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Scholarship Foundation Gets Personal about Its Education Opportunity

Community leaders hear the return on their investment in the next generation of students.

The Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara held its annual Community Leaders Luncheon on Friday to fete the movers and shakers who have made the 46-year-old organization one of the nation’s leading charities. As is often the case, it was a grateful scholarship recipient who brought the audience to its feet.

Ashley Costa, a UCLA senior and 2005 Lompoc High graduate, described how the support she received from the Scholarship Foundation had helped her to achieve her dream of a college education, and put her in a position to attain even loftier career goals.

In clear command of the room of nearly 400 people at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort, Costa told her humble story: Her parents divorced when she was just a year old, her mom struggled with alcoholism and hepatitis C, she worked her way through high school so she could help the family with living expenses. But she proudly recounted her accomplishments, too, including her 3.7 grade-point average, lettering in sports for the Braves, and paying for her own car insurance.

“I learned to appreciate the things that were available to me,” she said.

One of the available opportunities was the Scholarship Foundation’s assistance, in the form of a College Access Foundation Scholarship and a Santa Barbara Foundation student loan. That gave her the means to get to Westwood and Costa took it from there.

The political science major is pursuing a minor in Portuguese; she’s president of Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society; she’s served in governance positions in her dorm; she’s an intern at the Los Angeles-based Democracy Council; and she harbors aspirations to be a U.S. senator. Inspired by her speech, many among the audience were inclined to vote for her right then and there.

But mindful that the trail blazed by others doesn’t stop with her, Costa asked the attendees to continue to give generously to the Scholarship Foundation so that future recipients will have the same chance at higher education as the thousands before them.

“Your support of these students will be repaid as we move forward,” she said.

Following Costa was the event’s keynote speaker, Tim Marquez, chairman and CEO of Venoco Inc. and whose personal story was equally compelling.

“I was one of those kids the Scholarship Foundation helps,” he said, before adding that such help was unavailable to him at the impoverished high school he attended in Denver. “No one ever talked to us about going to college, even those of us who had good grades.”

Marquez put himself through Colorado School of Mines on what he called a Coors scholarship. Working at the nearby brewery made him a popular guy among his classmates, thanks to the beer coupons employees received.

His first job after college was on an oil platform off the Ventura coast and he fell in love with the industry. In 1992, with a $3,000 buyout from Unocal, he started Venoco — short for Ventura Oil Co. — and he was off and drilling. Marquez reminded Montecito Bank & Trust chairman Mike Towbes, who was sitting at a table of senior officers, that his bank was instrumental in helping him purchase his first oil field, for $100,000.

“I loaded up a Visa card from Bank of Montecito,” he explained. “Mike’s gonna want a piece of the company now. Sorry, it’s too late. I paid it back.”

Marquez said Venoco’s success inspired him to give back to the communities where the company does business. Crediting a conversation he had with Towbes’ wife, Ann, he said he realized there was no bigger benefit than through educational opportunities. Now based in Denver, Marquez has been instrumental in establishing a scholarship organization there that is strikingly similar to the Santa Barbara model. Last year, he said, it distributed more than $3 million in awards and arranged for another $15 million in additional scholarships and grants.

“I’ve got a greater appreciation of education than ever before,” he said of his experience.

With net assets of $30 million, the nonprofit Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara made 3,300 awards totaling $8.5 million last year. Meanwhile, 15,000 students and parents received financial aid advising services. Despite that success, warned foundation executive director Colette Hadley, “2009 is going to be a tough year for students. College tuition and fees have risen 439 percent — adjusted for inflation — over the last 25 years. That’s higher than any other sector.”

“In times of financial instability, the need is even greater for programs that promote college accessibility and affordability,” she said. “Gaining a college education gives students the opportunity they need to be successful.”

Click here for more information on the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, or call 805.687.6065. Click here to learn how to make a gift for scholarships.

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