Nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer.  For the volunteers in the Assistance League of Santa Barbara, the heartfelt time they give to community projects recently was celebrated for its 60th year running.  The doors of the Assistance League, 1259 Veronica Springs Road, were open for everyone to enjoy music from the Ukulele Lulus and Basin Street Buddies (all League volunteers), and also to learn about the current programs offered by the nonprofit organization.

As the 300 volunteer members give their talent, time and energy, the Assistance League is strengthened by the quality and quantity of the help they give.

“Everyone’s a volunteer in this organization, from our president to all our valued members,” noted Susan Miller, a current member. “It’s a group effort, and it’s 100 percent volunteer.”

Imagine reducing the financial burden of Santa Barbara’s low-income families.  Now imagine giving school clothes and backpacks, free homework help, and even prom dress loans to those in need. For the past 60 years, Assistance League has tackled these issues and more through 14 projects that benefit a range of community members.

Hillside House,  an intermediate care facility for 59 residents with developmental disabilities or brain injuries, is one such project. The Assistance League has raised more than $1.3 million for the program and its volunteers spend countless hours serving as Secret Pals, celebrating birthdays and providing entertainment and personal connections through activities such as bingo and sing-alongs.

Operation School Bell, begun by the League in 1969, has provided clothing for more than 22,000 Santa Barbara area children from kindergarten through sixth grade. A companion program, Teen School Bell, was started in 1999 to do the same for middle-school students and now includes Goleta Valley, La Colina, La Cumbre and Santa Barbara junior high schools and Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara high schools. Two years ago, the Assistance League began Operation Prom Dress, which collects prom dresses from members and local stores for loan to high school girls in need of a prom dress.

Other programs are Bear H.U.G.S., which provides “huggy bears” to severe trauma patients of all ages; the Family Learning Program, a partnership with the Santa Barbara Housing Authority that provides tutoring, mentoring and support in math and homework assignments; Fostering Friends, which helps “emancipated” foster teens make the transition to independent living from foster care; and Santa Barbara Smiles, a dental health education program for low-income children and adults.

Click here for more information about these and many more philanthropies funded, run and supported by the 300 members of Assistance League of Santa Barbara, by its Las Aletas Auxiliary or by its Assisteens teenage volunteers.

The Assistance League relies heavily on the financial support it derives from selling high-quality donated goods at The Assistance Shop, which is open to the public. Located on the League’s leafy campus, the shop is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

Tracy Cooper is a Noozhawk intern.