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For 116 Years, Family Service Agency Stays True to Its Mission of Putting Community First

Longtime supporters Shirley Ann and Jim Hurley have witnessed firsthand the growth undergone by the Santa Barbara County nonprofit

Honorary director Shirley Ann and Jim Hurley have been steadfast supporters of Family Service Agency for 35 years.
Honorary director Shirley Ann and Jim Hurley have been steadfast supporters of Family Service Agency for 35 years. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: This article is the second in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first part.]

For more than 116 years, delivering positive change, growing healthy families and building vibrant communities has been the goal of Santa Barbara County’s oldest nonsectarian human service nonprofit, Family Service Agency.

Founded in 1899, FSA has delivered essential services to the community’s most vulnerable children, families and seniors from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. Situations for clients of the agency can range from job loss to health-care limitations, housing, emergencies, and resources for food and clothing.

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Honorary director Shirley Ann Hurley, along with her husband, Jim, have been long-standing supporters of FSA for 35 years, and witnessed firsthand the branches of growth and changes that the agency has undergone.

“When Shirley and I first got involved, I was very unfamiliar with what Family Service Agency was,” Jim Hurley said. “Then I realized that growing up this is what was known in most communities as a community chest, an organization that would help the whole community.”

Starting in the late 1890s, Santa Barbara citizens met to determine ways to help with local needs, and the foundation for Santa Barbara County’s first organized social service agency was initiated.

Now called Family Service Agency, Associated Charities opened the Neighborhood House at the historic Arellanes adobe at 800 Santa Barbara St. in 1910, becoming a hub of human services in Santa Barbara.

Associated Charities focused on six goals in doing welfare work, providing emergency support and educational programs to foreign speaking families by distributing milk, supervising boarding homes, coordinating outreach to families housing orphaned children, along with evolving social and civic commitments.

Shirley Ann Hurley shared how the emphasis was appealing to her after her graduation from the Junior League, in 1980.

“I was honored to be asked and it was something that I cared about — a lot of work with children and families," she said, "and I know the key to raising healthy kids that can achieve is making sure that they get the right start.” 

Healthy kids had been a part of the makeup for FSA, since 1917, when the Family Milk Fund was established to distribute milk and teach nutrition to undernourished children and families for nearly 30 years.

Job training programs were started for women in 1920, in sewing and cooking along with English teaching child care.

Throughout the Great Depression, the agency adapted its programs to continue providing support — transferring sewing classes from the Industrial Age to creating garments that were distributed through a Community Clothing Exchange program.

Other work relief projects included wood chopping, cobbling, vegetable gardening and sewing that provided work and helped satisfy needs. The wood project consisted of the men chopping down and delivering wood to families in need. A Building Fund was also created to provide low-income housing for those in need.

In 1938, Associated Charities renamed itself Neighborhood House to more closely align with the group-based activities that the agency was involved with in the community.

Fitting under this new guise were children’s groups with a range of activities from fine arts to music, sports and camping trips. Mother-Child Workshops also offered education to teach mothers on the proper way to care for their children.

Neighborhood House became a member of the Family Association of America in 1948, forming a transition from group work to family service. In 1953, Neighborhood House became Family Service Agency, reflecting a new focus on providing services to strengthen families.

“From when I started, FSA has grown a lot and enlarged its original vision of what it could do,” Shirley Ann Hurley said. “It has established centers in many, many different schools for young children and our professionals work with teachers to make a difference.”

People sought out or were referred to FSA seeking assistance with juvenile delinquency, parenting skills, challenges of high cost of living, and marital and housing problems.

FSA expanded into north Santa Barbara County in 1960, and offered counseling once a week in Santa Maria and Lompoc. Ten years later, marriage counseling became the number one FSA service sought by the community.

“But Family Service Agency isn’t just for children they have committees and groups that help the elderly and different groups in town,” Jim Hurley said. “So it’s not just for children, although that’s their primary emphasis.”

In 1973, the Worry Clinic and Concern were started, offering small group discussion-based programs for people age 55 or older.

In order to raise funds to help cover the rising cost of its programs and establish an endowment, the adobe, which had been the agency’s home for 70 years, was sold in 1980. But within just seven years the new site was overcrowded for both clients and staff, and in 1987, the agency moved into the old Talk of the Town restaurant.

In 1992, FSA continued its breadth of services to the community with a senior case management program.

Following funding cuts in 1976, FSA returned to the north county in 1993, and within three years services in Lompoc grew by 300 percent, including School-Based, Child and Family and Intensive In-Home Therapy counseling.

A Mothers & Sons Program was also begun to assist mothers with adolescent sons who might be at risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Big Brothers Big Sisters became a program of FSA, in 1998, and the program experienced a decade of growth expanding from serving 70 youth in Santa Barbara to 250 countywide.

“These adults are men and women who take these young people under their wing and help them,” Jim Hurley said. “The men very often take the boys to ball games and do things like that and spend one day a week with them.”

In 2005, FSA launched Santa Barbara County’s 2-1-1 Helpline, providing 24-hour information and referrals for health and human services, and partnered with Ventura County 2-1-1 to dramatically reduce 2-1-1 operating costs and maintain the same high level of care to Santa Barbara County residents.

The prevention-based programs and education from FSA are aimed to assist and promote prevention, and can be instrumental in change and healthy communities. 

“The truth is if we can reach all children young, we could change the world," Shirley Ann Hurley said, "because we would make a huge difference in how children grew up."

Noozhawk contributing writer Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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