It’s a cluster of working-class areas with some big needs, but Santa Barbara’s Westside is now part of a massive outreach effort to support and prepare Santa Barbara County children — and their neighborhoods — to succeed.
THRIVE is a public-private collaborative working to prepare children to live productive, healthy lives, and the Westside is the latest area to begin in the countywide effort.
The organization’s thrust takes some cues from the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, run by founder and educational pioneer Geoffrey Canada. HCZ takes a holistic approach, working with mothers when they’re pregnant and staying with the children until they’re in college. The children work through a massive lineup of 22 interrelated programs, free to participants and all with the goal of creating a supportive network of adults for the children as they work their way through school, and ultimately toward college and a bright future.
This “cradle to career” approach is at the heart of THRIVE, which is undertaking similar efforts in Isla Vista, Guadalupe and Santa Maria. The most advanced effort so far is taking place at the Carpinteria Children’s Project at the Main School, which focuses on preparing the youngest children to be “school ready.”
Why the Westside?
Anita Perez Ferguson, executive director of THRIVE’s countywide effort, said the outreach areas were selected on the basis of family household income and the achievement scores of various schools in critical areas.
“The initiative really appeals to the heart and the head,” she told Noozhawk. “We know that there are families and children who need to be served, but we also know that there are valuable participants in the community who can make long term-contributions.”
One of the community organizations working to coordinate neighborhood efforts is Just Communities, and executive director Jarrod Schwartz said interest around the outreach is increasing.
Unlike the Eastside and the Milpas Corridor, “there isn’t a lot of existing community infrastructure” on Santa Barbara’s Westside, he said.
But the resources do exist, unique to the area.
“The Westside has four amazing schools we’re partnering with,” he said, and strong leadership from those principals has been key. McKinley Elementary, Harding University Partnership School, La Cumbre Junior High School and San Marcos High School are all partners in the effort.
McKinley School Principal Emilio Handall said the initiative is based on the strengths of Westside families, community and agencies.
“The opportunities this initiative provides should excite all Santa Barbara residents as the results will benefit our entire city,” he said. “The Westside THRIVE Initiative brings together so many different people and organizations on the agreed-upon idea that all students deserve a high-quality education and we all need to be part of the solution.”
The group is taking a general definition to the Westside and is including everything south of Las Positas Road and north of SBCC, with boundaries to the west by the Mesa and Highway 101 bordering the east.
Any residents, families or supporters of the Westside are invited to attend the community dialogues that will begin this fall. Groups of eight to 12 people will meet for five weeks starting in early November. Knowing that not everyone can participate in a five-week session, Schwartz said an all-day session also will be held in early December.
“The idea is to bring together a diverse group of people to look at what their vision for the Westside is,” he said.
They’ll be focusing on a variety of issues, and issues such as racial and cultural divides, gangs and youth violence, and economic development in the area have already come up.
In January, the groups will come together to try to come up with a unified vision and a plan to implement. THRIVE Westside also had a national donor come forward with a $10,000 donation, and process participants will have a say in where that money goes.
“(The input) really will come from the grassroots level,” Schwartz said.
He said that while in Harlem, there was one organization supporting the outreach. In Santa Barbara, a more collaborative effort made sense.
“We are very program rich but we’re systems poor, and we don’t know how to bring them altogether,” Schwartz said.
Even if residents on the Westside don’t have school-age children, Schwartz invites them to participate in the dialogue process. He said schools that perform and neighborhoods that are safe are good for the community at large.
Click here for more information about THRIVE’s efforts in Santa Barbara County.
The next information sessions about Westside outreach will be held from 6 to 6:45 p.m. Oct. 12-13 at La Cumbre Junior High, 2255 Modoc Road. The same presentation will be given each night, and both presentations will be conducted in English and Spanish. Free child care will be provided, as well as snacks.