Families Fantastic Forces Courtyard and the Muzzy Family Speed Track. Among the downloadable PDFs utilizing items that you can easily find at your house is one showing how to build a guitar out of cardboard and string, which proved popular among both teachers and parents. A homemade water wheel evokes the whitewater exhibit on MOXI’s rooftop.

“You’re building some type of a contraption with very easily accessible materials and there’s no one right way to create the thing,” said Gose. “It’s about getting kids off of screens and using their hands and heads to keep creativity alive.” 

It’s this latter part that, while already part of MOXI’s mission to ignite learning through interactive experiences in science and creativity, has taken on added importance during the pandemic, as the museum’s aim is to steer kids toward the skills of STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — that make up the bulk of what will be necessary for the jobs of the future, which seems a lot closer after COVID. 

“We wanted the students to hopefully maintain their academic rigor, but also connect with the real educational philosophy of MOXI, which is focusing on the 21st century skills — critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration,” Gose explained. “We do that through the theme of STEM, but it’s really those four core competencies that can transfer to any profession and any problem. When they’re faced with a challenge such as housing insecurity in a community, or another pandemic, a rise in the sea level or other results of climate change, having those core competencies and those essential skills, they’re equipped to innovate.”

The Power of MOXI

MOXI’s Virtual Design Lab programs challenge students to solve a design problem connected to one of the museum’s exhibits like Quiet Quest


Then perhaps you’d like to take advantage of a great opportunity to learn mid-month via “The Power of MOXI,” the museum’s annual spring luncheon that will take place virtually. The one-hour event starting at noon on May 18, will provide information for both current supporters and potential new friends to learn more about MOXI’s impactful learning experiences. It will also delve into how the museum creates equitable access to its programs, ensuring that all children are empowered to pursue their interests in STEM and perhaps become the future problem solvers and innovators the world needs more than ever. 

And, because it’s MOXI — with an I for innovation — the event won’t just be one talking head the whole time, instead featuring live presentations with staffers, some prerecorded segments and a few videos, all designed to keep the community interested in the museum that just reopened last week. 

“People will see how important this type of learning is for the teachers and the students, because we all want a future where we are happy and helping, and our planet is happy and healthy,” Gose said.

The event will also feature the first annual Moxie Award to an individual or organization in the community in gratitude for extraordinary support of the museum’s mission, said Martha Swanson, MOXI’s director of marketing and communications. 

“I can’t tell you who the winner is before that day, but it’s someone who without whom MOXI probably wouldn’t exist. So, we’re excited to honor and recognize a special person, and we’re excited that we’re going to start a new tradition that we hope to carry on in future years.”

There is no cost to attend the luncheon, though the first 100 guests to register will receive a delicious free meal delivered to your home or workplace.

Everyone will have the opportunity to support MOXI’s Education Fund, raising critical support for the museum’s STEM education and accessibility programs. Those wanting to have a bigger impact can contact amanda.allen@moxi.org or call (805) 770-5003 to inquire about sponsorship or to make a pre- or post-luncheon gift to the Education Fund. Community volunteers are also needed to deliver the free meals; visit www.moxi.org/springluncheon for details.  

For other ways of supporting MOXI, including the Innovator Circles of Giving, its annual giving program, corporate partners and special projects, visit www.moxi.org.

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.

One805 Four Years Later, Nonprofit Continues to Kick Ash

Everybody in town likely knows about One805. Sure, they’re the organization who three years ago created the “Kick Ash Bash,” mounting the massive benefit concert as a way of thanking both the firefighters whose brave stand against the Thomas Fire in December 2017 saved untold homes in Montecito, as well as honoring the already weary first responders who had barely had a break before having to jump once more into the fray to help rescue many Montecito neighbors when a 100-year storm flooded the burnt hillside resulting in the devastating debris flow a few weeks later. 

The day-night celebration in late February brought out the Goleta-born/Montecito resident turned international pop star Katy Perry and a whole host of other celebrities with connections to the area. Brief speeches from the likes of Montecito residents Dennis Miller, Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Connors, and Jane Seymour, plus fire chiefs and other first responders delivered during set changes for musical performances by Kenny Loggins, Alan Parsons, Katharine McPhee, Richard Marx, Wilson Phillips, Glen Phillips, Dishwalla, David Foster, and more. The evening “After Bash” was hosted by Academy Award-winning actor Michael Keaton and featured David Crosby and the Sky Trails joined by Iration, Robby Krieger of the Doors, the Caverns, and others. 

But the Bash also had another benefit that went beyond gratitude: raising funds to better equip the first responders to meet natural disasters, as well as offering counseling services and victim relief. So, while scenes from that stirring event still reverberate in our collective memories, what also has had a lingering impact around town is the three custom mobile command units One805 purchased from $2 million in proceeds to donate to the police, fire, and sheriff departments.  

It wasn’t just the gifts that have made a difference, though, explained Angela Binetti Schmidt, the nonprofit’s executive director. 

“The different departments said, this is amazing that we’re all talking and we’re collaborating, and learning from each other,” she said. “They told us they wished it could continue because it makes it easier for all of us to do our jobs better.”

That cemented the idea of turning One805 into an ongoing nonprofit that officially became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in late 2019, founded by executive committee members Richard Weston-Smith, Eric Phillips, and John J. Thyne. The trio meet periodically with an advisory council consisting of the 11 department heads to field funding requests and collaborate on the decisions of what to allocate. 

Its first full-year grant awards in 2019 included a tactical robot to be shared between the Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Team and the city police SWAT team, as well as a modem for the County Fire Chief’s Association Incident Management Team. 

Three QRET Helicopter Harnesses for the County Sheriff/Fire Air Operations Unit were the biggest items in the 2020 grant awards in February, all meant to fill in the spaces where needed equipment projects can fall through the cracks due to arduous budget processes or other issues. 

“Technology moves so fast, and it’s important that our departments have the equipment and technology to protect public safety,” she said. “And even if they had all the funding in the world, it’s like molasses to get things passed through the budget, which takes a year just to apply. So, if we donate it, they can get it immediately.”

Which leads us to the current grant requests that the One805 board approved in February: a rescue rope system for $3,700; various drones to assist in remote rescues and other emergency situations at a cost of $14,000; purchase of the Rosetta Stone language development program to assist first responders in communicating with non-English speakers for $1,890; the aforementioned face shields and helmets to be used during larger group events involving protests for $5,500; four rescue struts that assist in extrication from vehicles and structures for $11,000; advanced technological products to assist with criminal investigations for $14,500; and a portion of the costs for the helicopter that supports the county first responder agencies for $35,000.

The Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flow in 2018 brought about the need for One805, which continues to raise funds to aid the community with its various needs

Nothing terribly glamorous. But things don’t have to be monumental or cost mega-bucks in order to matter. 

“We have to be conservative because we weren’t able to do our fundraiser in 2020 because of the pandemic, and we wanted to respect the other nonprofits and what’s going on with a lot of donors who have diverted their funds to coronavirus relief,” said Binetti Schmidt. 

“So, it is pretty small, but these things are really impactful. When first responders are interacting with the general public, there’s some language barriers where the program could really make a difference. We found out the face shields matter during the George Floyd protests that turned violent in Santa Maria last summer. And those tech products really help because you can’t have the bad guys having better equipment and better technology than our departments.”  

What makes the current list even more exciting, Binetti Schmidt said, is that the requested items speak to one of One805’s tenets. 

“Collaboration and efficiency really meet our goal of wanting things that we donate to be fully utilized and shared,” she said. 

Take note that One805 is not dormant in between considering the equipment requests from first responder organizations. In fact, in times of crisis, the nonprofit can be something of a first responder itself. 

That’s what happened when COVID came to town. Within a few days of the first lockdown orders in March 2020, One805 – knowing that the official first responders were once again serving on the front lines while the rest of us sheltered at home – immediately began seeking donations of critical supplies including masks, gloves, liquid hand sanitizer, and protective medical clothing to distribute to medical and police, fire and other public safety departments throughout the county. Later they purchased and distributed 45 electronic defoggers for all the departments in the county to help sanitize public spaces and indoor environments to fight COVID.

“As an emergency response organization, we’re on the forefront in collaborating with the departments all over the county because that’s exactly what happened after the debris flow,” said Binetti Schmidt, explaining that having family in Washington State, where the virus first showed up, helped her to know what was coming. 

“That’s why we were created. There are always a lot of missing pieces in bringing the community together and quickly responding.” 

The nascent nonprofit’s nimbleness comes from the experience of its founders – each of whom had spent time previously on the boards of many nonprofits while Binetti Schmidt is the organization’s only paid employee. 

“We brought what we’d learned before into One805,” she explained. “And even before the virus, we were operating mostly virtually.”  

Now, as increased vaccinations are bringing hope of an eventual end to the pandemic, One805 would love to stage another big benefit event for the community, perhaps in the late summer or early fall, Binetti Schmidt. But in the meantime, there’s the $85,000 in approved requests to fulfil.  

“We’re just hoping this article speaks to people and that they are willing to help,” she said. “Maybe they want to underwrite one of the specific requests. Or they have a lead where we can get drones at cost, for example.”

A large donor taking care of all of this year’s latest requests would be dandy. But the gestures don’t have to be grand. In keeping with its mission to unite the community, One805’s memberships start at just $25, and come with swag you can wear proudly around town — or rather will be able to show off in public as the pandemic restrictions continue to ease. 

But no matter what happens with COVID or whatever nature has in mind for us next, One805 will be ready to support our first responders in keeping us safe, Binetti Schimdt said. 

“If there’s a need that arises, we want to do what we can.”

CALM is for Kids

April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, so naturally our very own Child Abuse Listening Mediation has some special activities planned. CALM is half-a-century old and the only nonprofit in Santa Barbara County that specializes in the prevention and treatment of childhood trauma. This organization, just like every other nonprofit, has had to forgo its typical fundraising events in the wake of our global coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, it’s had to postpone November’s 50th anniversary gala, “Lighting the Way;” its seafood soirée “Crabfest for CALM;” the CALM Auxiliary’s quarterly Antiques, Decorative Arts & Vintage Show and Sale at the Earl Warren Showgrounds; and even its special event, “Courage & Resilience: An Afternoon with Elizabeth Smart,” with the victim of one of the more notorious child abduction cases. Smart’s ongoing recovery stands as an inspiration for human perseverance in the wake of horrific trauma.

Instead, while Ladies Get Loud 2021 will still happen as a virtual “Night In” at the end of April, that month’s events will focus less on fundraising and more on CALM’s ambitious agenda to lead. It plans on developing and implementing trauma-informed, evidence-based programs and services that treat child abuse and promote healing as well as programs that have proven successful in preventing childhood trauma through strengthening and supporting the family. 

So “Inside CALM” has transitioned from open houses into a series of short virtual presentations held on Facebook Live. Here, it broadcasts information about therapy modalities and innovative programs that are open to anyone, and it hosts a Q&A. These will be open to the public. CALM’s Facebook and Instagram sites will also host a month-long social media campaign focused on building resilience and strengthening families; these feature a daily dose of practical tips. And its online Community Conversation Series resumes late April with a webinar about the bell curve of trauma that our community will face as it moves into the post-pandemic phase. Fortunately, CALM will focus on what the next few years of mental-health awareness will look like, and how the organization anticipates treating our community’s needs.

In truth, imagining a better future is nothing new to CALM; the nonprofit has always envisioned a time when childhood trauma becomes a thing of the past. Under the five-year-long stewardship of President and CEO Alana Walczak, the organization has continued to evolve from its origins as a volunteer-staffed “warm line” for stressed parents in Santa Barbara, to a well-trained therapeutic staff of more than 100 specialists across the county. CALM’s prevention and positive-parenting programs have doubled in size since 2003; they take up more than half of its budget and staff’s time. Its approach stems from understanding that strengthening the entire family is the best way to prevent the abuse of a child.

“A lot of people don’t realize that CALM has really shifted its focus,” Walczak said. “We will always be here for kids and families in Santa Barbara County, we will always provide clinical therapy sessions. But now, 50% of our work is prevention, and working with families that have risk factors for trauma before the trauma occurs. We want to load up those families with support and education and resources to prevent harm from happening.” 

Such an ambitious endeavor doesn’t come easily, even for a seasoned organization, Walczak said.

“When you’re trying to move the needle on such a complex issue as preventing and treating childhood trauma, no one organization can do that on its own. If we want to see long-lasting change – the third part of our mission is to build resilient communities – we have to work in partnership with other organizations that serve children and families. That’s why we’re starting to see ourselves as a social service agency that will absolutely serve every single child that comes to us for clinical services. But we’ll also work within systems to really anchor permanent changes.” 

CALM has created partnerships with preschools, universities, medical centers, social sector agencies, and local governments

CALM has created partnerships with preschools, universities, medical centers, social sector agencies, and local governments. The organization has a presence in pediatric clinics and in 33 learning centers. It acts as the preferred mental health provider for Santa Barbara Unified School District and has a presence in every school in that district, from pre-K through sixth grade, Walczak said.

It’s all about helping other systems become “trauma-informed environments,” said Ashlyn McCague, CALM’s Director of Development. That means helping teachers and administrators at our schools understand what motivates the behaviors of “difficult” students in classrooms.

“They’re probably not kids just who are trying to ruin their teacher’s day,” she explained. It might be that Bobby just left home where daddy was beating up mommy or where mom was so depressed, that she hasn’t gotten out of bed for three days, leaving the young boy to feed his younger siblings. Then the child comes to morning circle and he’s unable to sit still or he’s hitting his friends. Maybe he’s demonstrating signs of a trauma but doesn’t have the words to explain it.

Similarly, CALM knows how important it is for pediatricians to know about the trauma history of a baby’s parents so that they can discern where the family’s challenges and vulnerabilities might be. In those cases, CALM can provide parenting or therapeutic support to help the family develop a new, healthy path.

“It’s kind of blowing the frameworks of those professionals up a bit,” Walczak said. “It’s about helping to educate everyone. Teachers are teachers, not mental health professionals, but they’re dealing with mental health issues all the time. For example, some of it is just helping them understand a bit about the brain chemistry of trauma.”

Nowadays, CALM is blowing up outdated ideas in the general population by putting effort into letting the community know that it serves everyone, all kids and families who are at risk for trauma. 

“There’s the stereotype that we only work with families from the lower east side of Santa Barbara,” Walczak said. “Yes, the majority of our clients are Latinx, and most of our clinicians are bilingual to make sure that no matter what language you speak, we can provide quality trauma treatment. But there are a lot of other communities that need support, too. One of the pediatric clinics we’re embedded in now is Sansum, and everybody seems to go there. For upper-middle-income families, it’s sometimes even harder to access services because nobody expects them to be really struggling. Who do they tell? There’s so much secrecy and our culture doesn’t create space for folks of all economic classes or races to have needs. We’re trying to debunk that myth, and to make sure that everybody has access to the help that they need.”

CALM has also been quick to respond to the challenges of the pandemic, pivoting to virtual services in the course of just three days last March, and taking a look at its own protocols in the wake of last summer’s protests about racial justice. 

“Like many organizations over the last year, we’ve been really looking at diversity equity and inclusion,” explained McCague. “A lot of clinical work comes from the field of psychology, which has been historically a very white, upper-echelon group. There are new modalities that are coming out of communities of color. We’re exploring them so that we can serve our own diverse community in the county. Having modalities that reflect the people with whom we’re working is really important to us.”

What it all adds up to for CALM is that every month is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The nonprofit’s mission to eradicate childhood trauma is an ongoing effort that never ebbs, and one that has economic as well as health and societal benefits.

“Identifying, treating and healing trauma as early as possible saves everyone a lot of pain and money in the end,” McCague said. 

To learn more about CALM, visit CALM4kids.org or call (805) 965-2376.

Four Local Leaders Join Leading From Within Board

Four new members – Katya Armistead, Ashley Costa, Alma Hernández, and Kiah Jordan – have joined the Board of Directors of Leading From Within, marking an important transition as the 12-year-old nonprofit expands its board by one member and embarks on a strategic plan in 2021.

Leading From Within’s volunteer Board of Directors works closely with the organization’s Executive Director and president to oversee and support the nonprofit’s commitment to its mission to invest in people who drive and create change in Santa Barbara County.

“We are no longer a start-up organization,” said Edward France, Executive Director of Leading From Within. “It’s a testament to Leading From Within that trustees with great depth of experience would say yes to joining our Board. Each new member contributes to civic leadership for our community in their own way, and they are complementing the whole of our board of directors in coming together to support leadership programs that improve our communities.”

Katya Armistead

Katya Armistead, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Student Life at UC Santa Barbara

As the Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Student Life at UC Santa Barbara, Katya Armistead serves as the control point for ten Student Affairs departments and works on special projects often related to campus climate and diversity. Armistead also teaches a leadership course at the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education and is a certified trainer for The Leadership Challenge® Workshop, a research-based curriculum that she co-facilitates at Leading From Within. Armistead’s involvement with Leading From Within dates back to her participation in the Katherine Harveys Fellows program more than a decade ago. She also serves on Leading From Within’s alumni committee and participates in one of the organization’s peer learning circles.

“I have so enjoyed my work with Leading From Within and have personally received so much value through my involvement with the organization,” said Armistead. “It’s an honor to be part of the Board.” 

Katya brings more than 30 years’ experience in education to her Board position, as well as her perspective as a woman of color who is passionate about and experienced in supporting issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I think it’s important to have thoughtful yet challenging conversations that we may have avoided,” she said. “It’s critical to engage in civic dialogue and provide spaces to amplify voices that are not often heard. Leading From Within recognizes the value of this work.”

Armistead is also a member of the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs’ executive committee and a member of the Chancellor’s Senior Officers’ group. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology in 1988 and her doctorate degree in Educational Leadership in 2012, both from UC Santa Barbara. She served for a decade on the Board (including as co-chair) for the nonprofit Family Service Agency. Katya has been a mentor for CADA’s Fighting Back Mentor Program, and helped create and is a mentor for The Fund for Santa Barbara’s Youth Making Change program. When she isn’t working or volunteering, Katya enjoys early-morning walks, reading, and dining out.

Ashley Costa

Ashley Costa, Executive Director of the Lompoc Valley Community Healthcare Organization

Ashley Costa is the Executive Director of the Lompoc Valley Community Healthcare Organization which facilitates the Healthy Lompoc Coalition, a partnership of local leaders and volunteers working together to improve the health of Lompoc Valley residents. Some of the nonprofit’s greatest accomplishments include collaborating on a volunteer committee and partnering to raise $1.6 million toward the capital overhaul of a community track and field in Lompoc. Costa’s organization has also served as advisor and participant to the Santa Barbara County Food Action Plan and for the past six years has worked in partnership with the Santa Barbara Foundation to better assist seniors and caregivers in the Lompoc Valley.

Costa participated in the Emerging Leaders Program at a pivotal time in her young career and she credits the Leading From Within program with giving her the confidence and courage to step into a larger role and accept her first-ever Executive Director position.

“I was just 28 years old and considering the transition to Executive Director,” explained Costa. “The Emerging Leaders program was so impactful in not only providing skills and leadership development but also in building my confidence and network, which ultimately gave me the encouragement that I needed to accept that promotion.”

Having now spent six years in her Executive Director role, Costa said she’s delighted to have the opportunity to give back to Leading From Within. 

“It’s refreshing that Leading From Within genuinely wants to learn from my experiences and I know I’m not just checking a box and filling a Board seat but will be respected and engaged for my ideas and opinions,” said Costa.  

In addition to sharing her ideas, Costa hopes to bring the North- and Mid-County perspectives to the board room and to cultivate leadership in the Lompoc Valley.

“There’s a silver lining to the unprecedented times that we find ourselves in, driving us to be more innovative and flexible, and more accepting of change,” said Costa. “It’s an exciting time to be joining a board that is leaning into this unchartered space.”

A native of Lompoc, Ashley graduated from UCLA in 2009 with a B.S. in Political Science. She was elected to the Lompoc City Council in 2010 and served until 2014. Ashley began working with the Healthy Lompoc Coalition as a volunteer in 2010 and as Director of Community Health in 2013. Two years later she accepted the role of Executive Director. Costa practices what she preaches as a fitness enthusiast. She loves working out in her home gym and hiking with her husband and dalmatian.

Alma Hernández 

Alma Hernández, District Representative for County Supervisor Joan Hartmann

Alma Hernández has over 20 years’ experience working in rural, largely immigrant, communities developing leadership through cooperative efforts and by placing community members at the forefront of decision-making processes. She currently serves as a District Representative for County Supervisor Joan Hartmann, where she has worked for the past three years building leadership opportunities for underserved populations. 

“Local government doesn’t necessarily reflect our population, especially in the North County,” explained Hernández. “We need to create pathways that enable our Latinx community to make connections, access resources, and gain confidence in their skills.” Hernández is dedicated to increasing diversity in leadership and ensuring that all voices are respected and heard. She will bring this expertise and passion to Leading From Within.

“I am excited to join the Board of Leading From Within, where I hope to expand the network of North County and Latinx leadership,” said Hernández.

As a graduate of Leading From Within’s Leading for Community Impact program, Hernández knows firsthand the transformational power of the nonprofit’s programs. She participated in the cohort while working as director of Guadalupe’s Little House by the Park, where her focus included the promotion of open, communal, multicultural, and artistic spaces. She credits her Leading for Community Impact “passion project” with giving her the confidence and providing guidance to help her work in collaboration with others to successfully establish Santa Maria’s first Cultural and Creative Arts Center. Hernández said she worked closely with community partners to create an open and safe space for teens to connect and express themselves through art.

Hernández has also served as chair of the Dune’s Center Internal Affairs Committee and Board, Vice President on the CAUSE Board of Directors and as a Board Member for The Fund for Santa Barbara. She was born in Arizona to a first-generation immigrant family from Mexico and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Cal Poly and a Master’s in Public Administration from Cal State Northridge. In her spare time Hernández loves the outdoors, hiking, biking, and running.

Kiah Jordan

Kiah Jordan, founder of Impact Family Office

Kiah Jordan is the founder of Impact Family Office, a family office dedicated to aligning clients’ financial resources with their values to generate the greatest impact. Jordan works with clients, supporting their objectives while implementing long-term perspectives on the impact of, not only his clients’ balance sheets, but also their succession plans, wealth transfer plans, and philanthropic engagement.

Prior to starting Impact Family Office, Jordan worked for Santa Barbara Capital, a real estate investment firm, and it was during this time that he completed his Certified Financial Planner™ designation and found a passion for applying a holistic planning perspective to personal finances and business operations. 

An advocate for socially conscious ventures and entrepreneurship, Jordan dedicates much of his time to start-ups and organizations that benefit the Central Coast, including Leading From Within. He graduated from the Katherine Harvey Fellows program at Leading From Within and remains involved with the organization through peer learning circles and alumni networks.

“Leading From Within was extremely beneficial in helping me think through my contributions in the community,” commented Jordan, who credits the nonprofit with helping leaders apply their passions and talents to improve the communities they serve.

Jordan brings a keen and creative financial lens to his work at Leading From Within. His educational background transcends the nonprofit and for-profit realms while his work bridges fiduciary and philanthropic worlds. He says this cross-sectional experience will benefit Leading From Within which similarly straddles and serves diverse sectors.

“Leading From Within promotes leadership growth in the for-profit, nonprofit and social sectors, and I hope that my experience thinking strategically across these industries will help the organization blend these distinct worlds in effective and innovative ways.”

Jordan is a founding board member of the Sustainable Change Alliance and serves on the Executive Committee for the Santa Barbara County Food Action Network, and on the board of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. Additionally, he is a National Certified Guardian by the Center for Guardianship Certification and a licensed Professional Fiduciary by the California Professional Fiduciaries Bureau. Kiah graduated from Westmont College, where he now serves as an adjunct professor. He completed his master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. 

Outside of the office, Kiah enjoys outdoor adventures with his wife and three children and plays soccer in a local recreation league. He and his wife recently recertified as a resource family for children in the Santa Barbara foster care system.

Founded in 2008, Leading From Within invests in people who drive and create change in Santa Barbara County. Its leadership programs, alumni education, and impact networks cultivate leaders who are renewed, prepared, connected and collaborating for the greater good. For more information, visit http://leading-from-within.org.

New Beginnings

When COVID-19 first closed down in-person meetings, everyone hurried to figure out online opportunities. But New Beginnings Counseling Center (NBCC) had a leg up, having already nearly completed a partial pivot to Zoom before the pandemic opened the floodgates toward the platform. 

It turns out the nonprofit had recognized a need to find a way to serve community members suffering from mental health challenges who, for distance, logistical, or other reasons, aren’t able to come into the clinic’s downtown Santa Barbara offices. So when COVID hit, the 50-year-old nonprofit benefitted from having already partnered with Zoom to provide a platform on virtual counseling sessions for those in need.  

“It was sheer dumb luck that we’d already made that deal and received a grant to develop and implement a telehealth counseling system countywide to help people who weren’t able to comes to us,” said Executive Director Kristine Schwarz. “It was important to reach people who wouldn’t be able to get counseling otherwise.”  

Still the pandemic made the niche program look microscopic in comparison to the burgeoning demand for online services once the lockdown prevented nearly all in-person meetings from taking place.  

“We had just developed the foundational aspects, the operating manual, the structure for this kind of a program just as the COVID (crisis) happened,” Schwarz explained. “We had just literally pressed the button to start it and suddenly we had to train every one of our counselors on how to do sessions online all at the same time. And we surely hadn’t anticipated having to transition every single client to telehealth.” 

The good news is that New Beginnings did have the protocols and the manual already in place, so ramping up was reasonable. And when other agencies reached out to NBCC and asked to take a look at what they’d done, Schwarz said, NBCC “were very happy to share whatever relevant information could help.”

Of course, transitioning to Zoom has been just one of the adjustments New Beginnings Counseling Center has had to make to cope with COVID, said Development Director Michael Berton. “Mental health was already a huge and growing need in our community as people are looking for access to services. And with COVID, we’ve had a huge uptake in clients who are reaching out at the same time we’ve also received a request for reductions in fees due to job losses by our clients,” he said. “We’ve taken a big hit in clinic income because our mission is to not turn anyone away for inability to pay. But we continue to stand strong in the counseling center and offer those services.”

Of course, that’s nothing new for NBCC, which has come up with several important new programs during its half a century in town, including Safe Parking, its innovative Shelter and Rapid Rehousing Program that provides safe overnight parking to individuals and families living in their vehicle since 2004. Safe Parking has served as a model for dozens of other communities throughout the country and currently manages more than 150 spaces in 26 parking lots throughout Santa Barbara, Goleta, and the neighboring unincorporated areas of the county, toward the goal of ending homelessness for individuals, families, and veterans. 

NBCC’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which operates from a housing first model to help end veteran homelessness within Santa Barbara County, has also had challenges with the pandemic, including an immediate need to shelter 16 chronically homeless former servicemen who suddenly had to shelter in place.

COVID caused other havoc, taxing NBCC’s staff, who nevertheless stepped up in innovating ways, according to Schwarz. 

“The last year was like triage, with constant crises every day,” she said. “I was always wondering, what’s today’s catastrophe going to be?”

Dozens of NBCC’s clients and other vulnerable members of the community either from homelessness or with mental health issues had all of their support essentially pulled out from under them, Schwarz said, necessitating handling whatever emergency presented itself, Schwarz said. 

“Almost immediately we had people coming to us saying, ‘I have no food, I have no place to go to the bathroom.’ So I was going to Ralphs at seven in the morning twice a week for five months getting literally baskets of food. The other thing that was a huge effort is using the CARES funds to put medically frail people into motels. We’re up to about sixty of them over the last ten months, so we built new partnerships with Holiday Inns and Super to get people off the street.” 

The astonishing part is that New Beginnings has been handling all this while dealing with a significant reduction in financial support, to the tune of a more than 70 percent drop in income from the counseling clinic at one point last year, Schwarz said. “That’s our main source of earned income for the agency. But almost everybody asked for a fee reduction and you can’t say no.”  

That’s because, not surprisingly, the need is greater than ever, she said.  

“For the second quarter in a row during COVID, we’ve seen an increase in the level of distress, even with clients receiving counseling. That’s never happened in the nine years I’ve been here. There’s been an overall decrease in symptomatology but we do assessments every eight weeks to see how people are doing, and almost everyone is really stressed.” 

Meanwhile, New Beginnings is facing reductions in potential funding from the second round federal aid due to technicalities. Meaning donations can really help ease some of the burden at the moment.  

“Donations from people really do help us to continue to support those who really need a lot of assistance and don’t have any money, whether it’s counseling, or rental assistance or food,” Schwarz said. “There’s only so much to go around. And the more resources we have, the more we can help more people who really, really don’t have any.”

New Beginnings | (805) 963-7777 | https://sbnbcc.org

Easy Lift

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.”

Ernesto Paredes, Easy Lift’s executive director, with Ron Werft, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cottage Health

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

Easy Lift
(805) 681-1181


It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that to many folks in our community, everyone who works at AHA! could be called a hero. After all, the Santa Barbara nonprofit equips teenagers – and often their teachers and parents – with social and emotional intelligence, using the five pillars of mindfulness, awareness, connection, empathy, and resilience to dismantle apathy, prevent despair, and interrupt hate-based behavior. 

Over its 22 years, AHA!, which stands for Attitude-Harmony-Achievement, has provided social-emotional learning (SEL) to more than 25,000 students at local middle and high schools, producing stunning self-esteem raising results that not only have reduced violent incidents on school campuses but also dramatically improved the lives of teenagers and those they touch, all from a staff that alumni almost universally praise as caring, dedicated, and graceful. Talk about heroic!

But heroes are also the catchword for the new program AHA! has produced in response to the pandemic shutting down the possibility of in-person connection on campuses and at its headquarters – the mainstay of its normal in- and after-school programs, which have largely migrated to online. Seeking a way to bring large groups of students together for online gatherings to provide hope, inspiration, positivity, and a sense of purpose as well as connection to help students cope in these decidedly isolating times, the nonprofit came up with the AHA! Hero Assemblies for the new academic year. 

The virtual assemblies feature short video presentations from selected speakers drawn from a wide variety of celebrities, many with local connections, including actors Mary Louise Parker, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Dakota Lotus, author-newsman Van Jones, former Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Pat McElroy, civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, activist-filmmaker Valarie Kaur, and about 120 others. The program starts with one or two videos from the luminaries who have been filmed offering thoughtful, heartfelt (but non-politically partisan) answers to the question: “What does a hero look like to you these days?” 

After watching the video, the students and teachers join small breakout groups of no more than seven participants where an AHA! facilitator leads discussions addressing related questions about character, facing adversity, social inclusion, and community. 

“It’s just a really great way to connect deeply with one another and talk about what it means to be a hero, and access that part of yourself,” said Molly Green, AHA!’s Development Director and one of its facilitators. “We talk about how you can be a hero even if you’re struggling yourself, and discuss what ways people have shown up for you and how you like to show up for others. Every person in the group answers the questions in these little connection circles.”

Then everyone returns to the big group and watches another set of videos before re-joining the breakout session for another series of questions that go a little bit deeper, Green said.  

“What we want the teens to recognize is that every single person has a seed within them to step up and be a hero,” she said. “One of the people on the videos said sometimes being a hero is just getting out of bed in the morning. That is a really valuable lesson for young people who might be feeling so much anxiety just to recognize that there are things that they can do in their lives every day that makes them a hero. It’s about how they can help their family, their school community, and the wider community, just getting them to think about how they can be empowered even by helping their parents do the dishes, which can really make a big difference because parents are struggling along with everybody else. Shifting the focus on individual responsibility and initiative is a really powerful message.”

The 75-minute AHA! Hero Assemblies – which each encompass 170 participants at a time plus 25-28 staff members – have proved popular across the board, Green said. “Administrators, teachers, and students all just really, really love it. Students are saying it’s the first time that they’re able to have any kind of intimate connection with others in their grade, many of whom they may have never met before because they’re in a new school. Because they’re being vulnerable and really open in these small groups of their peers, it just binds them together in a way that they haven’t had an opportunity to do in an (online) classroom.”

The AHA! Hero Assemblies have already reached thousands of students across campuses in town and the organization has plans to expand to other schools across the county, as well as, perhaps, around the country, since Zoom has no distance issues. Non-school connected adults will also have their first opportunity to get a taste of the program on February 18 when AHA! hosts its first assembly open to the general public. Green said that the event, which will be offered twice during the evening, will serve as a fundraiser only via a “soft ask” at the end as admission is free. 

Donations are more than welcome, Green said, noting that AHA! has had to cancel all of its fundraising events – including the annual Sing It Out performance at the Lobero – for the foreseeable future. But awareness and community connection are more important. 

“We want adults to experience the same thing that the teens have been getting,” she said. “That’s always the best way to sell our programs in anything we do.” 

(Visit www.ahasb.org to find out more about any of AHA!’s programs. Email Green at Molly@ahasb.org for details about the public AHA! Hero Assemblies.)

Philanthropy Spotlight: MLKSB

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee of Santa Barbara chose the theme for its 14th annual observance of the holiday celebrating the birthday of the slain civil rights leader back in early April. That was just a couple of weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic brought California’s first lockdown, more than a month before George Floyd’s killing led to the Black Lives Matter marches and racial justice protests of spring and summer, several months before it became clear that Blacks and other racial minorities were among the hardest hit populations affected by the continuing coronavirus crisis, and most assuredly before last week’s shocking insurrection at the U.S. Capitol received a far different response than the BLM gatherings had. 

Still, King’s observation that “The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy” sure does seem prescient for last year’s milestone events.   

“More than ever Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words are as prophetic now as they were more than fifty years ago when he said (them),” says E Onja Brown, president of the committee, noting that the mostly young people protesting the death of an unarmed man whose life was brutally taken by those sworn to defend us faced plenty of their own challenges. 

 “Despite being in the midst of a pandemic, [so many people participated in] one of the longest and most persistent protests ever illustrated the demand for systemic changes,” says Brown, whose introduction to Dr. King was standing just steps away when the civil rights leader delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. in 1963.

But perhaps it’s also true that Dr. King’s words are just so timeless that any moment in our nation’s long history of oppressing those who are less privileged would seem a more than appropriate time to consider the courage of standing bold in the face of challenge and controversy. 

And that’s a big part of MLKCommitteeSB’s mission, to make sure Dr. King’s speeches and legacy, and his vision for a world where people were no longer divided by race, perpetuate, Brown said. 

One of the ways that shows up is the annual essay and poetry contests for local school children that award three prizes and honorable mention in four categories. 

“The students participate in the contest each year to show how Dr. King’s words connect to the realities of their own lives and the world around them,” she said. “We want students to think and make connections to the theme for themselves.”

The first place winners of the contests normally have a chance to read their poems and essays at a live celebration that culminates the four-day celebration surrounding the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday, the MLKCommitteeSB’s biggest event of the year. 

“Dr. King’s vision was the beloved community, to embrace everyone,” Brown explained. “We reach out to be that point where all people can come and feel free and be in a safe environment to speak their mind.” 

Normally, to that end, the weekend features events ranging from speeches at the Eternal Flame at UCSB’s campus, Interfaith services at local churches, and a Unity March from De La Guerra Plaza to the Arlington where a lively celebration would feature music, the student readings, keynote speeches, and more. 

But of course the pandemic has forced an inevitable move to a livestreaming event. Still, Brown stressed, all of the above facets of the four-day celebration will be represented in the Committee’s two-hour virtual program beginning at 11 am on Monday, January 18, which is the Federal observance of King’s birthday. The event will be livestreamed on www.mlksb.org and on the MLKCommitteeSB Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MLKCommitteeSB). 

Speakers who recorded presentations include Rev. Richard A Lawrence, a retired United Methodist clergyman who was active in the civil rights movement and knew Dr. King personally as he participated in the Selma to Montgomery march and later helped Dr. King organize an anti-discrimination demonstration in Chicago. Dr. Anna Everett, an emeritus professor of UCSB, who was recently elected to the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees and also serves on the Santa Barbara County Commission for Women, will also talk. 

In addition, the program will feature a photo and video montage of past MLK Day celebrations – including encore performances from Inner Light Gospel Choir and Santa Barbara Dance Institute, World Dance for Humanity, and the Red Sea Rhythm Rockers – and highlights from this year’s other offerings from the Committee, including group and individual videos that were created for Santa Barbara’s Juneteenth celebration and the Committee’s Virtual Townhall meeting “State of the African-American Community in Santa Barbara County” that featured a diverse panel of health professionals in a dialogue with county administrative leaders. 

“There were more than 1,000 participants on Zoom asking questions, people in the community whose voices aren’t often heard,” Brown said, noting that the series will continue this spring examining issues of inequality in unemployment and education.

But there’s much more the all-volunteer organization could be doing with additional resources, she said. 

“It has been an extra challenging time during the pandemic in terms of reaching out to people to get funding, which is what we need to do each year in order to sustain what we do for free,” she said. “With more stability in the organization, we could be spending our time developing programs instead of raising money to support the ones we have now.” 

Brown wondered aloud why that’s necessary in a community as well resourced as Santa Barbara. 

“Actually, it boggles my mind,” she said. “We’re a community where there is enough for all of us, but for some reason, we haven’t gotten the funding that we need to be able to develop our programs more. And now with the pandemic, not having direct contact with people has seriously impacted us, Because if people don’t see you, it’s like that old expression: Out of sight, out of mind.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee of Santa Barbara