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Guests Kick Up Their Heels at Country Couture Gala for Storyteller Children’s Center

Festive hoedown at the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara raises funds for the nonprofit's preschools and support services

Guests had a rip-roaring time at the Couture Country Gala hosted by the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara on Oct. 15 to benefit the Storyteller Children’s Center, whose local preschools provide tuition-free early childhood education for at-risk children and offer support services for families in crisis to achieve stability.

“We are fortunate that we have such a community of donors, volunteers and people who really believe in us,” Storyteller Executive Director Terri Allison said. “And this event reflects that sense of community in Santa Barbra that is created when they all come together for the kids.”

Nearly 300 guests mounted up for the festive hoedown clad in country couture and runway rodeo attire with wide-brimmed cowboy hats, leather vests, designer denim jeans, ruffled chiffon gowns, and fashionable accessories of turquoise, pearls and diamonds necklaces with silver belt buckles, cuff-links and playful bow ties.

Laughter and animated conversation frequently rose above the country music that poured from the speakers around the room, and guests happily bumped hips and elbows as they mingled in small groups, surveyed silent auction items on display or lounged on oversized brown leather couches.

Silent auction item favorites included a one-year subscription to, sterling silver men’s onyx and mother of pearl cuff links from Bryant & Son’s Jewelers, and a gift certificate to Lucky’s restaurant in Montecito.

By sundown, ringing cowbells echoed across the reception area and guests rounded up into an outdoor dining area adjacent the Carriage House Museum for chow.

Diners settled into their seats under a large ivory tent fashioned with strings of lights above tables decorated with burlap and floral centerpiece filled with hydrangeas and fresh lavender in bloom.

Old-fashioned jelly jars were used as drinking glasses and complemented the “home on the range” theme designed by Gala Committee chairwoman Robyn Bartling and party consultant Kim Curtis from Toast.

The hot-bellied, kickin’ cuisine for the evening began with mouth-watering pizza appetizers by California Wood-Fired Catering, entrées of grilled flank steak, Mexican rice and homemade corn tortillas from Los Arroyos, brownies by IxCacao, and lemon and lavender tartletts by Elizabeth Colling accompanied by an array of fine wines from Babcock Winery.

During dinner, guests enjoyed an informative film that highlighted the children, families, services and future goals of the Storyteller Children’s Center.

Founded in 1988, the center’s underlining principle remains to assist the disadvantaged population of children and families residing in Santa Barbara County who make less then $20,000 annually or are burdened with unemployment, homelessness and other disabilities.

The highly accredited Storyteller program serves up to 42 students daily in addition to an enrollment of 90 to 95 children per year. The school is filled to capacity year-round, and children and families in need of assistance are placed on a waiting list.

More than half of the children enrolled in Storyteller are from single-parent households and many have witnessed domestic violence and substance abuse, traumatic experiences that dramatically affect a child’s brain development and often results in early behavioral problems, delayed speech and heath issues.

Taking into account the rich demographic makeup of the populace in Santa Barbara, the nonprofit organization developed a multicultural and bilingual curriculum in its preschool program designed to effectively engage children from various ethnicities in the learning process for ages 18 months to 5 years old.

“The nature of community building starts at the center,” Allison said. “So at Storyteller we are very interested in creating a community where teachers, specialists and parents are working together to close the achievement gap.”

The center was awarded with the National Association for the Education of Young Children in 1998 and reaccredited again in 2005.

A staff of nine teachers and full-time directors work in collaboration with Early Head Start and Head Start, CALM and the Community Action Commission to ensure that the children and their families in the program don’t have to endure hardship alone.

Services and educational programs offered to clients range from parent education workshops, mental and disability services, vision and dental screening to early childhood education.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure that are kids are succeeding when they get to school, because this demographic is generally the kids that get left behind,” Allison said.

The center has begun an expansion campaign to raise $3.2 million for the development, support and capital improvements at a second school located on a large lot at 2121 De la Vina St. in a charming Craftsman-style house just two blocks from Storyteller’s original facility at 2115 State St.

Funds generated from the gala event also provided assistance to meet the needs of children and families on the waiting list with continuing efforts to provide clients a stable environment for up to 10 years.

“I think that everybody can support the idea that we are building a better community,” Allison said. “Because if we have children who leave Storyteller and go on to graduate from high school, then the whole community benefits.”

Later, the live auction hosted by Ann Gursey lassoed in high numbers from bidders for a “City Slicker” experience working on a cattle ranch in Colorado and “Prairie Chic” for the avid art lover featuring a specially commissioned oil painting by Karen Bezuidenhout.

Guests closed the evening kickin’ up their heels to live music performed by the Boot Scootin’ Boogie with Lola and The Red Hots as the dust settled on another successful annual event.

The fundraiser brought in more than $170,000 in proceeds to benefit Storyteller programs and the community.

“It’s not just that one child, but that the whole family leaves here with the skills needed to be a productive member of the community,” Allison said.


» Big Country:

» Bonanza: Robyn and Michael Bartling, Louise and Tim Casey, Deckers Outdoor Corporation, Elizabeth and Lee Gabler, Marisa and Brett Grimes, Patty and John MacFarlane, Elizabeth and Kenny Slaught, and the Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank.

» Blazing Saddles: American Riviera Bank, Berkley Aviation, Kim and Chip Blankenhorn/Alix and Josh Rabinowitz, Michael and Nancy-Maynez Casey, Fell, Marking, Abkin, Montgomery, Granet & Raney, LLP, Tiffany and Frank Foster, Sarah and John McFadden, Montecito Bank & Trust, Lizzie & Brent Peus, Valerie and A.J. Rice, Kyra and Tony Rogers, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, Art Seiden, Carrie Towbes and John Lewis, and Venoco, Inc.

» Bite the Bullet: Ameriflex/Anne and Thomas Goodson, Sue and Ed Birch/The Mosher Foundation, Nancy and Thomas Crawford, Citrix Online, Leslie and Jim Comis, Cox, the Green Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. James O. Gundlach, Dr. Shawn and Sherry Hlavaty, Kristin and Brian McWilliams, Michele and Mark Meisenbach, NS Ceramic Inc., Shannon and Michael Reyes, Rachael and Dave Stein, and Peggy and Mike Weimar.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews, and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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