The St. Cecilia Society, the oldest nonprofit organization in Santa Barbara County, celebrated 120 years of helping local residents in need at the St. Cecila Society annual meeting and tea reception held at All Saints By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito.
Faithful supporters and members of St. Cecilia gathered at the historic church on the afternoon of Jan. 20 to pay tribute to this revered charity, which provides financial assistance for unmet dental and medical expenses for county residents.
“The people we help are all residents of Santa Barbara County,” said Tish Gainey, president of the St. Cecilia Society. “Most of them were getting by until an illness or accident befell them, and now they are truly stuck with nowhere to turn.”
The meeting commenced shortly after 2 p.m. as the mostly women patrons filled the upper portion of the church pews. Gainey welcomed the guests and asked the Rev. Sandy Casey-Martus, All Saints Church’s associate rector, to join her at the podium for an invocation.
“St. Cecilia blesses each and every one of you who make possible and alleviate some of the suffering for those in need,” Martus remarked softly. “For that you are to be commended.”
Following the invocation, Gainey conducted the approval of last year’s minutes, recapped the accomplishments of St. Cecilia and announced goals for the year.
St. Cecilia is a simply run organization that has no permanent place of business and operates solely as a group of 12 women board members. Last year, the organization reviewed more than 120 cases that represented more than $200,000 in funding. Of those reviewed, 101 cases — totaling $149,000 — were approved.
Unlike other charities, St. Cecilia doesn’t hold annual fundraisers or galas to generate revenue for the cause. Instead it relies heavily on donor generosity and annual payouts from organizations such as Curletti and Boyds Funds administered by the Santa Barbara Foundation.
“We help these individuals on a one-time basis,” said Gainey. “We are not a source of funds for ongoing assistance but the little we can do usually provides some critical support.”
Other donations furnished to St. Cecila range from appreciated stock from members to donated vehicles from Cars4Causes. But, 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.
In the past year, board members have wrote and submitted grant applications to a variety of notable organizations and St. Cecilia has received subsidies from the St. Francis Foundation of Santa Barbara and Rotary Club of Santa Barbara Sunrise.
Additionally, case investigators continue to develop collaborations with health-care providers such as Parish Nursing, Eastside Dental Clinic, American Indian Health and Change a Life Foundation to assist with advancement of health and betterment of lives.
Guest speakers from the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics — chief operations officer Bonnie Campbell and dental director Quynh Nguyen DDS — each shared heart-warming stories of local residents who have received medical and dental care after being referred to SBNC by St. Cecilia.
“For many years the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, now 41 years old, have partnered with the St. Cecilia Society to ensure that every person who walks through our doors receives excellent health care, above and beyond even what we provide,” said Campbell. “These kinds of collaborations allow for that.”
Clients are referred to the St. Cecilia Society by local social services agencies, and a board member acts as the case investigator to prepare all the background information required for each client.
“When we decide to help someone, we pay only the health provider — the doctor, lab, hospital or dentist,” said Gainey. “We barter and negotiate to get the lowest price possible, and because of who we are we have been almost 100-percent successful in reducing every patient bill.”
Established in 1892, the St. Cecilia Society began as a small group of women musicians who staged musicals in order 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.
According to Gainey, the idea was simple as members or donors would write checks on behalf of St. Cecilia and the board would identify those in need to pay their bills and also monitor the bookkeeping.
Times have changed in this high-tech world. Medical and dental costs have escalated and more people need assistance paying bills that sometimes run into the thousands of dollars.
Nevertheless, the St. Cecilia Society has evolved and risen to the challenge, and its members and board continue to work diligently to generate more public awareness and support.
The board recently formed a marketing committee and has started work on updates to its Website and brochure. It is also considering a monthly newsletter.
New volunteers with Web and marketing experience are welcome to contact St. Cecilia to help operate and maintain the site updates.
“One of the most remarkable aspects of the St. Cecilia Society is that after 120 years it has operated without any paid staff and with little to no overhead,” Gainey said. “It is the most direct channel of donated funds to meet an identified need.
“We on the board recognize that what we are able to accomplish is only through donor generosity and on the belief that this was an idea worth commitment.”
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