Founded in 1892 as the St. Cecilia Club, the oldest nonprofit organization in Santa Barbara County announced a new name and branding Friday afternoon to celebrate 122 years of helping local residents in need.
Now called The Cecilia Fund, the organization continues to provide critical health-care funding support to the most vulnerable members of the Santa Barbara County community.
“One in five of Santa Barbara residents live in poverty, and a lot of people are a paycheck away from great disaster,” board president Tish Gainey said at The Cecilia Fund’s annual meeting and tea reception held at All Saints By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito.
“When they have an accident or illness and just need something to bridge them to get to some other program, they come to us.”
Nearly 100 faithful supporters gathered at the historic church near the steps of Miramar Beach to pay tribute to this well-respected nonprofit organization that has no permanent office and operates as a small group of dedicated members who provide financial assistance for unmet dental and medical expenses for county residents.
Guests gathered on the sun-filled afternoon for an event filled with big news and samples of the new modern identity, website and collateral aimed to push The Cecilia Fund into a new age.
“We have rebranded ourselves and we have an exciting and relevant new look,” Gainey said. “In these days of Facebook, tweets and hash tags, the old St. Cecilia Society, once the St. Cecilia Club, is moving into the 21st century.”
Gainey told Noozhawk that board members chose the round heart-shaped logo as a symbol of what the organization is about.
“We feel like we embrace people and get to know them personally,” Gainey said. “We don’t ever meet them, but we get to know their personal circumstance and we feel for them and put our arms around them, and they in turn are appreciative of what we do by writing us wonderful thank-you notes. ... There is a lot of love there.”
The meeting commenced with a brief invocation by the Rev. Don Stivers, who blessed the room full of onlookers and read a passage from St. John’s Gospel.
Gainey welcomed guests and conducted the approval of last year’s minutes, recapping the accomplishments and upcoming goals of the organization.
“The past year has been very, very busy year for us,” she said. “We have received 109 separate medical and dental cases, totaling a request for over $270,000. Out of the 109 cases presented, we were able to fund 87 of them in the amount of $181,000.”
The volunteer charity group has no paid staff, relies on donor support, and does not hold annual fundraisers or galas to generate revenue for the cause.
“We never know when we will get a grant,” Gainey said. “We apply for them, and our board members are all volunteers. We do the best that we can, but the need for continued contributions remains vital because the need is definitely not going away.”
Board members have increased efforts to raise needed funds as a result of an increased number of referrals to the organization through social workers, health-care providers and medical and dental providers from Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, CenCal Health and more.
Funding can assist with medications, mental health, dental, diagnostic tests, emergency services and physician care, with most urgent requests receiving a response within a day.
Clients are referred to the The Cecilia Fund by local social services agencies, and a board member acts as the case investigator to prepare all the background information required for each client.
Case investigator Nikki Rickard shared heartfelt stories of clients in need of dental and medical assistance who were referred by Catholic Charities, St. Vincent’s and the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.
“Our mission is to help those in need of medical, dental and what we call tools for living — hearing aids, walkers and glasses,” Rickard said. “But last year, more than anything, dental was the request, and we assisted more people then you can even imagine. The ages ranged from one child to a woman who was 80 years old.”
The tea’s guest speaker, Dr. Charles Camillo Fenzi, chief medical officer of SBNC, spoke to the crowd about the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care law that went into effect Jan. 1. The law is intended to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions with an individual mandate for insurance or a monthly penalization.
Fenzi predicted that 17 percent more county residents who were previously uninsured would now be seeking medical assistance.
The Cecilia Fund embraces the challenge and generates public awareness in support of low-income residents who need assistance to pay critical medical or dental bills on a one-time basis by paying the provider directly and often negotiating a lower cost.
— 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.