Friends and clients of Noozhawk flocked to The Bank of Santa Barbara on Thursday evening for the official launch of Noozhawk’s iSociety section, and to celebrate the program’s new sponsors and partnerships.

The section, led by iSociety columnist Melissa Walker, aims to provide a broader exposure to the South Coast’s packed calendar of events, which often are in the form of benefits and fundraisers for the area’s more than 1,000 nonprofit organizations. Walker has been on the beat since April and this month will be joined by contributing writer Rochelle Rose, who has reported on the nonprofit community for 10 years.

Bill Macfadyen, Noozhawk’s founder and publisher, told the 150 guests that iSociety is a natural addition to the online-only news site’s already robust involvement with nonprofit organizations.

“Nonprofits and their work are an important part of our community’s identity,” he said. “And with, what, 1,300 nonprofit organizations in town, they’re a significant part of our local economy.

“Noozhawk is proud to play a role in telling those stories, and we view iSociety’s coverage as a way to enhance that publicity.”

Macfadyen announced that The Bank of Santa Barbara has signed on as iSociety’s lead sponsor, joining Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort, another section sponsor.

Eloy Ortega, CEO of The Bank of Santa Barbara, said his company had come to sponsor iSociety because “we saw value for the nonprofit community.”

“It’s a good, positive support for the nonprofits,” he said. “Our bank is committed to the nonprofit sector and we think this is another way to demonstrate our support.”

Santa Barbara City Councilman Grant House said he felt the same way.

“iSociety is a positive aspect of the site,” he said. “Everywhere you look, you see Noozhawk’s involvement in the community, and I appreciate that.”

During the event, Macfadyen also spoke about Noozhawk’s new partnership with The Charger Account, Dos Pueblos High School’s student newspaper, which has gone to an all-digital format — just like Noozhawk. The company’s journalists and sales and marketing staff will be mentoring the students this year and the two sites plan to share articles and other content.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker and Santa Barbara City Councilman Grant House think Noozhawk's approach to nonprofit coverage is the wave of the future.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker and Santa Barbara City Councilman Grant House think Noozhawk’s approach to nonprofit coverage is the wave of the future. (Nick St.Oegger / Noozhawk photo)

“We’re excited to have the chance to work with these student journalists and their adviser, Bill Woodard,” Macfadyen said. “We had our first session with the kids on Tuesday and the enthusiasm is just great. In fact, it was a terrific experience to walk on to the Dos Pueblos campus and be greeted with such gratitude. Everyone is very appreciative, but so are we.”

Noozhawk’s next big project is its upcoming, six-week series on the misuse and abuse of prescription medications in Santa Barbara County. Called Prescription for Abuse and launching Sept. 12, the project is the result of a unique partnership with USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and San Francisco State University’s Renaissance Journalism Center.

“We’ll be establishing an independent baseline of where Santa Barbara is with respect to the misuse and abuse of prescription medications, and how the problem is affecting our community in the areas of health care, education, law enforcement, criminal justice, addiction and treatment, and our culture and society,” Macfadyen said.

“Toward the end of our project, we’ll be focusing on what we as a community can do to educate ourselves about prevention and controls and, we hope, how we can perhaps reverse what appears to be a very troubling trend.”

For part of the project, Noozhawk has partnered with the nonprofit Santa Barbara Teen News Network, whose student videographers have prepared more than 30 public-service announcements featuring many of the sources Noozhawk reporters have interviewed for the series.

Trixie Geyer, associate director of the Patricia Henley Foundation, the sponsor of sbTNN, was appreciative of the opportunity.

“It has been a privilege for the teens to be able to interview people from all walks of life, from a recovering addict to our DA, to learn so much about drug abuse and addiction firsthand,” she said. “It has been a unique experience they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

Walker was thrilled with Thursday’s turnout, and said she regularly hears how iSociety is making a positive impact for local nonprofit organizations.

“I’ve met so many great people since this project began and it’s wonderful to see that we’ve built such a strong foundation and developed an enthusiasm and following for something that helps so many great causes,” she said.

“People are excited about the job iSociety has done in presenting coverage in a way that lets them experience the nonprofit event with a focus on the ‘why’ and not just the ‘who.’”

Guests checked in at The Bank of Santa Barbara, 12 E. Figueroa St., then were off to mingle with other attendees. While chatting with old friends and acquaintances, live music from the Montecito Jazz Project filled the spacious lobby. Hors d’oeuvres were served by Fresco Café and wine and other drinks were provided by Touring & Tasting, with Ventura Rental Party Center handling the glassware and tables. Samy’s Camera delivered a big-screen TV for the occasion to display the iSociety section and the rest of Noozhawk’s site.

The event was put on by Noozhawk marketing director Melinda Johansson and account manager Chris Donahue, Monica Barba and Tracy Pfautch of The Bank of Santa Barbara, Pia Dorer of Davies and friend of Noozhawk Christine Smith.

Email for information on how to become an iSociety sponsor.

Noozhawk intern Alexa Shapiro can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk fans gathered at The Bank of Santa Barbara to hear about the local news site's new initiatives.

Noozhawk fans gathered at The Bank of Santa Barbara to hear about the local news site’s new initiatives. (Nick St.Oegger / Noozhawk photo)