Tag Archives: SBCC

The Hands-on Giver

Leslie Ridley-Tree’s prodigious philanthropical career began more than 30 years ago, precisely on February 14, 1988 upon her marriage to Paul Ridley-Tree and the couple’s subsequent move from the Los Angeles area to Montecito. Ms Ridley-Tree is a member of the Church of England – Anglican – and as such, has “always tithed,” meaning she was accustomed to donating 10% of her income (“before taxes,” she stresses) to the church, or to any worthy cause of her liking. “The more you have, the more you share; it’s just part of life,” she adds.

We can classify Ms Ridley-Tree as a “hands-on” giver, in that she attempts to learn as much as possible about an organization before deciding to donate funds to it. She, in a notable example, became a member of the board of directors and ultimately president of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art to learn exactly what the museum did.

Other questions she considers before making a final determination to give are: How are things administered? How is the money going to be used? How many organizations in the area are duplicating the same service? How long has it been in service and how many times has it turned over? And, she does all the research herself, including visiting their offices and sitting down with the CEO or Director. If a CEO moves from more than one organization to another, she wants to know why; what it is about the organization he or she currently heads that is better than the previous one. There are good answers and not-so-good answers.

Leslie Ridley-Tree gives, “because there’s a great big hole in the world, of emptiness, of people who need, people who are hungry.”

She says too that if someone under consideration begins dodging questions, or is not prepared to present their program properly, she will likely “stand back and wait awhile” before committing. Large salaries are a no-no (“If they’re paying big salaries, you’re definitely not going to be interested, because that’s not what it’s about,” she says). Overly high administrative costs are also troublesome.

Ms Ridley-Tree has a yearly budget, so when she begins to consider something new to support, she often has to reduce an amount another nonprofit has been receiving. Sometimes, she even drops that support entirely. Next year, for example, a recipient of her largesse that has been with her for more than 20 years won’t be receiving anything: not because of anything they’d done or not done, but because the money is needed elsewhere. She confesses that it is always painful to have to tell someone they won’t be getting anything, but that “it has to be done.” She tells them in person, and never uses a go-between.

Ms Ridley-Tree’s list of giving includes UCSB (whose KITP graduate science area is of special attention, as are some 40 scholarships for young people with disabilities), SBCC (30 single-parents-returning-to-education scholarships), Westmont (next year’s plan includes the launch of the Ridley-Tree Nursing Program, complete with 33 scholarships at Westmont, which currently doesn’t have a nursing program), Cottage Hospital and Sansum Clinic (the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center received over $10 million), Ms Ridley-Tree has been involved in the Santa Barbara Zoo for over 30 years (“since the day I arrived,” she reports). There are and have been many recipients of her generosity, too many to list.

To sum up: Leslie Ridley-Tree gives, “because there’s a great big hole in the world, of emptiness, of people who need, people who are hungry. There are needs to be filled, whether it’s in education or medicine or hunger, there’s just not enough to go around evenly and there are areas where you just have to share. It doesn’t mean you have to give it all away and walk barefoot, but it does mean that you have to share; there’s that need, and you can’t look at it and walk by.”

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.”