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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 5:28 pm | Fair 60º


New Beginnings Counseling Center Refuels with Second Annual Changing Lives Gala

Belmond El Encanto hosts packed fundraiser to make a difference for a broad range of NBCC beneficiaries

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New Beginnings Counseling Center has served more than 2,000 of Santa Barbara County’s most vulnerable residents this year by providing affordable counseling, safe shelter, case management, employment services and community outreach programs.

The center recently held its Second Annual Changing Lives Gala Dinner at the Belmond El Encanto to raise funding for even more mental health services for families and individuals.

“We serve over 2,000 people per year and we have five programs, a community Counseling Center, a Safe Parking Program, Life Skills Parenting Education Program, Support Services for Veterans and Their Families, and our Supportive Services Program for the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara,” said executive director Kristine J. Schwarz, MA, MFT.

These critical programs serve a key number of local needs with 830 clients served in the Safe Parking Program, approximately 60 families each year served by Life Skills, 120 veterans served by the veterans affairs program, and 181 clients served by case managers in the Housing Authority program.

The programs also help fill a need for one in four adults who experience mental illness in a given year. Approximately 26 percent of homeless adults who stay in shelters live with a serious mental illness, officials say.

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.

“This is our second annual fundraiser and we are thrilled to be here at El Encanto,” Schwarz said. “We have a great lineup of amazing speakers.”

Special guest speakers included Glenn Bacheller, chairman of Homeless Affinity Group, and Sami Samir Ibrahim, a former Army sergeant who praised the organization for helping him “rebuild his life.”

Midway through the presentation, guests were treated to a short film about Townsend’s personal challenges and the Safe Parking Program made by award-winning filmmaker Michael Nash, the evening’s keynote speaker.

Nash, known for his critically acclaimed films Fuel and Climate Refugees, is currently working on a documentary titled Boomtown, which depicts the rising number of elderly homelessness across the United States.

“The film is about how this storm is approaching America of elderly people, and it’s really a triangular collision of people just living longer and people being forced out of their jobs early and not getting the pensions for retirement and people not saving like they did in prior generations,” Nash told Noozhawk. “You kind of combine those three things together and it doesn’t take much to have someone out on the streets.

“I think what New Beginnings is doing can be a pilot program for cities and townships across America.”

Guest and former NBCC client Caroline Townsend, 78, a former real-estate agent and property owner of several buildings in Santa Barbara, said she fell upon hard times and lost everything that she owned during the recession, and was forced to live in her car for a couple of months. While homeless, she reached out to NBCC for help and credits the Safe Parking Program for providing her with safe, daily-monitored parking spaces at night.

“When you find yourself sleeping in your car it is really scary, because one it’s illegal, and two it’s a really dangerous thing to be doing,” she said. “So that there is such a program is fantastic. It takes this enormous pressure off.

“It’s really a relief. It makes you feel like, OK, I’m going to be OK and things are going to be fine.”

Townsend, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and had broken an ankle at the time, said she just had to carry on when things got tough.

“When you are unexpectedly in a panic situation where you suddenly realize that this is it, it’s hard to ask people for help,” she said. “The people at New Beginnings were wonderful. They made me feel safe. They made me feel hope.”

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 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz

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