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Noozhawk Talks: For Tish Gainey, Giving Back Is a Full-Time Labor of Love

Community volunteer brings tireless energy and passion to causes involving children, education

Whether working with the St. Cecilia Society to get health-care services for the poor, with the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara to research donation-worthy nonprofit organizations, or with the Santa Barbara Education Foundation to support local public schools, Tish Gainey pours her considerable intellect and energy into everything she does.

Tish Gainey brings a candid outlook to her volunteering, especially with education issues. 'I have a sense that (in schools) if you don't know what's going on, your kid's going to get left out,' she says. 'That's really why I want to help these other kids who don't have that.' (Garrett Geyer / Noozhawk photo)
Tish Gainey brings a candid outlook to her volunteering, especially with education issues. “I have a sense that (in schools) if you don’t know what’s going on, your kid’s going to get left out,” she says. “That’s really why I want to help these other kids who don’t have that.” (Garrett Geyer / Noozhawk photo)

“I really do like to volunteer and see the connection between what I’m doing and the outcome,” said Gainey, a longtime Santa Barbara resident and active community volunteer. “I like to be hands-on.”

Gainey’s father died when she was a young child, leaving her mother to raise their three children alone. Despite the hardship, she said her mother was never deterred by her circumstances.

“She ... definitely always felt like she was lucky,” Gainey said. “She was fortunate, and when you’re in that position you need to give back. That’s where I get it from.

“I do the stuff that comes from my Catholic school background. I went to Marymount when it was all girls and we were imbued with a sense of social justice. The fact that it was all girls, there was nothing a girl couldn’t do.”

Gainey says she’s always gravitated toward causes that involve children and education.

“I felt lucky to have a child as I was an older mother,” said Gainey, who has a 26-year-old son, Andy, with her husband, Charlie Roehm.

“I got started with volunteering by doing that with my son,” she added. “I was on the board of Marymount, then I was on the PTAs and the site councils at La Colina (Junior High) and San Marcos (High).”

Now Gainey is an advocate for kids who don’t have an adult to look out for them in such ways.

“Unfairness bothers me a lot,” she said. “I have a sense that (in schools) if you don’t know what’s going on, your kid’s going to get left out. That’s really why I want to help these other kids who don’t have that. Maybe their parent is working two jobs or whatever; they don’t stand a chance in hell to get the scoop on what’s going on.

“I’m not trying to get necessarily favoritism or anything like that but just to make sure,” she said. “It’s more about helping those kids who have less going for them.”

Gainey said the recent, voter-approved Measures A and B parcel taxes will help accomplish that goal.

“That’s what Measures A and B were all about,” she said. “I say bravo for our community; they got the message, they figured out.”

Gainey campaigned for the parcel taxes as a board member of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation.

“I’m very excited about where we’re going ... because the (Santa Barbara Unified School) District has got some very big plans, with the strategic plan they have,” she said. “We want to help raise the money to fund the technology and things like that.”

Gainey is also president of the St. Cecilia Society, the oldest charitable organization in Santa Barbara. The nonprofit’s mission is to help people in need defray their hospital bills or other unmet medical expenses.

“We actually just changed our name to St. Cecilia Fund in the hopes that will bring us more money instead of more people asking for money,” she said.

For more than 100 years, Gainey said, the low-profile organization “gave small amounts and people made small donations, and it was sort of a legacy thing in the community — a lot of the old timers and such.”

A recent trend has seen an increase in the number of requests as well as requests for larger amounts.

“Sometimes just a small thing will help somebody because then they can get into another program,” Gainey explained. “Say they are waiting to get on Medi-Cal but they have to have something done before that.

“Or if they have cancer, they can’t have any chemo until they have had their teeth fixed. Nobody pays for that. ... So we’re talking $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 to fix their teeth so then they can go get chemotherapy.”

She said the organization’s intention is not to be an ongoing health-care provider but to help get the costs of health care reduced, either through donations or by identifying a partner.

“It’s a lot of work, considering we’re all volunteer,” she said. “It’s a real labor of love.”

Gainey is also active with the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, and has headed up its research committee for the past several years. And if that weren’t enough to keep her busy, she recently joined the THRIVE Leadership Council (another education-related nonprofit organization).

“That’s enough,” laughed Gainey. “I actually do more than if I had a paid job!”

Despite her busy schedule, Gainey finds time to play duplicate bridge on a regular basis.

“Now I have an aptitude for it,” she said. “I’m not saying I’m a whiz-bang but I have card sense and I enjoy it.”

Gainey and her husband belong to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Cinema Society and go to a lot of movies. They frequently attend performances of the Community Arts Music Association and UCSB Arts & Lectures events. The longtime Hope Ranch residents recently downsized to a smaller home in Montecito.

“Now I like to walk my dog down on Channel Drive, by Butterfly Beach,” said Gainey, who actually has two Dachsunds, Angel (named after the baseball team) and Rosie.

“Rosie is the only who likes to walk,” she noted.

Gainey said her main motivation for volunteering is simple: she loves it.

“The kind of thing I like to do is hands-on, it’s important work I feel,” she said. “Not to put down people who like to do events and stuff, but I’m not one of those.

“I don’t even like to go to them anymore,” she laughed. “Isn’t that terrible? But I do like digging in and doing the work.”

Noozhawk contributing writer Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieDinaberg.

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