The “Just Desserts” 10th Anniversary celebration for Just Communities hosted at Goleta’s Milk & Honey Farm recently honored some outstanding community members: Esther Flores and Andrew Sanchez and the Dos Pueblos High School Parent Teacher Student Association Committee on Equity and Excellence.
“Just Communities is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing social justice, and we work with local schools to make sure they are able to provide a quality education to every child so that every child can succeed,” said Jarrod Schwartz, the nonprofit organization’s executive director. “And we work with young people to help to develop their leadership skills so they can work to create justice and equality in their community.”
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and the tranquil venue flourished with country ambiance at Milk & Honey Farm, 1105 More Ranch Road.
Attendees included Just Communities staff, supporters, families and local dignitaries, who gathered to celebrate and pay tribute to the newest honorees.
Guests filed into the spacious and rustic wood-paneled barn and it was literally a sweet sensation to watch the young children pull their parents by the hand from table-to-table, sampling an array of delectable artisan desserts and beverages from local vendors, including Chocolats du Cali Bresssan, Fresco Café, The Good Cookie, Crush Cakes, Green Star Coffee, Adama Vegan Comfort Cuisine and more.
Just Communities was founded in 2001 as the National Conference for Community & Justice (NCCJ), and separated from NCCJ to become Just Communities in 2007.
The organization works to accumulate diverse groups of people to build leadership, dismantle forms of prejudice and develop solutions to a wide range of community challenges throughout Santa Barbara County.
Just Communities outreach and education programs help to facilitate relationships and form joint communications with community leaders and organizations from diverse communities in an effort to produce social change.
One of the successful programs of Just Communities is the Institute for Equality in Education, a four- to five-day residential training curriculum that instructs educators, parents and community stakeholders in ways to indentify and address educational inequality through race-conscious examination.
Additionally, the Family Dialogue Program is a nine-week bilingual (English and Spanish) program through which parents and guardians address academic inequality in local schools and implement an action plan for school leaders on how parents and guardians can work to close the academic achievement gap.
And, the Safe School Program aims to educate K-12 educators, staff and students about the root causes of violence and bullying in school and designs solutions to make schools safer for all students.
The afternoon honorees, Esther Flores and Andrew Sanchez, began their extensive involvement with Just Communities after attending the CommUnity Leadership Institute (CLI) as San Marcos High School students.
The CommUnity Leadership Institute is an eight-day residential program that offers Central Coast high school students from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to explore their multifaceted identities and discuss ethnic and racial identity, stereotyping, homophobia, racism and classism through discussion groups, presentations, role-playing and learning exercises.
Instilled with the knowledge, skills and confidence expected of Just Communities leaders, Flores and Sanchez co-founded the SPEAK Against Hate Club, which addresses issues such as homophobia, gang violence, immigration and racism.
The award recipients were honored to receive the inaugural Amy Van Meter Courageous Conversation Award at the event.
Van Meter was a local advocate for social justice and longtime Just Communities supporter who died in 2010 after a long, protracted battle with multiple sclerosis.
The award was created to honor the memory of a local hero and pay tribute to those whose work carries on her mission to always see the good in the world and vow to make a difference by and working through conflicts and social differences.
Flores is currently an undergraduate at UCLA, majoring in history with a minor in education and Chicana/Chicano studies. She also works on issues of recruitment and retention of students of color on campus. She’s currently applying to joint master’s and teaching credential programs and hopes to be a secondary history teacher after graduation.
“I’m very honored to have received this award and also surprised because I think there are so many leaders that Just Communities has created,” Flores said. “So I feel so honored to have received it. Andrew and I and everyone who has been part of Just Communities have benefited so much and I’ve stayed with CLI so long because it changed my life.”
Currently in his last semester at UC Berkeley, Sanchez is an architecture major with minors in sustainable design and history of the built environment. In his spare time he hosts an open mic night where he performs his poetry.
Sanchez was not able to attend the event because of his studies but he accepted his award online via an Skype setup at the event.
“The empowering and important lessons I have gained from working with Just Communities drives my interest in poetry and in performing in safe spaces,” said Sanchez. “I have gained so much from the community that Just Community has created and I want to say thank you!”
Just Communities also collaborates with community partners such as Noozhawk, which helped promote THRIVE Westside, a neighborhood engagement process under way on Santa Barbara’s Westside. Over the course of several months, 120 neighborhood residents focused on formidable issues and challenges affecting the neighborhood while also identifying the area’s assets to devise strategies for creating a stronger, safer and prosperous community.
Members of the Dos Pueblos High School PTSA also received the Amy Van Meter Courageous Conversation Award at the event for their continued commitment to removing inequalities in education and the Back to School Night parent interpretation project that instituted a school-wide cultural proficiency assessment project.
Flores, who is now 21, has been involved with Just Communities and the CLI program for eight years, gaining a wealth of leadership skills and a newfound compassion for the community.
“There are so many advantages to being a participant of Just Communities,” said Flores. “I’ve gained so many leadership skills and have become a more confident person and a more generous and kind person as a result of my involvement with Just Communities. I look at things though a much more critical lens and I really want to change our community alongside of everyone else.”
Just Communities graciously thanks the following sponsors for support of the 10th anniversary celebration Just Desserts:
» Partner level: The Fund for Santa Barbara and Mary and Gary Becker.
» Family level: Brenda and Larry Blackerby, Doug Green and Brian Kiesow, Gina Fischer, Deborah and Jack Rivas, and Alana Walczak and Jarrod Schwartz.