Tuesday, December 1 , 2015, 7:17 am | Fair 42º

Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Gratitude Luncheon Puts Spotlight on Mentor Program

In inspirational message, surfing legend Shaun Tomson exhorts mentors and mentees to ride wave of positive choices

Surfing legend Shaun Tomson — at right, with wife Carla, and Ed Stonefelt, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse — was the keynote speaker at CADA’ third annual Gratitude Luncheon.
Surfing legend Shaun Tomson — at right, with wife Carla, and Ed Stonefelt, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse — was the keynote speaker at CADA’ third annual Gratitude Luncheon.  (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

By Melissa Walker, Noozhawk iSociety Columnist | @NoozhawkSociety |

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

The Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse (CADA) recently joined guests and supporters at The Fess Parker for the third annual Gratitude Luncheon celebrating and benefiting the 20th anniversary of the Fighting Back Mentor Program. The day included an impactful message from guest speaker, Montecito resident and world champion surfer, Shaun Tomson.

Founded by the event’s honorary chairwoman, Anne Smith Towbes, the Fighting Back Mentor Program includes trained adult mentors providing confidential counseling and prevention education for students in fourth to eighth grade attending Carpinteria, Goleta and Santa Barbara secondary schools.

“This luncheon was designed to support the important work of these dedicated mentors,” Towbes said. “The attendance and funds raised have gone each year so that even more needy children can be paired with a mentor.”

Equally important is the Fighting Back Parent Program, an educational interactive program aimed to help parents communicate with adolescents ages 10 to 18.

“I was inspired to see so many people come out to the Third Annual Gratitude Luncheon to support the Fighting Back Mentor Program and the many amazing mentors in our community,” said Ann Cowell, CADA Mentor Program director. “It was a beautiful opportunity to recognize how important mentoring is in all of our lives and to show gratitude to those important people.”

The Mentor Program serves more than 150 youth annually. Currently, 96 at-risk youth are on a waiting list to be matched with an adult mentor who can help them thrive and be successful socially and academically — and give them guidance to avoid the negative influences of alcohol and drugs.

“We are proud to have an excellent track record of success across the board from improving self-confidence to GPAs,” Cowell said. “Our mentors are in great demand with 96 children currently on our waiting list to be matched, 80 percent of whom are young boys.”

The organization faces a lack of staff and the difficulty of recruiting enough mentors, in particular men, although some mentors have multiples mentees, such as John Daly with six mentees. Daly, founder of The Key Class and a Noozhawk columnist, was the proud recipient of the inaugural Penny Jenkins Mentor Champion Award.

Tables throughout the Reagan Room were filled with adult mentors and mentees enjoying the luncheon together, including Cowell with her mentee, Mari J.

“We are so proud to hear from notable mentors Marybeth Carty, event co-chair, and Joyce Dudley, district attorney, along with her adorable new mentee, Rosie,” Cowell said.

Dudley explained how she came to be involved.

“A year ago I was here and I hoped that I could contribute something to someone’s life,” she said. “I had no idea how much she would contribute to mine.

“We do fun things because I need more fun things in my life.”

Tomson addressed the crowd with a moving speech and shared some of his own life experiences in and out of the surfing world. His simple message: “I will,” which emphasizes the power of staying true to positive values.

“My mission in life is to empower people to make positive choices,” Tomson told Noozhawk. “Since I lost my son in 2006 to a bad choice, it’s become my purpose. So I speak to about 100,000 young people every year at schools and universities about positive choice.”

At the conclusion of the event, Tomson signed copies of his latest book, The Code, based around a new concept called self-leadership that is a statement and a commitment to inspire young minds with simple exercises in 30 minutes, writing 12 lines and every line must start with, “I will,” and 12 promises that a young person makes to him or herself about the future.

“What it’s supposed to do is create a wave of positive energy around the world that’s powered by youth,” Tomson said.

Tomson’s son, Mathew, accidentally killed himself while playing a choking game that intentionally cuts off oxygen to the brain for a temporary euphoria. Now living in Santa Barbara with his wife, Carla, and son Luke, he is also the author of the best selling Surfer’s Code – 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life, and authored Bustin’ Down the Door – Revolution of ’75, a companion to the film of the same name.

The nonprofit Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse was established in 1949 by a small group of Santa Barbara citizens who met with Marty Mann, the first woman to achieve sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous, to discuss alcoholism in Santa Barbara. As a result, the assembly formed the Santa Barbara Committee on Alcoholism and opened its first treatment clinic, the Alcoholism Information Center on Anacapa Street, in 1950.

Although the organization changed its name to the Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse in 1986, its objective remains the same: to build a safer, healthier community by preventing and treating alcoholism and drug abuse in Santa Barbara County through a series of education and public outreach programs.

CADA provides a wide range of adult treatment, prevention, intervention programs and on-site treatment centers, including the Project Recovery Treatment Center, Adult Outpatient Treatment and the Perinatal Treatment Program, which assists pregnant women and parents of both genders with substance abuse issues, and Court Mandated Treatment Programs.

Additionally, the Teen Court Program is designed to keep youth out of the criminal justice system, and the Youth Service System utilizes trained youth service specialists to provide a continuum of prevention and intervention programs and services on local junior high and high school campuses. Also part of the program is the Daniel Bryant Youth and Family Center, where youths ages 12 to 18 years can find treatment and counseling for drugs and alcoholism.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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