In a climate of economic uncertainty, the tendency is to stand pat rather than step forward. The Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara didn’t get the message.
On Tuesday, more than 250 women — and a smattering of men — packed themselves in to El Paseo Restaurant to learn who got what when the fund’s 2008 grants were announced. The 5-year-old pooled investment organization has been growing steadily, from 79 members doling out $140,000 to two groups in 2004 to nearly 400 members distributing a record $725,000 to 10 nonprofit agencies this year.
The concept is relatively simple: Volunteer donors pool their resources, research the critical community needs of women, children and families on the South Coast, and then vote on which agencies will receive the donations they’ve collected. In reality, it’s a thorough and exhaustive process, especially considering there are nearly 100 individual members of the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara and 40 creatively named membership groups of various sizes and interests. Two committees essentially run the fund — one an oversight panel handling finances, policies and membership development, and the other a research committee winnowing prospective partners to the final balloting phase.
While the journey may be arduous, the payoff is a sweet one for those chosen to receive the Women’s Fund grants. Based on the wide eyes and voice-trembling gratitude in the acceptance speeches, this year’s class of recipients certainly understood the ramifications of the bounty, coming as it does in what already is the most challenging fundraising environment any of the groups has likely faced.
In keeping with the fund’s original intention of making a few “wow” gifts rather than many small donations, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy was awarded a $150,000 grant. The money will go toward the academy’s $6 million capital campaign for a new facility on the Dos Pueblos High campus.
Academy director Amir Abo-Shaeer told the audience that his goal for the program since its inception has been “to create an environment where students want to be.” His first class, he said, had 35 boys and just two girls.
“I looked out at these freshman boys ... and I was very frightened,” he recalled to laughter.
Now, however, the nationally acclaimed academy serves 128 students, almost half of whom are girls — far surpassing the national averages for women in science and engineering. The new 12,000-square-foot complex will enable that enrollment to be tripled. Click here for more information about the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Foundation.
Other Women’s Fund recipients were:
» AllforOne Youth & Mentoring ($65,000) for a program director to help high-risk youth make healthy choices and avoid gang involvement.
» Breast Cancer Resource Center ($30,000) for a new computer system to aid in providing peer support and information to cancer patients and their families.
» Casa Serena ($75,000) for a resident scholarship fund to help women — with their children — complete a safe path to recovery from alcoholism.
» CORE at Santa Barbara Junior High ($70,000) for an individualized intervention program designed to explore productive choices for at-risk seventh- and eighth-graders.
» Future Leaders of America ($65,000) for a Latino youth leadership and education program designed to create college-educated, civic-minded role models who give back to their communities.
» The Parent Project ($35,000) for parent-adolescent communications training to help strengthen relationships between elementary/junior high students and their families.
» PathPoint ($75,000) for a rehabilitation specialist providing eviction prevention, crisis prevention and recovery stabilization services for adults with mental illness who have been negatively affected by government budget cuts.
» Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics ($80,000) to upgrade a computer health tracking system designed to increase prevention exams and tests for women, avoiding emergency room visits for routine illnesses for women and their families.
» United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara ($80,000) to expand after-school programs for at-risk teens in areas vulnerable to gangs in Carpinteria, Goleta and on Santa Barbara’s Westside.
“We’re thrilled to award these grants to so many worthy agencies working in the areas of education, health care and violence prevention,” said Jo Gifford, co-chairwoman of the fund’s oversight sommittee.
“In today’s economy, charitable support is even more critical for the survival of local programs serving our community and its most vulnerable citizens. We feel privileged to help these agencies continue and expand their excellent work.”
Gifford said she was inspired by something author Walter Isaacson, who spoke at last week’s Westmont President’s Breakfast, said about Benjamin Franklin. “The good we do together,” Franklin said, “is more than the good we do alone.”
That sentiment was shared by Julia Rodgers, a fund member who helped start a new group of 24 young mothers called Instead of Shoes.
“The great thing about the Women’s Fund is that it brings together a group of women of different ages and backgrounds,” Rodgers said. “Our common bond is that we all care passionately about the Santa Barbara community.”
In addition to the awards, the fund officially welcomed its new leadership. Rachael Ross Steidl and Fleurette Barsom-Janigian are co-chairing the oversight committee in 2009 while Tish Gainey will be co-chairing the research committee with Stina Hans, who is continuing in her post. Stepping down from leadership roles are Gifford, Fran Adams and Sarah de Tagyos.
Meanwhile, Parm Williams of the oversight committee, was recognized for her service, as was Gregg DeChirico, the fund’s staff liaison at the Santa Barbara Foundation.
Tuesday’s luncheon was underwritten for the fifth year by fund member Meredith Scott and her husband, John, and this year by fund member Kathryn Calise.
Click here for more information about the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara.