The St. Cecilia Society is the oldest nonprofit organization in Santa Barbara County, and it celebrated 122 years of helping local residents in need at its Annual Meeting & Tea Reception held at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito.
Providing financial assistance for unmet dental and medical expenses for county residents, nearly 100 faithful supporters gathered at the historic church to pay tribute to this highly thought-of organization that has no permanent place of business and operates as a small group of dedicated members.
“Many people have multiple hardships in their lives and are extremely grateful for our assistance, which is lovingly portrayed in the letters we receive daily,” society president Tish Gainey said.
The mostly women patrons filled the beautiful oceanside church just after 2 p.m. for the start of this year’s event, chaired by Sigrid Toye and Charlene Nagel.
Gainey welcomed guests and conducted the approval of last year’s minutes, recapping the accomplishments and upcoming goals of St. Cecilia for the organization that reviewed nearly 120 cases, approving 105 and totaling $130,000.
“This is a phenomenal board that has helped hundreds of people,” case investigator Nikki Rickard said.
Unlike other charities, St. Cecilia doesn’t hold annual fundraisers or galas to generate revenue for the cause, instead relying on donor generosity and support from organizations. As the need for assistance grows, the board has taken on additional tasks in an effort to raise money needed for the increased number of referrals to the organization.
Grant applications to a variety of notable organizations and case investigators continue to develop collaborations with health-care providers to assist with advancement of health and betterment of lives.
Guest speaker Dr. Peter Hasler, a pediatrician and medical director from the County of Santa Barbara Public Health Department, shared insight on the impact of health-care reform on the department and the county in relation to the work of St. Cecilia.
“We have six sites, we have two in Santa Maria and one in Lompoc, and those are our biggest sites,” Hasler said. “We are a county that has significant poverty. In fact, we have one of the highest rates for child poverty in the state, largely because of the north county. And so we invest our services in the areas of the county where there’s the greatest need and the fewest private resources.”
Clients are referred to the St. Cecilia Fund by local social services agencies, and a board member acts as the case investigator to prepare all the background information required for each client.
Established in 1892, the St. Cecilia Society began as a small group of women musicians who staged musicals to raise the money needed to furnish patient rooms at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. Once the hospital evolved into a fully functional facility, the group formed a charitable organization that raised funds by asking community members to join.
Medical and dental costs have escalated, and more people need assistance paying bills that sometimes run into the thousands of dollars. The St. Cecilia Society has embraced the challenge and continues to work diligently to generate more public awareness and support.