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Storyteller Children’s Center’s ‘Home Is Where the Heart Is’ Non-Gala Pays Off

Long known for its fun but elaborate fundraising galas each fall, Storyteller Children’s Center did something different this year: It requested your absence at a “Home Is Where the Heart Is” gala.

That’s right, Storyteller wanted you to stay home and not attend a gala, so that every penny donated to the nonprofit would go directly to the homeless and at-risk children it serves instead of the food, drinks and other trappings of a gala.

Many Storyteller supporters loved the idea of not having a gala, which meant the preschool for homeless and at-risk children reach was able to reach its event fundraising goal by the deadline of Oct. 18.

“It was great that we could achieve a goal in a different way,” said Storyteller board member Lizzie Peus, who co-chaired the effort with Jill Chase. ‘It was an experiment, but I think we earned a lot of goodwill doing it. The message resonated with a lot of people, and some supporters contributed even more because they liked the concept so much.”

Because the Storyteller gala has a long history of success, the decision to skip a gala this year was difficult and risky. The Storyteller board decided to try a “no gala” approach this year for several reasons — not only had the organization spent a tremendous amount of time and energy on last year’s huge 25th anniversary gala, it also quickly and quietly raised money last winter to purchase a permanent home for its preschool for homeless children at 2121 De la Vina St.

“We felt it was the right thing to do,” said Tiffany Foster, chair of the Storyteller board of directors. “Our organization was focused on securing a permanent home for the children, and we are so thankful for the incredible show of support we received.”

Over 100 families a year are served by Storyteller. Although it expanded from one school to two in 2007 to meet the overwhelming demand for preschool for low-income families, Storyteller has a waiting list of approximately 100 children hoping to earn a spot in the tuition-free school. Storyteller takes a comprehensive and therapeutic approach, providing therapy to children and families in crisis. While children are enrolled at Storyteller, parents must work or be in school and they take parenting and life skills classes at Storyteller.

Longtime supporters of Storyteller applauded the idea of the stay at home effort.

Storyteller Children's Center board members Kelly Bilek, left, and Dinah Calderon. (Rob Grayson photo)

“I think it’s very cool — I’ve always loved the idea and I encouraged Storyteller to do it,” said Ken Saxon, founder and president of Leading From Within, which helps develop non-profit leaders in the Santa Barbara community. “With an effort like this one, all the conversations with your supporters are mission-driven, which isn’t always the case at a gala.”

Although Storyteller reached its goal on Oct. 18, supporters can still make a donation online by clicking here.

“There are always needs at Storyteller,” board member Carrie Towbes said. “Just because we met a goal doesn’t mean that the needs of the children go away.” The event contributes about 15 percent to the organization’s annual budget.

On the day of the non-gala, Storyteller board and gala committee members delivered goodie bags to donors of the “Home Is Where the Heart Is” effort, which included a bottle of wine, cookies, popcorn and a soft, fuzzy blanket. That night, about 60 longtime supporters of Storyteller gathered at the home of board member Kelly Bilek for a “comfy casual” party; a drawing was held for a gift certificate to The Lark restaurant.

In addition to asking for donations, the Home Is Where the Heart Is effort included an online auction that featured a one-week stay in Vail, a Santa Barbara food & wine weekend, a Mattei’s Tavern private party and beach house “staycation.”

The wine for the goodie bags and comfy casual party was donated by Babcock Winery, which is producing a Pinot Noir called GrapeHunters. It will be used for the variety of charitable causes the Babcock family supports, including Storyteller.

“They do such great work. It’s an important cause and they do it really well,” said Bryan Babcock, who credited his wife with coming up with the idea of a special wine that would benefit charities. “The name, the label and everything it represents is really a reflection of Lisa’s heart.”

In addition to donating the wine for the goodie bags, Babcock Winery is having a 30th anniversary Harvest Festival this Sunday, Oct. 26, from noon to 5 p.m. at its winery 5175 E. Highway 246 in Lompoc. Ten percent of the proceeds from the Harvest Festival and future sales of the GrapeHunters 2013 wine will benefit Storyteller and another local charity, AHA!

— Julia Rodgers is a Noozhawk contributing writer and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Two longtime Storyteller Children's Center supporters, Daryl Stegall, left, and Laura Shelburne, right, with Tiffany Foster, chairwoman of the Storyteller Board of Directors. (Rob Grayson photo)

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