Seeing the impact of their gifts in action was a gift in itself for more than 100 Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara members who toured local nonprofit agencies last week. The visits were a way for Women’s Fund supporters to see how their most recent $565,000 in grants — for the 2010-2011 giving cycle — were addressing critical needs in the community.

The six nonprofit agencies spotlighted — My Home at Artisan Court (a project of Channel Islands YMCA), Carpinteria Children’s Project at Main, the Children’s Project Academy, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY), Mobile Waterford and WillBridge of Santa Barbara — were the most recent of the 39 local nonprofit organizations that have received more than $3 million in grants since the Women’s Fund began in 2004.

The Women’s Fund — founded by chairwoman Carol Palladini, along with founding committee members Perri Harcourt, Shirley Ann Hurley, Jean Kaplan, Dale Kern, Joanne Rapp, Elna Scheinfeld, Meredith Scott, Kay Stern, Anne Smith-Towbes, Marsha Wayne and Fritzie Yamin — has grown to more than 500 individual and group members in 2010 from 67 members in 2004. Expenses never exceed 3 percent of donations; in fact, in 2010 generous underwriters paid all expenses out of pocket, so that every dollar donated to the Women’s Fund was applied directly to community needs.

As has become a favorite tradition, the seventh annual site visit offered a unique opportunity for Women’s Fund members and their guests to observe firsthand the power of collective philanthropy and how their donations are making a crucial difference in Santa Barbara.

Traveling via Santa Barbara Airbus (sponsored by Santa Barbara Airbus, Women’s Fund member Carolyn Novick and Rugs & More at 1117 State St.) the site visit included tours of Channel Islands YMCA’s My Home at Artisan Court. The program received $100,000 to fund support services for the Transitional-Age Youth Housing Project, which provides for young adults aged 18-21, many of whom have aged out of the foster care system and would be otherwise left without a place to live and people to help them.

“The goal here at My Home is to give former foster youth the stability, security and support they need to begin building their path to independence and self-sufficiency,” explained Lynn Karlson, Channel Islands YMCA’s executive director for youth and family services.

“Housing is part of that stability and security, but on-site case management and support services complete the package.”

Karlson noted that the Santa Barbara Housing Authority provides the housing opportunity, while Channel Islands YMCA’s Youth & Family Services offers the support services.

“We hope our residents will leave My Home with at least a high school education and most with at least a semester at SBCC,” Karlson said. “We also expect they will have work experience, knowledge about how to connect to other community resources, first and last (months’ rent) in the bank, and the knowledge of what it takes to be on your own — how to get the laundry done, keep the house clean, be a good neighbor, prepare healthy meals, keep a budget, save for the future.”

Karlson also thanked the Women’s Fund for the vote of confidence, which helped the program build additional community support.

The next visit was to Carpinteria Children’s Project at Main, which received a $135,000 grant for staff, computers, literacy software, books and learning materials to outfit the Early Childhood Literacy Lab.

“The Carpinteria Children’s Project at Main is the first place-based community collaborative project in implementation in Santa Barbara County,” explained Michelle Robertson, Early Childhood Services executive director. “The premise of the project is that if children and parents are supported from birth, their opportunities for success soar.”

One of the most vital components of the program is the Early Learning Literacy Lab.

“Our most at-risk children are those from families where English is not spoken,” Robertson said. “Often times the children from these homes do not have the experience of books, libraries, computers and developed vocabulary, and enter school behind, never catching up. This ‘readiness gap’ sets the stage for struggle with success all their lives.

“The funds that you have committed help ease that struggle for generations of Carpinteria schoolchildren.”

The third site was WillBridge of Santa Barbara, which received $65,000 for permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless, mentally ill adults and homeless women at risk of becoming victims of violent crimes.

WillBridge CEO Lynelle Williams explained that the agency provides four primary community services, including transitional housing, permanent support housing, outreach to mentally ill homeless adults and medical respite beds for the homeless who come out of the hospital but require care before they are fully recovered and can care for themselves.

“Our transitional housing provides a safe haven, case management and other support services for chronically homeless mentally ill individuals,” she said. “It’s the first step in their coming from the streets to greater independent living.

Williams said the permanent supportive housing residents (which is what the Women’s Fund grant went toward) are “often employed, enrolled in school, or in other vocational training programs. They pay 30 percent of their income in rent, make their own meals, clean their own rooms, care for the common areas of the housing, and are building the skills necessary to prepare them for completely independent living.”

Marjorie, a WillBridge resident who was raised in Santa Barbara, told a touching story about how the expenses associated with having an inoperable brain aneurism drove her to lose her home and live in her car for two and a half months.

“Doors just kept shutting on me,” said the woman, who asked that her last name not be used. “It seemed like there were no programs to help people who weren’t mentally ill or something.”

A kind stranger found her crying in the park and took her to meet a caseworker at WillBridge, which eventually led to her becoming the resident manager of the new facility.

“The stability of being here is helping me improve physically and mentally,” said Marjorie. “This is a really wonderful place.”

“It is an amazing place and they are doing an amazing job,” added Tish Gainey, who is part of the Women’s Fund Steering Committee.

Lunch at First Presbyterian Church was next on the agenda.

Site visit chairwoman Barbara Hauter Woodward welcomed the group and gave a recap.

“Earlier this year, we all looked at the most recent Women’s Fund ballot, and cast our votes to determine where the $565,000 we raised in 2010 would be given,” she said. “Although all the agencies on that ballot were absolutely worthy of our consideration, we couldn’t fund them all, so based on our votes, the agencies in this room were selected. Now, six months later, we have the opportunity to see firsthand the effective use of our collective funds.”

Woodward said the Women’s Fund site visit is an important part of the group’s research process.

“We follow the progress of our grantees to confirm the money we’ve donated is being well spent,” she said. “Midyear and end-of-year written reports and this site visit are part of our due diligence in ensuring our Women’s Fund process is sound and worthy of your confidence and continued support.”

On behalf of the fourth grant recipient, the Children’s Project Academy, CEO Wendy Read thanked the group for its donation of $75,000 to provide detailed architectural plans for a residential charter school for foster youth in grades seven through 12.

“We have done a lot of work to make this vision a reality,” Read said. “We consulted with boarding school and public school educators and wrote a 120-page charter petition that was unanimously passed by the Santa Barbara County Board of Education in May 2010.

“We have created an innovative residential model that will have foster families living on campus with no more than six teens in each home. We are pioneering an exciting new recruitment program that we believe will result in attracting high-caliber foster parents on our campus. … But to create this campus, we needed land … and we were lucky enough to purchase 114 perfect acres in Los Alamos. Which brings me to The Women’s Fund.”

She continued, “Last May, in accepting this wonderful grant, I said that some people are daunted by the size and scope of this vision. But we at the Children’s Project don’t see the obstacles. We just see the school. We can see it as we walk our beautiful land. The houses, the gymnasium, the classrooms, the organic gardens.

“We see the revolution in foster care. And thanks to the Women’s Fund … we can now see the buildings! The houses! The classrooms! You see, the $75,000 went to our incredible architect, Detlev Peikert, for detailed architectural drawings. … We have always been able to see the academy campus. And now, we can see it in even more detail. And this is all thanks to you.”

Read said that the Children’s Project Academy expects to submit its plans to the county within the next few months.

“We are dedicated to transforming the outcomes of our foster youth,” she said. “We are moving forward and we couldn’t have done it without the faith and support of all of you here.”

Director Ron Zecher spoke on behalf of Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY), which received $95,000 for a school readiness program that trains parents of at-risk children to become their first teachers.

“Your generous gift and partnership has made it possible for the HIPPY Program to provide a comprehensive parent education and school readiness program for families of 86 young children in our community who are committed to the success of their children in school and in life,” said Zecher.

“HIPPY’s main purpose is to empower parents as the primary educators of their children in school and in community life by having parent educators work with parents weekly using a developmentally appropriate and the cognitively based curriculum,” he said. “Our home visitors also have the unique opportunity to build trusting relationships in a safe and supportive environment. As a result, participating parents share about the very real and serious issues they face such as not having enough food and clothing for their families, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of health and dental care, and receive timely referrals with community partners for much-needed assistance.

“Without a program like HIPPY, the children of these disadvantaged families would surely enter kindergarten unprepared. These families would find it difficult at best to navigate the educational process with their children, and would likely not be aware of the many resources that are available to them and their children in our community.”

Mobile Waterford teacher Mary Elena explains to Women's Fund members how children are taught English in the program so they can enter kindergarten prepared to learn. The Women's Fund contributed $95,000 to enable the Mobile Waterford van to bring computers and software to 4 year olds and their parents in the neighborhoods where they live.

Mobile Waterford teacher Mary Elena explains to Women’s Fund members how children are taught English in the program so they can enter kindergarten prepared to learn. The Women’s Fund contributed $95,000 to enable the Mobile Waterford van to bring computers and software to 4 year olds and their parents in the neighborhoods where they live. (Eric Foote photo)

The last grant recipient to speak was John Coie, a volunteer consultant representing Mobile Waterford, which received $95,000 for kindergarten readiness and English-language instruction engaging 4 year olds in the neighborhoods where they live.

Thanking the group for its support, Coie said that “the school administration has recently informed me that they plan to begin some financial support for this program in the next fiscal year, and that pledge will make it possible for us to begin in December to work out a longer-term funding strategy. This is very good news.”

But Coie had more good news.

“I want to share the latest data on English language competence among entering kindergarten children who come from Spanish-speaking homes,” hes aid. “Recall that in the fall of 2010 we had reduced the number of non-English speaking 5 year olds by 60 percent from what held true in the fall of 2007. This year we have increased that percentage to 75 percent, with slightly more than 250 children passing the basic proficiency test criteria who would not otherwise have done so.”

Steering Committee chairwoman Sarah de Tagyos was the final speaker.

“I’m pleased to report that we have raised $400,000 so far this year and we hope to reach at least half a million dollars by the end of the year,” she said. “And I know we will. Despite a painful economy, our members continue to generously support our community.

“I want to thank our six grantees for the incredible work you’re doing in the community and for taking the time today to share your progress, your success and your amazing stories. You are why the Women’s Fund was created and you are how we are Changing Lives Together.”

The Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara is a collective group of volunteer donors focused on the needs of women, children and families in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Carpinteria. Committed to “Changing Lives Together,” Women’s Fund members pool their charitable donations, research critical community needs and then determine by vote, which agencies will receive the funds collected during the year.

Click here for more information about the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, or call 805.963.1873.

Noozhawk contributing writer Leslie Dinaberg, a Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara member, can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieDinaberg.

Jen Goebel, right, program director of My Home at Artisan Court, outlines for Women's Fund members the plethora of services provided for youth who have aged out of the foster care system.

Jen Goebel, right, program director of My Home at Artisan Court, outlines for Women’s Fund members the plethora of services provided for youth who have aged out of the foster care system. (Leslie Dinaberg / Noozhawk photo)