Friday, October 19 , 2018, 10:24 pm | Fair 67º

 
 
 
 
Good for Santa Barbara

Nonprofits Play Essential Role in Santa Barbara County’s Sense of Place, Sense of Community

Widespread commitment to philanthropy is a shared strength among civic leaders and residents alike

Lynda Nahra, president of Pacific Western Bank’s Central Coast Region, describes the community’s willingness to get involved as pivotal to its sucess and long-term health. “When you come to town, you see that example of commitment that everybody has to making the local environment and the world a better place,” she says.
Lynda Nahra, president of Pacific Western Bank’s Central Coast Region, describes the community’s willingness to get involved as pivotal to its sucess and long-term health. “When you come to town, you see that example of commitment that everybody has to making the local environment and the world a better place,” she says. (Noozhawk file photo)

Whether we realize it or not, our lives are enriched by the dedicated, hard work of the many nonprofit organizations in Santa Barbara.

“We take it for granted, but it’s one of the really important pillars of our democracy, and here we are blessed with such a deep tradition of nonprofit activity and a sense of giving and giving back,” said Ron Gallo, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation.

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What is it about Santa Barbara that puts philanthropy and community-focused work at the forefront of public interest?

When people move to Santa Barbara, the first question often is: How do I get involved?

“When you come to town, you see that example of commitment that everybody has to making the local environment and the world a better place,” said Lynda Nahra, president of Pacific Western Bank’s Central Coast Region and a board member of several local nonprofit organizations.

“For many people, it’s the example that they see, which reminds them to do the same thing; so then it creates another nonprofit, or another volunteer, or another donor.”

The Santa Barbara Foundation, founded in 1928, has years of experience working with Santa Barbara County’s nonprofit community. Gallo realizes that as the community's social and economic needs change, so must its nonprofits and foundations.

“It’s one of our jobs as funders to encourage that kind of change, not just because we can, but because the future of this county is not assured — even beautiful Santa Barbara has stresses,” he said.

“I think every sector should always be looking at what’s next,” he added. “When there are big demographic shifts, nonprofits are not always where they could or should be soon enough.”

In Santa Barbara, residents and nonprofits benefit from its tightly knit, small-town energy.

“Yes, there is a true need, but because we are such a small community, I think you’re much more aware of it,” Nahra said. “You can go into a (larger) city and live on your side of town and not be as aware of that need, and here you’re confronted with it daily.”

Local philanthropist Anne Towbes went further.

“Everybody is so grateful to be here,” she added. “It’s such a philanthropic community.”

With so many organizations working to identify and solve the community’s array of problems, another issue can occur: duplication of efforts.

“I don’t think there would be much disagreement that, in this town, all those good things we talked about have generated a situation where we have too many (nonprofits) and what it means is that (there is) redundancy,” Gallo said.

“It becomes difficult to get resources, and there is not enough collaboration on issues.”

Nonprofits are so deeply enmeshed in the fabric of Santa Barbara that it is hard to imagine the community without them.

Nahra said without the community’s nonprofits, public officials probably would seek help from national foundations to address the needs of area residents.

“We would have less attention to the immediate needs of our community,” she said. “It is hard unless they have feet on the ground to see what is needed and get it there fast.”

Gallo agreed.

“If it weren’t for nonprofits the poor would be poorer, the homeless would be more stressed (and) education reform would not be what it is,” he said.

The generosity, altruism and empathy of residents and commitment to nonprofits run deeply through the culture of Santa Barbara.

“It really is a reflection of everything that is important to the humanity of a community,” Gallo said. “The nonprofits are right in the center of it.”

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Noozhawk contributing writer Kellie Kreiss can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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