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Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara Awards Grants to 5 Local Nonprofits

The all-volunteer organization distributes $365,000 among agencies chosen for their contributions to the community

Amid a flagging economy, fiscal pundits talk about people tightening their belts and putting the kibosh on charitable donations. Not so for the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, to which individual donations increased 1 percent in the past year. On Monday, the philanthropic fund paid it forward at its 6th Annual Presentation of Funds Luncheon at El Paseo Restaurant, awarding grants totaling $365,000 to five local nonprofit agencies.

The Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara is an all-volunteer group that pools its member resources to help local nonprofits. In its six years, the group has awarded grants totaling more than $2.5 million to 33 nonprofit organizations in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Carpinteria. One of the advantages of being a volunteer organization is that 97 percent of collected funds go directly to the annual award recipients.

What began with 67 members awarding $140,000 to two organizations in 2004 has grown to more than 400 members distributing $365,000 to five recipients in 2010.

Carol Palladini, the group’s principle founder and chairwoman of the founding committee, attributes the success of the Women’s Fund largely to the close-knit makeup of the Santa Barbara community.

“The amazing thing is that it has grown almost entirely by word of mouth,” Palladini told Noozhawk. “Our members just really like the simplicity of it. They like that they can see the effects in their own community, and we’ve been very fortunate to prosper the way we have.”

While the concept may be simplistic, the selection process each year is actually a rigorous, time-consuming challenge for the members of the group’s research committee, co-chaired this year by Tish Gainey and Stina Hans.

The Women’s Fund received grant requests from 330 local agencies this year. From that massive pool, 34 agencies were chosen for further consideration. After months of intense research and scrutiny, the list was winnowed to 12 finalists. Ballots were sent to Women’s Fund members, and through a vote, the five recipients were chosen based on their contributions to the community.

This year’s recipients are:

» Casa Esperanza Homeless Center ($90,000) — for case management and volunteer training staff to provide homeless individuals and families with services that lead to stable housing and employment.

» Catholic Charities of Santa Barbara ($85,000) — for installation of solar panels on the agency’s food pantry, lowering energy costs and increasing its budget to feed low-income families.

» Domestic Violence Solutions ($75,000) — for a volunteer coordinator, salary support and program costs to help victims of domestic violence living in the DVS Santa Barbara shelter and Second Stage housing achieve stability and self-sufficiency.

» Sarah House ($40,000) — to sustain staff levels and expand holistic end-of-life residential care for low-income and homeless individuals and those with HIV/AIDS.

» St. Vincent’s of Santa Barbara ($75,000) — for case management staff to provide low-income and homeless mothers and their children the PATHS (Program of Affordable Transitional Housing and Services) to independence and self-sufficiency.

More than 225 women were on hand Monday to witness the presentation of the awards. Fleurette Barsom-Janigian, co-chairwoman of the 2009 oversight committee, said a few words of gratitude at the end of the luncheon.

“When I look out into this crowd of women,” she said, “I am reminded of a famous quote by Margaret Mead, who said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’”

Mike Foley, executive director of Casa Esperanza, expressed his gratitude.

“This gift sends a message to the entire community that homelessness is an issue that must be tackled — it is an issue that we must solve,” he said.

Catholic Charities regional coordinator Brian Clark also spoke. “We are in need of creative ways to continue to fund this operation,” he said. “This pledge from the Women’s Fund will help us to continue to meet a steadily increasing need for assistance in our community.”

In addition to the awards, special thanks were given to Susan Case, Sarah de Tagyos, Jo Gifford, Stina Hans, Dale Kern and Parm Williams for underwriting various costs to keep Women’s Fund expenses to a minimum. Special recognition also was given to key partners The Orfalea Fund, which has contributed $900,000 since 2006 and already has pledged $20,000 for 2010, and the Santa Barbara Foundation, which has served as the fiscal home to the Women’s Fund since 2004. Jan Campbell, sstaff liaison to the Santa Barbara Foundation, was recognized for her efforts.

For the sixth year, the luncheon was underwritten by fund member Meredith Scott and her husband, John, and fund member Kathryn Calise.

— Kevin McFadden is a Noozhawk contributor.

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