Americans have been on the move since COVID-19 erupted in early 2020 and inspired those who could work from anywhere to seek more space, better weather and year-round outdoor activities, landing many on the Central Coast and in particular in Santa Barbara.
With an influx of newcomers, Santa Barbara’s vibrant nonprofit sector has an opportunity to introduce those residents to the many offerings and services that the area provides. Yet, the issue for local leaders is how to engage new neighbors while stifled by a global pandemic.
“A lot of folks moving to town are very savvy and they want to engage with organizations that are making a difference,” CALM CEO Alana Walczak said. “I think it really comes down to having trusted relationships, and depending upon volunteers and board members to make those introductions.”
“We also rely on board members to be ambassadors,” said Robin Gose, president and CEO of MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. “In addition, we conduct outreach to new families through local Realtors and work closely with Visit Santa Barbara and our local news sources to get our marketing materials out there.
“We encourage members to bring new guests because we know that once people walk through our doors and experience the museum firsthand, they understand the excitement and benefits of sharing science with our community.”
MOXI is also running a gift membership campaign offering one free month, which is open to newcomers and longtime locals.
Lotusland is another institution that once experienced is more fully appreciated.
“It’s a wonderful place to see when you are new to town,” Lotusland Executive Director Rebecca Anderson said. “It may be too early to see the impact of our new neighbors, but I know that people are wanting to be in nature, and our gardens provide safe outdoor spaces to spend reflective or leisure time.”
Anderson said the community has been invited to bring a picnic and enjoy the gardens, which has proven popular. In a more traditional year, Lotusland would host welcome receptions for new neighbors, but the pandemic has hindered the ability to host such events.
The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum goes straight to the source — the Santa Barbara Newcomers Club.
“We host newcomers and graduates of the club, frequently conducting tours and presentations followed by a reception on our patio,” Executive Director Greg Gorga said.
Margaret Crocco, president of the Santa Barbara Newcomers Club, joined the group on the last day in 2019, when she was one of 650 members. That number has since grown to 980. The club welcomed 44 new members in the past month alone.
While Crocco said most people have relocated from the Bay Area or Southern California, one-third are from out of state, hailing from places such as New York, Washington, D.C., Colorado and Michigan.
The Santa Barbara Newcomers Club has a Giving Back Committee that introduces newcomers to a broad range of locally based nonprofit organizations. The committee plans monthly events, presentations and tours, providing exposure and opportunities to engage with many nonprofit organizations.
The group recently toured Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and a hospice center. In addition, the club distributes a weekly newsletter with a link to the nonprofit event calendar.
“A common refrain we hear from newcomers is that they either graduated from UCSB, or their children attended the university and they fell in love with the area,” Crocco said. “They have all just been waiting for an opportune time to return.”
— Ann Pieramici is a Noozhawk contributing writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.