[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

Early Saturday, Lower Manning Park in Montecito was buzzing with activity as volunteers and participants gathered for the M4 Community of Montecito Churches’ Hike for Haiti.

On a two-mile scenic hike through Montecito, parishioners from All Saints By-the-Sea Espicopal Church, El Montecito Presbyterian Church, Montecito Covenant Church and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church set out to raise money for Destined for Grace, a local nonprofit organization with the mission to bring educational opportunities to children in Haiti. The funds for this venture are to help Destined for Grace build a kitchen at its school there.

Founded in 2008 by Rebecca Smith and Lindsey Connolly, Destined for Grace was the result of a life-changing trip to Haiti. Smith had returned with a different perspective on what she wanted to do with her life. She talked to Connolly about her experiences.

“We had just both graduated from college,” Connolly explained. “We were asking ourselves, ‘What’s next for us?’ and ‘What did we want to do?’”

The two had decided they wanted to work for themselves and wanted to do something to benefit others, resulting in the birth of Destined for Grace.

The first funds for Destined for Grace came from community rummage sales. Destined for Grace has already established a presence on the South Coast with three thrift shops, located at 5406 Carpinteria Ave. in Carpinteria, and 5960 Hollister Ave. in Goleta and 2830 De la Vina St. in Santa Barbara. All the profits from these shops benefit the school, which was built in 2011.      

Smith and Connolly were ecstatic to see their first large-scale benefit come to fruition this weekend.

“We have a booth at the Avocado Festival every year, but this is the first big event that we’ve put on,” Connolly said. 

While excited to have so many supporters at the event, Smith and Connolly seemed determined to educate participants about their mission in Haiti and how it affects the children with whom they work. A full percussion band with steel drums greeted participants at Lower Manning Park, and a banner was laid out for people to sign and send to the children in Haiti.

Signs were posted along the route with statistics about the educational situation in Haiti, along with Destined for Grace partners Vitamin Angels, Waves for Water and Unite to Light. Each organization had a booth, providing an opportunity for participants to learn more about their collaboration with Destined for Grace.

Smith and Connolly attribute much of the event’s success to Sister Kathleen Patrice, director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, who worked with them to present the idea for the hike to the M4 church board.

“All of this would not have been possible without her,” Smith said of Sister Kathleen at the opening of the hike. “She holds a very special place in our hearts.”

While the event had small beginnings, Saturday’s outpouring of support gives Smith and Connolly hope that the event will become an annual benefit.

For now, there are many ways that community members can support Destined for Grace. The organization is always looking for volunteers, as well as generous souls who wish to sponsor a student to attend the Haiti school. Destined for Grace also offers a donation deal in which it will give out $25 restaurant gift cards for $100 in donations. You can also visit the Destined for Grace thrift shops.    

Noozhawk intern Frankie Victoria can be reached at fvictoria@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.