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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 8:01 pm | Fair 49º

Good for Santa Barbara

Ken Saxon: A Community of Healers Quietly Making a Big Difference

Well, our 2016 elections are over. How do we go about putting the “civil” back in “civil society?” How do we heal some of what’s been tearing us apart as a country?

This year things seemed more negative than ever — due to the broadcast media focusing on politics as reality-show entertainment combined with massive outside money flowing into negative political advertising. And, the Internet has become an echo chamber where it’s often the most extreme voices that reverberate.

So where do we turn to begin to reweave our social fabric? Fortunately, there is a tribe of people we can look to for inspiration — those in our communities who selflessly work every day to build up our citizens and our communities. I’m writing about our civic volunteers and our professional nonprofit leaders.

This summer New York Times columnist David Brooks toured some of the most economically challenged parts of our country trying to understand the anger he was reading about.

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But in addition to problems, he also found great inspiration in those he encountered committed to addressing the problems of real people — working directly with drug addicts and grieving children and the unemployed and other vulnerable populations.

Brooks wrote in his column, “A Nation of Healers,” that “the social fabric is tearing across this country, but everywhere it seems healers are rising up to repair their small piece of it. They are going into hollow places and creating community, building intimate relationships that change lives one by one.”

Santa Barbara County is filled with such healers, many of whom I’ve come to know in the Emerging Leaders and Courage to Lead programs I help run for our nonprofit Leading From Within.

I think of people like Kate Carter of LifeChronicles and William Peters of the Shared Crossing Project who work with the dying and those they leave behind. I think of people like Lucia Torres and the other teachers at Storyteller Children’s Center who work each day building up vulnerable children and their families.

I get inspired by the counselors at CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), who are committed to both treating and preventing the scourge of child abuse in Santa Barbara County.

And by people like Ginny Kuhn of the Prison Yoga Project and Bonnie and David Paul of the Freedom to Choose Foundation who go into our California prisons and offer compassionate human contact and opportunities for the incarcerated to make a better life for themselves.

One young couple I met this past year were Brittany and Ian Bentley. Moved by the number of orphans in the world, they adopted a child from Ethiopia and spent time there. They ultimately moved to Addis Ababa and built a social business, Parker Clay, that provides jobs to vulnerable women who might otherwise end up in the sex trade for want of other opportunities to make a living.

In addition to their Internet store, Parker Clay has now opened a beautiful little store — at 133 E. Anapamu St. across from the Santa Barbara County Courthouse — where they market their beautiful Ethiopian-made leather goods.

The Bentleys’ social business provides beautiful merchandise locally and at the same time helps women in Ethiopia be independent and take care of their families. Consider stopping by this holiday season, to hear more about their inspiring story and to support their work.

As you can imagine, none of the “healers” I’m writing about do their work because it’s the way for them to make the most money. They are not driven primarily by external motivations.

Instead, their drive comes from within — a drive to make a positive difference, to right wrongs and to heal a wounded world.

It’s what Paul Shoemaker titled his recent book about social entrepreneurs, Can’t Not Do. Someone sees a problem in their community or the broader world — and rather than looking the other way and simply focusing on their self-interest, they “can’t not” try to make a difference.

My “can’t not do” is to invest in and connect all these community leaders — helping the sustain their passion for their cause, support each other, and collaborate and innovate in ways that advance the common good.

When I saw how little was being invested in these do-gooders who were leading such important work in our community, I couldn’t not respond. And here I am nine years later with a calling, a sense of meaning, and having gotten to know many great people I admire. And I love my work.

If you find yourself demoralized by this “nasty” political season, I suggest you wander down to one of our local nonprofit organizations and ask how you can help.

Maybe you can volunteer and serve as a “healer” yourself. Or you can donate and support the good works of others, helping them keep it going and reach more people.

Either way, you will be making our community a better place as we reweave our social fabric, thread by thread.

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Ken Saxon is board president of Leading From Within and an instructor in its Courage to Lead and Emerging Leaders programs. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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