[Noozhawk's note: Storyteller Children’s Center, a preschool for homeless and at-risk children in Santa Barbara, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. This is the first in a three-part series chronicling the story of some of the people who have contributed to Storyteller’s success over the years. Click here for a related article on Terri Allison.]
Real estate investor Kenny Slaught will be honored at a sold-out gala marking the 25th anniversary of Storyteller Children’s Center, a preschool for homeless and at risk children, on Oct. 11 at Bacara Resort & Spa.
Slaught, Storyteller’s longest-serving board member, has been instrumental over the years to the growth of Storyteller from temporary child care with an outdoor play space in a parking lot serving a handful of children to the thriving preschool it is today, offering comprehensive support services to more than 100 families each year.
“He’s been an amazing supporter from the very beginning,” said Terri Allison, Storyteller’s executive director. “He’s done everything from moving furniture to having galas at his house; he has been our Santa, both literally and figuratively.”
Slaught first became involved with Storyteller one day about 25 years ago, when he noticed a small newspaper advertisement: a group of concerned volunteers needed help each night moving toys and supplies out of a parking lot where they had set up a temporary place for homeless children to play, keeping them off the street while their parents looked for work. He decided to help out the new organization, the start of a long and loyal relationship with what later became known as Storyteller Children’s Center.
“I just remember being so shocked that there were homeless children in Santa Barbara,” said Slaught, who soon became a board member of the new organization. “Once I got there, it was over — I was hooked.”
Although those early years were rough because everything had to be moved each night, Storyteller established its nonprofit status and became an accredited preschool in 1991. The next year, First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara offered its multipurpose room to the preschool free of charge. Eight years later, Storyteller moved to the former church parsonage next door, where the children finally could feel safe and secure in a homey setting. But the waiting list kept getting longer and longer, until Slaught and the other board members realized it was time to expand.
“Early on, I was hoping this problem would go away, but it’s just getting worse,” Slaught said. “That’s what breaks your heart — that in Santa Barbara, with all the resources we have, many disadvantaged children do not have the opportunity to get an early childhood education, which is critical to them succeeding in life. These children deserve that chance, but unfortunately I don’t think the problem is going away any time soon.”
For several years, Slaught worked hard to find a second location for Storyteller, and when an existing preschool on De la Vina Street came up for sale in 2007, he helped negotiate the deal. The Orfalea Foundation generously bought the property, and leased it to Storyteller rent-free for 10 years. Its incredible support was a key factor in Storyteller being able to double the number of children it served, but there is still a long wait list even after the expansion.
“It has been invaluable having his expertise as a resource,” said Storyteller board president Tiffany Foster, who noted that Slaught was Storyteller’s treasurer for more than 20 years, and his company’s accountants kept the books for free. “He has been such a rock for the organization. You can count on him to be there and to be the voice of reason.”
Slaught, 56, grew up in Pasadena, came to Santa Barbara to attend college at UC Santa Barbara and never left. He is the owner and founder of Investec Real Estate Companies, a full-service real estate development and management company with properties in coastal California. In addition to Storyteller, he also serves as a trustee of the UC Santa Barbara Foundation and is on the board of the Dream Foundation.
Now Storyteller is at another turning point in its history. Due to budget cuts, Storyteller lost $115,000 in Head Start funds this year and expects government support will continue to decrease. In light of these cuts, Storyteller’s annual gala is even more important this year, and Slaught will be honored for being a driving force in the success of Storyteller over the years.
“He’s never agreed to be honored in this town and we knew he would say no,” said Kristin Linehan, one of the gala co-chairs who also served on the Storyteller board with Slaught for many years. “It took a little while to convince him, but we promised him it would be about the kids so he finally agreed to do it.”
“He’s just so humble — it’s so refreshing," she continued. "As we go out in the community, people are thrilled that we are honoring him. Kenny has touched people in ways that he has no idea about.”
Linehan noted that the gala sold out more than a month in advance and financial sponsorship of the gala has broken previous records. And she is staying true to her word: at the gala, Slaught only has one minute allotted for a speech so that more time can be devoted to success stories about the children.
And when the gala is over, Slaught can look forward to one of his favorite activities: playing Santa for the Storyteller children at the annual holiday party, a role he has played for more than 20 years. Assisted by a lovely elf (his wife, Elizabeth), Slaught hands each child a donated gift.
“It’s hot in that suit, but it’s fun,” said Slaught, who bought his own Santa suit more than a decade ago. “I’m committed.”
Click here for more information about the gala or Storyteller Children’s Center, or call Joya at 805.682.9585.
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