Tag Archives: youth

A Beautiful Race: Annual Fundraiser is Back for Girls Inc.

Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara has had plenty on its plate since the pandemic altered almost everything back in March 2020. Like everyone else, the nonprofit — whose mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold with a vision serving empowered girls in an equitable society — had to make a lot of adjustments during the various shutdowns and changes to the COVID-coping protocols. Then late last fall, Girls Inc., also learned that Barbara Ben-Horin, the CEO who was instrumental in helping the organization weather the challenges to its service model, would be leaving her position at the pro-girl nonprofit at the end of the year, necessitating a search for new executive leadership that is just now winding down.

Still, with the pandemic largely receding, the organization wants to focus this story on something coming up soon that’s both fun and a fundraiser. That would be the annual She.Is.Beautiful 5K/10K Santa Barbara races, which has been associated with Girls Inc. for twice as long as Ben-Horin’s important tenure lasted. The event was converted to a virtual-only event last year, but the 10th annual She.Is.Beautiful race is on track to be ready to be run on Saturday, September 18.

Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara has been the local charity partner for She.Is.Beautiful — a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit that shares a similar vision albeit more narrowly-focused — going back for the full decade, and every dollar raised from the event stays in our community and helps provide the Girls Inc. experience to youth and teens.

“We’re super excited to bring the race back after having to skip last year,” said Katie Pearson, Girls Inc.’s development officer. “It’s one of the first big in-person events that’s going to be allowed in Santa Barbara since the pandemic started and we are thrilled to have our names on it.”

Calling the event a “race” is a bit of a misnomer, because it’s not really about the competition, Pearson took pains to point out:

“The two sisters who founded She.Is.Beautiful really want to promote female empowerment and the concept of making a statement that you are strong, no matter what level you are at,” she explained. “So, we don’t want people thinking that they have to show up and run as hard as they can. We are happy to have walkers and strollers, jogging and dancing. It’s all about just feeling really powerful at the start line and completing the course.” 

Indeed, the event page on Girls Inc.’s website invites the whole community to “Grab your girlfriends, mom, sister, aunt, co-workers, daughters, or partner and come move with us… All ages and genders are welcome to join us.” Meaning, boys and men, too. “Women, and anybody who advocates for women and making them feel strong and bold,” Pearson said. 

Girls Inc. focuses on empowering young females, as well as financial aiding families so that the organization’s activities are accessible to all

Girls Inc. isn’t just the beneficiary of the event, either. The nonprofit is also entering two of its own teams this year. There’s the one that has younger program participants and supporters and community members under the organization’s umbrella. But there’s also a girls’ running club teen team as part of its “Strong” programming, said Kristen Weaver, the nonprofit’s chief strategy officer and communications director. “Strong is about healthy bodies, healthy lifestyles, and physical movements, and it’s teaching girls about what it is to train for an event like this, how to prepare? The girls really learn about physical fitness and about running itself as a sport and as an activity.”

The teen program participants wanted to step out on their own for this year’s event, Pearson explained.

“They are maturing teens who really feel like they want to express themselves,” she said. “They are very strong and bold – some of our future leaders. And they’re going to lead the pack with their own team this year, which is super exciting.” 

Also new this year are corporate teams, Pearson said. 

“Any local businesses that want to promote health and wellness within their company can sign up as their own team and race together in a way that makes them able to benefit the charity even more,” she said, adding that Amazon, Wells Fargo, and American Riviera Bank are signing on.

One more thing also sets the 2021 She.Is.Beautiful event apart: There is still room for more racers available even as event day looms barely more than a month away, a rarity for the perennially popular participatory benefit. But slots are filling up, as the normal 3,500-participant capacity has been pared to 2,000 to increase safety with the pandemic still lingering. Register at https://girlsincsb.org/events/she-is-beau

The event has a $10,000 goal, with the proceeds earmarked for Girls Inc.’s general fund where it will help supplement the costs of the organization’s proven evidence-based program and allow the nonprofit to provide financial assistance for qualifying families so that the Girls Inc. experience is accessible to all.

Meanwhile, emerging from the pandemic during a time of leadership transition has really focused the organization on its strategies for its next step, including adapting some of its successful virtual programs into hybrid models going forward. 

“We really learned that we could be flexible and explore new ways to expand our programs to meet girls where they are rather than having them always come to our centers for programs,” Weaver said. “There’s a lot of exciting things happening behind the scenes.” 

Call Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara at (805) 963-4757. Website: https://girlsincsb.org.

Feeding Curiosity: Wilderness Youth Project Utilizes Nature to Educate

I wasn’t much of a hiker before the pandemic. But being cooped up inside for days and weeks on end, with no opportunities for dancing of beach volleyball, finally spurred me to put fears of poison oak and chiggers out of my mind to brave the San Marcos Foothills Preserve. Pretty soon that became a daily habit where the walk would not only provide an aerobic workout that helped to clear my addled brain and jumbled emotions, but also offered an opportunity to appreciate the glory of nature which, somehow, I’d started to take for granted. 

I had curiosity about everything in my path, how the grasses changed color, a mountain peak swaddled by low clouds, a roadrunner scurrying, while even a deep crevice in the trail and an ever-busy red ant hill all left me with a sense of awe and wonder, not to mention profound gratitude at all that was available with such easy access. Stressful moments were magically alleviated within a few hundred yards. 

Here’s the thing: If it can do so much for a jaded journalist, imagine how time in nature helps younger minds and bodies, particularly those who aren’t as privileged as I am. 

That’s the purpose behind Wilderness Youth Project. The nonprofit knows that nature connection makes life better for kids, and that time spent in wilderness makes kids happier, healthier, and better achievers in school, not to mention more peaceful and self-aware community members. For 22 years, WYP has been connecting kids to nature in a variety of programs, with small groups guided by expert mentors during the school day, after school, and in summer.

The time in nature has a direct correlation in increasing curiosity, an essential ingredient in learning, said WYP Development Director Michelle Howard. She recalled a new student teacher who was excited for the job but struggling in the classroom because the kids didn’t share his enthusiasm. 

“He’d go, ‘Hey kids, let’s talk about geology. What kind of rock do you think this is?’ And the children are just staring at him. Then his class went out with Wilderness Youth Project one morning. They came back to the classroom in the afternoon, and when he held up a rock again and asked them what they thought it was, every single kid raised his hand. Because now they had the context for curiosity, not just an abstract notion from a book. They could touch the rocks and it was cool. Now they had a reason to learn about them.” 

WYP has all sorts of facts and figures on its website to show the effectiveness of the outdoor education programs it runs or those of similar other organizations in combating “Nature Deficit Disorder.” There’s one from the California Department of Education, for example, that indicated a 97 percent increase in test scores and social, emotional behavior, Howard noted.

But before you go rushing to your computer to enroll your child in a program, know that there are virtually no openings for non-scholarship attendees. That’s because 70 percent of WYP’s slots are reserved for the underprivileged in our community as WYP has a strong commitment to economic equity when it comes to the environment.

The pandemic, of course, has had profound additional adverse impact on our youth, as studies have shown that losing nearly an entire school year of in-person learning has caused setbacks, while their physical health has also deteriorated from time spent on digital devices and not moving their bodies, Howard said. It gets worse. 

“It just came out that the World Health Organization is predicting that 50 percent of adults on the planet will be myopic, or shortsighted, because they didn’t spend time outdoors when their eyes were developing,” she said. “The increase in obesity directly during the time of COVID is a whole percentage point above the increase that we are already experiencing annually. And the other obvious one is that the pandemic and staying indoors has increased anxiety and depression among children. It’s quite an intersection of challenges.”

That probably hasn’t happened to many of Santa Barbara families, though, because of the level of privilege they enjoy, where time in rural areas is no more than a car ride away. But WYP knows that all children need nature, kids of all races and economic classes, cultures, genders, languages spoken, or sets of abilities. WYP sees its mission as reducing the “massive disparities” in access to nature and the ability to develop an appreciation and curiosity toward the land. And the gap is only getting wider via the pandemic. 

“(What happened during COVID) does sort of imply a moral obligation on the part of society to remedy and mitigate those effects,” Howard said. 

Indeed, she pointed out, “California just recently passed legislation towards outdoor equity on the heels of protecting a lot of public land because we now recognize that we have to connect humans to the lands. California is both the most diverse state and the most biodiverse state in the country. Now they’re putting them together.” 

The biggest barriers for kids going into nature are lack of funds and transportation, Howard explained. 

“So, we run programs out of community centers and local schools to overcome those barriers,” she said. 

And while WYP’s finances are strong, there’s always a need for more funds to help out those disadvantaged kids. The summer camps still have a small budget gap to close, where even small donations make a big difference, for example, and the year-round programs and new partnerships also require funding. 

The second biggest barrier, though, is qualified people who have the skills and talent to run the programs because WYP has an unmatched commitment to excellence, Howard said. Volunteers help ease the burden. 

“We’re set for summer, but we definitely need more people coming our way who are interested in volunteering for the fall,” Howard said. “Because hopefully we’re not just going back to where we were before when we added a lot of programs during COVID and started meeting people in lots of other physical locations. So, we can use a lot more help.”

For more information, visit wyp.org, call (805) 964-8096, or email info@wyp.org. •MJ

EYC 2.0: Endowment for Youth Committee Looks Beyond Money to Provide Long-Term Opportunity

The Endowment for Youth Committee is one of the oldest nonprofits serving the needs of African American students and the greater Black community on the Central Coast, with a history that dates back 35 years. But before Guy R. Walker stepped in as executive director in 2015, the EYC had struggled to continue as a viable nonprofit with a previous talent drain on the board requiring an experienced leader to mount the resurrection. 

Walker, founder, and president of Wealth Management Strategies, a boutique financial advisory firm based in Santa Ynez, more than fit the bill. Not only had he benefitted from even broader assistance from a similar organization that enabled him to attend the Dunn School, the elite private boarding school in Los Olivos, but he also had a drive to pass along his skills to the next generation, particularly in an area where the African American population is just a tiny fraction compared to the percentage in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton where he came from.

“Surprisingly, there are fewer African American families in Santa Barbara now than there were 30 years ago,” Walker said. “It was closer to three percent when EYC started, but today it’s just a little bit above one percent.”

That decline is partly why EYC had been slowly fading.

So, Walker and his new community leader colleagues on the nonprofit’s board took the reins with a mandate to reconstitute the program for current times.

“It’s what I describe as EYC 2.0,” Walker said. “In the past the committee was much more of a direct-service, hands-on organization, but now it’s less hands-on and more advocacy, more partnerships, listening to families and students in terms of what their challenges are and how we can support them or direct them where they can get what they need.”

Sure, the main thrust of EYC still falls under the “E” in the nonprofit’s name: endowing young African American students from sixth grade through college who demonstrate the intellectual aptitude, personal resilience, and social responsibility for success and want help in maximizing their personal potential. The financial support totaled some $65,000 this year, and the 23 students who have received financial support from EYC this academic year will be recognized in a virtual presentation on June 30 that will be open to the public via Zoom — the first planned annual celebration that Walker sees as an effort to connect EYC with the larger community.

Among those speaking will be Walker to introduce EYC and its mission, as well LaDonte King, the chair of the Student Success Committee, an academic consultant and former assistant director for government affairs at UCSB; and Dr. Christopher Johnson, the chair of the scholarship committee who is SBCC’s Associate Dean of Educational Programs. 

“The intent is to recognize all of the students and their families on the call,” Walker said. 

But from Walker’s perspective, giving back and making a difference means a lot more than just handing out dollars to underprivileged youth.

“The money piece is always easier to talk about in terms of impact, but if you just throw money at kids, that’s not going to help enough,” he said. “It’s also about how do you navigate? How do you find what your passion is? It’s not life success if you are just hanging out in the corporate building without understanding the structure and the people. So, we want to talk about how you get comfortable living in a community of people who do not look like you and do not seem to respond. How do you become a part of the community?”

Walker points to himself as an example, having lived in a number of communities where he has been “in or out of the (majority) number.” He’s proud to note that he and his wife became a strong part of the community in Santa Barbara County, and raised two children in Santa Ynez. 

“They’re out in the world working and enjoying life. But the question is, who is showing other young people how to do that? In this community, it’s the Endowment for Youth.”

So, among the other aspects of EYC 2.0 is EYC Presents, an outreach effort that basically brought Walker full circle, as the guest for the premiere last month was Kalyan Balaven, the incoming Head of School at Dunn, who talked about inclusion fits into Dunn’s mission to deliver whole student education, and ensure that every child feels seen, heard, and valued. The conversation with James Joyce III, founder of Coffee With a Black Guy, also addressed how an inclusion model can help to build more resilient communities, a mission close to Walker’s heart. (The recording is available for on-demand viewing on Dunn’s YouTube channel.) 

“The purpose of that platform is to make sure that when an executive level African Americans moves to town to take a position here in the county that they are properly introduced to Santa Barbara. We want to help them learn who are the players they need to know, where they go to get stuff done,” Walker explained. “It goes both ways. We want the community to get to know them, too. EYC Presents wants to take that on.”  

Which is why the event took place at the Lobero Theatre as perhaps the first publicly attended program in more than a year.

“The target audience was decision makers in the education space, the business space, the political space, the social justice space, and nonprofit space,” Walker said. “Who also actually ended up showing up were people from all over the country who got a chance to meet and see Kal, who is a leader in education and the concept of inclusion. Since that Zoom event, there are already collaborations that are being formed between Dunn School, Kal Balaven, Santa Barbara Unified School District, Santa Barbara Middle School, and on and on.

“I’m proud to say that Endowment for Youth is how the community gets to know this guy. That’s a piece of doing our part to contribute in developing more leaders.”

EYC is staking out a position to supplement its original purpose of providing financial support to African American students that encompasses much more of the Black experience in Santa Barbara and ways to ensure success.

“We’re interested in providing community engagement as it pertains to issues that impact African Americans locally and nationally, and EYC is also a resource for understanding opportunities and uplifting for African American students addressing real-life objectives,” Walked said. “That’s how we do our part to support the larger Santa Barbara community.” •MJ

For more information
Website: www.endowmentforyouth.com
Phone number: (805) 691-9758

Kinetic Joy: Youth in Nature

Children today spend as much as 90% of their lives indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The effects on health are obvious. But, brain development? A California Department of Education study found that at-risk students who participated in outdoor education programs saw their science scores jump 27%, while boosting self-esteem and motivation to learn. 

This is something the team at Santa Barbara’s Wilderness Youth Project (WYP) knows intrinsically. The 21-year-old nonprofit has a simple slogan: “Spending time in nature makes children smarter, healthier, and happier.” 

Alongside afterschool services, summer camps, and teen camping trips, the organization’s marquis program is “Bridge to Nature,” a program that takes 4th graders on a 3.5-hour nature-based adventure once a month. 

Despite having more than 80 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch, Franklin Elementary on Santa Barbara’s Eastside has become an oasis of promise with vibrant afterschool programs, dedicated teachers, and the Wilderness Youth Project. 

“For me as a classroom teacher, I have really seen a change in the students in regards to how they view nature,” says 4th grade teacher Marlen Limón. “I love how they come back and are so excited and want to share how their day went. They are writing narratives about WYP, understanding science through hands-on learning, and just vocalizing how they love to be outdoors.”

On a recent Thursday, one of Limón’s students joined a pair of WYP’s experienced mentors and his classmates on a trip to Lizard’s Mouth, 20 minutes up into the Santa Barbara mountains. The group made time to play “coyotes and fawns” – a nature-based version of tag. They journaled and they made the steep hike to the top, with its sweeping views down over the shining blue expanse of the Pacific.

“I look out and see the ocean, the town, the world,” the 4th grader wrote from his perch. “This is one place where I can just be who I am: I can run, jump, sit, hide, and explore. I am amazed by this place and wonder what extraordinary animals live here.”

The WYP team loves seeing that kind of exuberance from their young charges. It’s that “kinetic joy” children get when exposed to nature. 

WYP doles out nature-based joy to 1,000 children and adults every year. 

Uniting the Boys & Girls Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both board chairs are pleased: 

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

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