Children love it when adults tell them stories. Sadly, many children live in households where happy stories are few and far between.
We know that the traumas associated with poverty, abuse, neglect or violence can cause developmental and behavioral problems. We also know that homeless and at-risk children are most likely to suffer these challenges.
Storyteller Children’s Center, a true community treasure, has been filling a void for children and families since its inception, serving those most in need of these targeted services. In fact, I view Storyteller, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, as an organization that embodies the heart and soul of the Santa Barbara community. It delivers free, high-quality early childhood education, coupled with comprehensive support services for families.
Storyteller provides children with nutritious meals, vision and dental screenings, and therapy for developmental delays. Parents are able to finish school or work full-time while their children are enrolled; they can also take part in parent education classes and receive counseling, case management and referral services on site.
While the value of these services is self-evident to those who work with these children and families, researchers at UCSB have been able to quantify the benefits. A longitudinal study, currently in its fourth year, shows that students who graduate from Storyteller receive “proficient” and “advanced” marks on their kindergarten and first-grade report cards, faring much better than children from similar circumstances who did not go to Storyteller.
There is also a monetary value to the community at large. For every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education programs like Storyteller, taxpayers receive a $17 return on the investment in a few short years, from the young adults who are contributing to society and avoiding government support through welfare, health care or jail time.
For 25 years, Storyteller, a truly innovative nonprofit, has developed a national model for meeting the social, medical, psychological and educational needs of homeless and at-risk students. It has done this along with well-earned community support and resources, a tribute to the respect and appreciation the public has for the remarkable results the organization has been able to achieve.
As a longtime supporter, I have seen firsthand that this system of intervention works. Data from the UCSB Graduate School of Education’s study confirms this observation.
The dedicated and visionary staff and board members at Storyteller are community heroes who deserve our heartfelt support and thanks. Their good work touches the lives of our youngest and most vulnerable children every day. And best of all, it provides those children with positive, happy stories that they otherwise would have to do without. That is the true gift of any storyteller.
All involved should take a bow. Happy 25th anniversary, Storyteller, and thank you for all that you do.
— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.