Thursday, April 26 , 2018, 2:13 pm | A Few Clouds 60º

 
 
 
 

Girls Inc. Opens Its New Doors

After a seven-year, $10 million campaign, a sparkling new Goleta facility is unveiled. And, no, Oprah didn't build it.

 

 

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Before this week, the facilities for Goleta’s after-school Girls Inc. organization consisted of two small buildings and a portable.

But on Tuesday, the organization proudly unveiled its sparkling new building, which expands the footprint five times over, and includes a staffed library, an entryway with fireplace, a dance studio, a computer room, several classrooms, a fully stocked kitchen and a full-sized gymnasium.

The grand opening for the school-sized facility at 4973 Hollister Ave. capped a grueling fund-raising campaign that raised $10 million over the course of seven years.

And contrary to the perception of many around the area, none of the money came from Oprah Winfrey, whose speech at the organization’s annual fund raiser four years ago led to a barrage of national media coverage on the local Girls Inc., from outlets like Entertainment Tonight, US magazine and the Los Angeles Times.

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Officials and fund raisers from Girls Inc. said they greatly appreciated Winfrey’s participation, but also wanted to make sure the facility’s 688 donors received due credit for their generosity.

In fact, so prevalent was the misperception that Winfrey built the building, the organization recently published a full-page newspaper ad to thank those who donated.

“She did contribute by being a speaker and by associating with us,” executive director Monica Spear said of Winfrey. “She gave us a great gift — it just wasn’t financial.”

Spear added that the organization has attracted many high-profile speakers over the years for its annual fund raiser, which pays for scholarships, not capital projects. They include the likes of former first lady Barbara Bush, media personality Arianna Huffington, California first lady Maria Shriver and actress Betty White.

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Donations ranged in size from $1,000 to $750,000. Major donors who gave more than $500,000 included the late Fenton Davison, a reclusive real-estate man, and Harold Frank, founder of a company that made magnetic recording heads for computers. The $750,000 donation for the library was made anonymously.

Fund-raiser Nancy Failing said she remembers taking one of the philanthropists out for a stack of pancakes one morning to talk about a possible donation. (She declined to say who is was.) She gave him the menu of donor options, and was pleasantly shocked when he asked if he could pay for the $750,000 gymnasium. After breakfast, he tried to pick up the tab, but she wouldn’t let him.

“I said, ‘I can buy you pancakes for the rest of your life!’” Failing recalled.

But it wasn’t always so easy.

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The efforts to raise money got under way shortly before the 9/11 attacks, which sent shockwaves of fear about the state of the economy, and put an understandable damper on the Girls Inc. project.

The 20,000-square-foot property on Hollister, between Patterson Avenue and Turnpike Road, sits on a plot of land that used to be Vic & Val’s Pumpkin Patch. The land was originally slated for housing, but the developer’s plans were rejected by Santa Barbara County as too dense, and the sale fell out of escrow.

At the time, Girls Inc. was looking for a home because its lease was expiring at its former location on Calle Real. By coincidence, the same day the sale of the Hollister property fell out of escrow, a Girls Inc. board member was driving past the open field and made a call to the owners to inquire.

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The owners agreed to sell to Girls Inc., even though the sale would take a long time for the nonprofit organization to vote on and finalize. The process took a couple of years, but the landowner waited, and froze the sale price at around $2 million, despite skyrocketing land values, Failing said.

“I remember thinking, ‘That’s a good sign — this is meant to be,’” she said.

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For awhile, the organization was drawing small amounts of rent money from a UCSB professor living in a house on the property that was built by a construction class at nearby San Marcos High.

Girls Inc., which also has a facility at 531 E. Ortega St. near Santa Barbara Junior High, is a cross between day care and after-school enrichment. Students range in age from kindergarten to junior high. They are picked up after school by Girls Inc. representatives and brought to the facility, where their parents come get them after work.

The students sign up for classes such as dancing, cooking and computer literacy, and tutors are on hand to work with them on homework.

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The students’ families pay on a sliding scale based on income level; the spectrum ranges from $1 a week to $90.

Girls Inc. officials said the organization still needs donations to help pay its mortgage, and always can use donations for the girls who cannot afford the regular price.

The Goleta center serves about 130 students, but officials said the new facility will help them boost that number to 300.

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