[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the luncheon.]

The annual Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara Community Leaders Luncheon held earlier this month at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort celebrated the organization’s mission to inspire, encourage and support Santa Barbara County students in their pursuit of college, graduate and vocational education.

Support from the Scholarship Foundation reached 2,421 Santa Barbara County students in 2012, with scholarship awards totaling $7.35 million in student aid.

“With our county’s affluence and strong civic values, we have the chance to help our students access educational opportunities,” Griffin said.

Since 1962, the Scholarship Foundation has provided 32,887 scholarships totaling $72 million for Santa Barbara County students through financial aid, advising and scholarships.

Additionally, the foundation provides financial aid advising services to more than 25,000 students and parents each year. These impressive feats have earned the foundation a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, a national independent evaluator of nonprofits.

Tuition and fees at public four-year colleges have increased at an average annual rate of 6 percent beyond inflation in the past 10 years, and the foundation’s mission has resulted in the largest community-based program in the United States to help bridge this gap.

More than 450 donors, sponsors, board members, community leaders, students and guests gathered for the finale of the foundation’s 50th anniversary year, and as the program began waiters served dishes prepared by Fess Parker’s executive chef Kirk DeLong and presented by catering director Kathy Ackley.

Over the first-course salad of frisee and wild arugula with beets, goat cheese and candied pecans, Alan Griffin, president of the Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors, welcomed the room with words of appreciation and gratitude.

Cavalletto Charities Trustee Valerie Fuette shared a donor highlight before lunch was served and spoke of her passion in supporting the education needs of qualified and deserving students per her parents’, Dale and George, generous wishes.

“By our foundation’s design, we are required to distribute at least 50 percent of our annual distributions to the Scholarship Foundation,” Fuette said. “We have consistently allocated over 60 percent of our distributions to the Scholarship Foundation. In monetary terms, since 2002, this has come to a cumulative total of $7,213,801.”

Scholarship recipients Rebecca Shasberger and Janina Mason. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

Scholarship recipients Rebecca Shasberger and Janina Mason. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

Fuette also acknowledged her four co-trustees — George’s grandson, Daniel Cavalletto, law colleagues Joseph Green and Dennis Reilly, and trusted financial adviser David Larson.

“Today we are all active participants in our board’s activities, and we are privileged to serve as representatives of my parents’ wishes,” Fuette said.

Student guest speaker Danielle Tustin, 25, who was born and raised in Santa Barbara, rose and walked to the podium as scholarship recipient of the George A. Cavalletto Memorial Law Fund.

Tustin graduated from UCLA in 2009 and the UC Hastings College of the Law last May, plans to take the bar exam in February. She spoke with immense gratitude for the financial and emotional support she received from the foundation since first learning of the organization as a junior at San Marcos High School.

“I didn’t have that much support at home, more emotionally than financially,” Tustin said. “And I was really lacking in confidence that I could make it through an undergraduate career without help. They are just a wonderful organization.”

For the entrée, guests enjoyed savory chicken and vegetables in a classic béchamel topped with puff pastry, or a vegetarian option of Farmers Market savory vegetable strudel with red pepper coulis.

During the main course, co-chair and past board president Patricia MacFarlane introduced the afternoon’s community leader speaker, Angel Martinez, CEO of Deckers Outdoor Corporation.

Martinez shared with Noozhawk his commitment to scholarships and opportunities being created for youth because of opportunities afforded to him as a kid, and how the community at large is the key to success.

“It’s the cross section of the people that you have in this room that’s the most important thing,” Martinez said. “This is about penetrating the entire community. It’s not about the educational community, it’s not about teachers, and it’s not about parents. It’s about everybody, so the more involvement we get, the more conversation we get about this, the more commitment we get to it, the more effective it’s going to be and the more opportunities are going to be created for kids.”

Past community leader speakers have included an impressive array of locals, such as Michael Towbes (1990), Richard Schall (1997), Robert Failing (2004) and last year’s Hubert Vos.

MacFarlane returned to join fellow co-chair Joanne Rapp in a celebratory finale of the 50th anniversary celebration.

“After 50 years, our hard work is more relevant than ever before,” Rapp said. “We commend contributors and volunteers who have made higher education available to tens of thousands of Santa Barbara County students.”

Guests finished the last bites of a trio of cupcakes, including red velvet with cream cheese frosting, Oreo and triple berry, as Scholarship Foundation Executive Director Colette Hadley shared closing remarks for the luncheon.

“Over the last 50 years, the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara has created opportunity and transformed lives — one scholarship at a time,” Hadley said. “The foundation continues to make college available to more Santa Barbara County students each year.”

During her speech, Hadley noted a persistent gap between actual funding that the foundation receives and scholarships granted as, in 2012, more than 3,000 qualified applications were received and 743 applicants had to be turned away.

“Thankfully, due to your response this year, we are making progress on closing this gap between applicants and awards,” Hadley said as she displayed a slide of the awards and gap lines. “In fact, in the years to come, we will show a significant difference in the numbers of students we will help, narrowing that gap even further.”

The Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara does not charge an administrative fee, and 100 percent of contributions to support scholarships goes directly to deserving students.

“Perhaps the most notable decision of the Cavalletto Charities’ trustees has been our commitment to assign our quarterly distributions to the Scholarship Foundation’s overhead,” Cavalletto said. “Therefore, by covering the vast majority of administrative costs, each scholarship donor knows that their entire donation is going directly to a student.”

With the approaching close of the calendar year and a looming tax season, individuals, families, foundations, businesses and community groups may make tax-deductible gifts designating either annual scholarships or endowed scholarship funds to benefit local students. Click here for more information about donor opportunities.

“What we’re trying to do is build and grow relationships with you and with our students, and to lift our society and everyone in it to a higher level,” Hadley said. “It’s not complicated, and it’s not new — it just works.”

The Scholarship Foundation is a vehicle for generosity to reach goals of encouraging and supporting students who are motivated to achieve a higher-education degree.

“That’s all we really are — a vehicle,” Hadley said. “And as such, it is our responsibility to make sure that the vehicle runs well, is reliable, trustworthy and efficient, and delivers you safely to your destination — your goals.”

The Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara expresses a special thank you to the Community Leaders Luncheon sponsors:

» Platinum sponsor: Montecito Bank & Trust

» Gold sponsor: Venoco Inc.

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

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.