Amid financial struggles and a growing demand for youth development, the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County has turned to the leadership of recently hired executive director Gina Carbajal.

“It really goes with my background,” said Carbajal, who has lived in Santa Barbara since 1986 when she followed the man she would later marry to UC Santa Barbara.

Carbajal has spent more than 20 years working for local nonprofit organizations, much of that time with the Community Action Commission’s Head Start program. A first-generation college graduate, Carbajal will complete a master’s degree in public administration next month and stresses the importance of education in her family.

“I feel education is really key to developing yourself and succeeding in life,” said Carbajal, who is married to Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

Carbajal says the United Boys & Girls Clubs operates in the same spirit, providing tutors and educational support to young people who may need extra help on their way to realizing personal success.

She says she plans to take a proactive approach to balancing tight finances and offering valuable services to the community.

“We’re putting together a strategic plan, really looking at every aspect of the program,” Carbajal said. “We want to develop and refine how we go about looking for funding and grants.”

Budget constraints forced the layoff of the Santa Barbara West Side Club’s athletic coordinator last fall.

But Carbajal recognizes the importance of youth participation in sports, and says she aims to rebuild the athletic programs at that site.

“We want to make sure we have the finances to provide the various components of the program,” she said.

In the meantime, the West Side Boys & Girls Club has been incorporated into some of the Goleta Club’s athletic offerings.

“Our biggest concern is maintaining the facilities and making sure we are providing a safe place for our children,” Carbajal said.

Click here for more information on the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, or call 805.681.1315.

Noozhawk intern Jordon Niedermeier can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.