Amid the ambience of a faux Italian Tuscan village, the United Way of Santa Barbara County held its 16th Annual Red Feather Ball United for Literacy, which also was a grand celebration of its 2012 National Excellence in Summer Learning Award and United Way’s Fun in the Sun Program.
“We actually coordinate partnership programs with 150 plus organizations,” said Paul Didier, president and CEO of United Way of Santa Barbara County, who has been a member of the nonprofit organization for 38 years. “And what we do is focus on improving education results, financial stability for families that are on the edge, and health access and health services for lower- to moderate-income people.”
A gatefold invitation mirrored the evening’s theme with wooden shades on a weathered stucco wall emblazoned with the words “Lei e invitato!,” which opened to a village that was similarly represented on the ballroom walls of The Fess Parker, a DoubleTree by Hilton Resort.
Women in beautiful red gowns and gentlemen in black tie settled in to begin with cocktails and a silent auction before host Ann Gursey invited guests to be seated for the program and dinner.
An array of silent auction items for bid included “Local Nights or Treat Your Out-of-Town Company,” with a one-night stay courtesy of the Upham Hotel & Country House, or a two-night stay from The Fess Parker. “Evenings Out” included dinner at Olio e Limone with four tickets to the Santa Barbara Ensemble Theatre. Or a “Fun Getaway” to the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills or Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn & Spa. “Enliven Your Senses” offered a perfect garden day at Lotusland or the Nutcracker 2012 by State Street Ballet. Other items were offered in an array of categories, including wine, art, travel and family fun.
Shimmering gold tablecloths with red, yellow, pink and red roses organized by The Fess Parker catering director Kathy Ackley accompanied a delectable dinner by the resort’s executive chef, Kirk DeLong, with executive sous chef Jacob Prelas, who presented a delicious meal, including a duet of heirloom tomato caprese and eggplant Napoleon with kale pesto. The main course included local sea bass on braised greens and polenta with almond and pear tart.
Gursey mentioned co-chairs Sue and Ed Birch with Jo and Barry Berkus and shared opening remarks and introduced a video presentation before a scholarship pledge and some early dancing for guests caught up in the festive atmosphere.
Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree and Ron Werft introduced the evening’s honorees, Val and Bob Val Montgomery and Deckers Outdoor Corp., for the 2012 Abercrombie Community Excellence Awards.
Werft, president and CEO of Cottage Health System, strode to the stage to introduce Deckers, a Goleta business that has grown into a successful global company. Angel Martinez, Deckers’ chairman, president and CEO, accepted the honor for the company, which started in 1973 and has grown to seven successful brands, including UGG Australia, Teva, Sanük, Mozo, Ahnu, Tsubo and Hoka One One.
Deckers’ success has been shared with the community as full-time employees are paid for up to 24 hours annually for volunteer work at nonprofit organizations, among them CASA, United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Unity Shoppe.
“Especially this time of year we as a company have been giving a lot of time and energy to local charities,” Martinez told Noozhawk. “Our employees are encouraged to give 24 hours a year, that we pay for, and also time away from work to go do local things. So this time of year is the time when people do get energized to go out and do that.”
In addition, the company has given more than $1.5 million in cash donations to a variety of local nonprofits, including Special Olympics-Santa Barbara County Region, Environmental Defense Center and Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
Ridley-Tree, the 2003 award honoree, introduced the Montgomerys, who were honored for a commitment to local philanthropy and volunteerism including work with the Music Academy of the West, The Granada Theatre, Domestic Violence Solutions, Sansum Clinic, Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. They have also contributed significantly to building programs at the Music Academy, and Bob is currently on the board of Community Arts Music Association (CAMA), having been recently named chairman of the Investment Circle while part of the International Circle with his wife of 50 years.
Recently retired from the Los Angeles-based global law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Montgomery is now running Montgomery Vineyard and said he is honored to be part of the giving community here in Santa Barbara.
“I read somewhere that there are over a thousand nonprofit charities in Santa Barbara and also that we have more charities per capita than any city in California,” said Montgomery. “So it’s just marvelous to have all these charities, and United Way kind of goes across all the different areas and looks at things other than just specific things to fund. It’s just a marvelous opportunity that United Way handles.”
In 1997, Katherine Abercrombie and United Way staff created the Red Feather Ball after hearing the story of the Red Feather and how it came to symbolize giving during the Depression-era Community Chest campaigns. Abercrombie, who died Sept. 15 at age 96, is the honorary chairwoman in perpetuity.
In addition to honoring these community leaders, the evening benefited the efforts of the Santa Barbara County United for Literacy Initiative in partnership with the United Way of Santa Barbara County to provide multiservice educational school programs to students from infancy to adulthood.
These year-round educational programs include learning materials, parent-child teaching methods and online services designed to improve student literacy and increase the number of high school graduates in Santa Barbara County.
United for Literacy’s four primary educational programs include Bornlearning, a parent-based program that encourages daily engagement between parent and child from birth to five years of age.
The Dolly Parton Imagination Library provides new and free age-appropriate books to low-income children from birth to kindergarten and the Reading Plus software program helps to increase reading comprehension, speed and vocabulary from second grade through college. Reading Plus received an objective research evaluation from Fielding Graduate University that gauged the effectiveness of the program in Santa Barbara County. Professor Kristine Jacquin and doctoral students in partnership with United Way of Santa Barbara County found statistically significant improvement for students in grades two through 12 in visual scanning and memory, word meaning and usage, reading comprehension and reading rate. Meanwhile, the LEXIA Reading program primarily targets pre-kindergarten to third-grade readers, including fourth- to eighth-graders who are severely struggling at three or more reading levels below the norm.
The evening also supported United Way’s Fun in the Sun program, which boasts a specialized enrichment curriculum serving more than 250 low-income students each summer with an array of educational programs, including Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math (STEAM), financial literacy, health services and lunch bunch mentors.
The wonderful evening was capped off with lively dancing to Art Deco and His Society Orchestra as guests enjoyed another successful Red Feather Ball.
The United Way of Santa Barbara County graciously thanks the sponsors of the 16th Annual Red Feather Ball, including:
» Red Feather sponsors: Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree and Taylor Associates & The Ware Group
» Platinum Feather sponsors: Anonymous, LEXIA Reading and Val and Bob Montgomery