Tag Archives: Susan Cass

New Leadership Team Implements Bold and Enduring Vision for Storyteller Children’s Center… Through the Pandemic and Beyond

New Executive Director, Development Director, and ECE Program Manager are bolstering support, partnerships, and programs for vulnerable toddlers and preschoolers.

Storyteller Children’s Center supports approximately 80 homeless and at-risk children and families per year

In the midst of the COVID-19-related protocols and lockdowns, Storyteller Children’s Center hasn’t stopped their momentum in serving the social, emotional, and scholastic needs of Santa Barbara’s homeless preschoolers. In the six months since Susan Cass took over in the role of Executive Director, the organization has brought on Adrienne De Guevara as Development Director and Maria Cervantes as ECE Program Manager. They have also remained open for the large majority of the year and achieved accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). 

“As one would expect, it has been particularly challenging for this leadership team to step into our roles during the pandemic,” noted Cass. “The economic hardships and needs of our families and students are greater than ever, so we need to remain focused on the opportunities rather than the obstacles. While new health and safety protocols have impacted our program delivery and revenue from fundraising events has steeply declined, we are committed to finding creative and strategic ways to continue to support our children, families, and staff during this time.”

Storyteller Children’s Center Executive Director Susan Cass
Storyteller Children’s Center Development Director Adrienne De Guevara

Adrienne De Guevara, previously with the Lobero Theatre Foundation, brings her combined experience in fundraising, sales, and event organizing to support Storyteller Children’s operation and program costs. As a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, she serves on the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access committee while also staying informed on the latest trends in philanthropy both locally and nationally. This year she also served on the selection committee for the 2020 National Philanthropy Day Honorees. 

For De Guevara, finding revenue has been all about reaching out and reactivating relationships. She has been identifying and applying for grants, upgrading the website to support online contributions, while managing the second virtual event to replace Storyteller’s annual lunchbox luncheon, “Lunch with Love,” which includes home-delivered meals to donors for a touch-base and connection. 

Storyteller Children’s Center ECE Program Manager Maria Cervantes

“This has been a challenging year for everyone,” said De Guevara. “It’s understandable that we are not necessarily top of mind with donors and funders, because we are all distracted and a bit overwhelmed. My approach is really applying the old fashion method of picking up the phone and saying ‘Hi, how are you?’ It’s incredible to me how responsive this community has been to our expressed needs.”

Maria Cervantes comes to Storyteller with 23 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Maria believes that every child deserves a high-quality early learning program and that ECE educators should be recognized for their research-based approach to development. A graduate of National University in San Diego, Maria holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and will enter into a master’s degree program later this year. In 2016 Maria was awarded Preschool Teacher of the Year by Los Angeles Universal Preschool and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Maria will be overseeing programs at both Storyteller locations.

Cervantes’ primary focus is on supporting the foundation of the Storyteller’s therapeutic-based education: the teachers and staff.

“All teachers are carrying a great deal of added responsibilities and workload this year, and that’s threefold for Storyteller’s educators,” said Cervantes. “Not only do they have the curriculum and COVID protocols to navigate, but they are also trained to provide emotional support to students who have or are experiencing a great deal of trauma. Our students benefit when our teachers are supported with resources, technology, training, compensation, and… empathy.”

Operating out of two campuses on State Street and De La Vina Street, Storyteller Children’s Center supports approximately 80 homeless and at-risk children and families per year. Beyond their year-round educational program, they provide behavioral health services, two nutritious meals and one snack per day, medical screenings and home visits. Parents and guardians must be working or enrolled in a vocational program for students to qualify. The primary objectives for Storyteller are to foster social and emotional resiliency and kindergarten readiness, the most critical markers in the scholastic success of a child.

We Are Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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