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New Beginnings Counseling Center Honors ‘Community Champions’ Gary and Mary Becker

The nonprofit organization holds its fourth annual Changing Lives Gala Dinner to raise funds for its support services

Event producer Judi Weisbart, left, New Beginnings Counseling Center Executive Director Kristine Schwarz and board president Diane Pannkuk at New Beginnings’ fourth annual Changing Lives Gala Dinner held Sept. 29 at the Belmond El Encanto. Click to view larger
Event producer Judi Weisbart, left, New Beginnings Counseling Center Executive Director Kristine Schwarz and board president Diane Pannkuk at New Beginnings’ fourth annual Changing Lives Gala Dinner held Sept. 29 at the Belmond El Encanto. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

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New Beginnings Counseling Center held its fourth annual Changing Lives Gala Dinner at the Belmond El Encanto on Sept. 29 to raise funding for services assisting Santa Barbara County’s most vulnerable residents, providing affordable counseling, safe shelter, case management, employment services and community outreach programs.

Following a lively cocktail reception on the outdoor patio high in the Riviera overlooking Santa Barbara, guests settled into their assigned seats for dinner and the evening’s program.

Diane Pannkuk, NBCC board president, offered greetings and acknowledgements of successes and goals as dinner was served.

“There are so many accomplishments,” Pannkuk said. “This past year, New Beginnings served over 2,100 people through our five programs, providing over 4,000 counseling hours, sheltering hundreds of families and individuals, housing almost 100 veterans countywide, and putting over $240,000 of our $1.3 million annual budget directly back into the community, to transition our clients back into permanent stable housing."

Next, Kristine Schwarz, NBCC executive director, shared some background on the organization.

“New Beginnings has 18 full- and part-time staff and 23 master's- and doctoral-level volunteer counselors, ranging in age from 22 to 75,” Schwarz said. “We also have 10 volunteer master's- and doctoral-level clinical supervisors and eight board members."

This year’s event honored Gary and Mary Becker with the 2016 Community Champions award. Gary was unable to attend but Mary, joined by her granddaughter, Tallulah Downs, told Noozhawk: “We are so honored to be part of the good work of New Beginnings.”

“Gary invested in our Safe Parking Program several years ago when the program’s funding was uncertain, and helped us to build awareness and improve external communications through online and public relations media,” Schwarz said. “And Mary has helped to build community with our female Safe Parkers through her outreach with the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes. They have both been incredibly supportive and invaluable to the agency in so many ways.”

The organization provides five programs: a Community Counseling Clinic, Safe Parking, Life Skills Parenting Education, Support Services for Veterans and Their Families, and the Supportive Services Program for the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.

Gary and Mary Becker, recipients of the 2016 Community Champions award.
Gary and Mary Becker, recipients of the 2016 Community Champions award. (Mary Becker photo)

The Community Counseling Clinic offers psychological counseling to more than 600 at-risk families and individuals, where many clients receive a 15 percent reduction in distress after only eight sessions.

New Beginnings’ Safe Parking Program provides 115 safe overnight parking in cooperation with local churches, nonprofits, businesses and government agencies. Additionally, the program distributes 450 pounds of food each month and case management to transition into employment and permanent housing.

“This year, the Safe Parking Program lost over $100,000 in income because the committee empowered through the county to award HUD funding does not prioritize the vehicular homeless,” Schwarz said. “Much of the agency’s earned and unrestricted income this year will therefore by necessity go to help keep that program afloat.”

The Life Skills Parenting Education Program teaches hands-on parenting skills serving more than 100 low-income and at-risk families.

Veterans support services include temporary financial assistance for rental debts, utility and security deposits, and short-term rental assistance.

New Beginnings Counseling Center provides quality, affordable counseling, shelter, case management and education that strengthens the community and provides its clients with the ability to lead healthy and productive lives.

The evening was a stark reminder of the immediacy and critical needs of the organization and its clients.

“There are unfortunately too many days where I have to say no because we simply don’t have the funds to help everyone,” Schwarz said. “Quite frankly, sometimes it feels like we have to decide who gets the life preserver and who gets kicked out of the life raft. That is a terrific burden our staff carry home at night. How would you choose?”

Click here for more information about New Beginnings Counseling Center, or click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

From left, Eli Katz, M.D., Jan Ingram, R.N., and Richard and Frances Monk. Click to view larger
From left, Eli Katz, M.D., Jan Ingram, R.N., and Richard and Frances Monk. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)
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