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Women’s Fund Witnesses the Power of Collective Giving at Annual Site Visit Event

Past Women’s Fund Chair Sallie Coughlin, current Women’s Fund Chair Nancy Harter, Santa Barbara District Attorney and Keynote Speaker Joyce Dudley and event chairperson Shelley Hurst. Click to view larger
Past Women’s Fund Chair Sallie Coughlin, current Women’s Fund Chair Nancy Harter, Santa Barbara District Attorney and Keynote Speaker Joyce Dudley and event chairperson Shelley Hurst. (Peter de Tagyos / Women’s Fund photo)

“Changing Lives Together” was at the heart of the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara’s 2015 Site Visit program, held Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, at the First Presbyterian Church.

More than 200 Women’s Fund members and guests gathered to learn how $460,000 in recent Women’s Fund grants are changing lives for local women, children and families.

“The Women’s Fund is a unique all-volunteer organization where women combine our charitable dollars to make large, impactful grants to local nonprofits,” said Women’s Fund Chair Nancy Harter. “We’ve donated more than $5.1 million to local agencies since we began in 2004 and grown from only 68 members to nearly 700 last year.”

The Oct. 29 Site Visit kick-off offered an opportunity for Women’s Fund members to learn how their donations are making a crucial difference in their neighbor's lives, as well as how powerful their individual gifts can become when they are part of a collective philanthropy group.  

Afterwards, members were able to sign up for specific site visit experiences designed to enable small groups to get an intimate feel for how these agencies accomplish their goals.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley gave the keynote address to the group, highlighting her views of how the Women’s Fund and the agencies honored work together to change lives in the community.

"The mission of the Women’s Fund is to improve the lives of women and children in South County," she said. "The mission of my office is to pursue truth and justice by employing the highest ethical standards in vigorously prosecuting the guilty, protecting the innocent and preventing crime. The strong nexus is that we both employ the highest ethical standards to protect the innocent and prevent crime."

Seven grantee agencies updated the audience on the progress of their grants to show how they have changed lives:  Sarah House, Transition House, Community Action Commission, Mental Wellness Center, Children’s Resource & Referral, New Beginnings Counseling Center and Conflict Solutions Center.  

These seven agencies are the most recent recipients of  $460,000 in Women’s Fund grants.

Sarah House Executive Director Debbie McQuade praised the Women’s Fund for enabling her agency to add caregivers to improve and extend end-of-life care for needy women.  

“Our caregivers are the heart and soul of our Mission,” she said.  “They dispel the aloneness and the loneliness, and that is why many residents often say, with touching gratitude, that they have found at Sarah House some of the best days of their lives.”

Kathleen Baushke, the executive director for Transition House, explained the tremendous difference that air-conditioning made for families in their emergency shelter.  

“On hot nights when we sheltered up to 70 people in a 10,000 square foot living space, we found higher instances of behavior problems, health issues and sleeplessness," she said. "Making significant life changes is more difficult under these circumstances.”  

She encouraged the audience to pick up a book of drawings and quotes that express client appreciation for the improved building. The second part of the Transition House grant addresses noise reduction in the currently loud dining area. These improvements, Kathleen added, “meet the agency’s goal of reducing the trauma of homelessness.”

Community Action Commission Executive Director Fran Forman showed how their grant is being used to provide healthy lunches to the South County’s homebound and/or impoverished senior citizens.

“Your grant is responsible for us being able to serve over 42,000 senior meals at both senior centers and through home delivery.”

She pointed out the care her agency takes to provide nutritious meals but also emphasized that the social interaction their clients received at the senior centers and through the personal home delivery volunteers to the homebound was vital to the health and happiness of the many seniors unable to cook for themselves.

Mental Wellness Center CEO Annmarie Cameron described their “game-changing” grant from the Women’s Fund to provide support and information for parents of teens and young adults living with mental health problems.  

Family support is crucial to the teens struggling with seemingly overpowering issues. The workshops and group sessions offer tips for managing the needs of the troubled teen as well as the needs of all family members, and individual counseling helps the family obtain good medical care and professional help.

Children’s Resource & Referral Executive Director Michelle Graham described their project to create 200 new, high-quality child care spaces in Santa Barbara by educating and licensing women who are in the process of opening or expanding their child care businesses. She described the grant as an investment that will live on for many years through their multi-phase program of training and mentoring.  

“We now have seven nationally accredited family child care providers,” she said, “more than in 22 other states combined.”  

Children’s Resource & Referral work as part of one Family Child Care Network that trains together, networks together and mentors and coaches each other, resulting in increased quality child care.

The New Beginnings Counseling Center grant from the Women’s Fund was for the Safe Parking Program, which provides case intensive management and outreach to the homeless and safe overnight parking to individuals and families living in their vehicles.  

Program Coordinator Amanda Staples described how the grant was used to hire another case manager and to increase hours for the lot monitor and outreach workers.  

“We currently have over 120 participants in our program,” she said. “Your grant has enabled us to provide financial assistance to help rehouse clients through security deposits, first month’s rent and fundamental moving costs. Together we have helped transition and stabilize our clients for a better life.”

Conflict Solutions Center executive director Lizzie Rodriguez described how the grant money they received for the Restorative Justice program addresses juvenile crime and the resulting harm, tackling the question of how to “make things right.”  

“Restorative Justice is more than a program,” she said. “It is community building, reconciliation and peacemaking. Through Restorative programs, together we are changing lives!”

Women’s Fund members pool their charitable donations, research critical community needs and then vote on which agencies will receive the funds collected during the year.

The Site Visit kick-off and subsequent site experiences provide a midyear progress review that enables Women’s Fund members to see their gifts in action.

Click here for more information about the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, a field of interest fund of the Santa Barbara Foundation.

Mary Wiemann is a member of the Women's Fund of Santa Barbara.

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