Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara Marks Decade of Changing Lives Together

The organization distributes $550,000 in grants to nine local nonprofits, with members’ contributions to date totaling $4.7 million

From left, Melissa Gough, Nancy Harter, Sallie Coughlin and Sarah Stokes at the Women's Fund's 10th annual Presentation of Funds Luncheon on Monday. Gough and Stokes chaired the luncheon, and Harter and Coughlin will co-chair the organization for 2014. (Peter de Tagyos photo)

From left, Melissa Gough, Nancy Harter, Sallie Coughlin and Sarah Stokes at the Women’s Fund’s 10th annual Presentation of Funds Luncheon on Monday. Gough and Stokes chaired the luncheon, and Harter and Coughlin will co-chair the organization for 2014. (Peter de Tagyos photo)

By Leslie Dinaberg, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

The Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara marked a decade of “changing lives together” at its 10th annual Presentation of Funds Luncheon on Monday, doling out $550,000 to support the work of nine local nonprofits. These new grants bring the total contributions by the Women’s Fund to the community to $4.7 million. “The Women’s Fund is proud to mark it first decade — 10 years of commitment to improving the lives of women, children and families in our community,” said Sallie Coughlin, Women’s Fund chairwoman. “The grants our members selected this year focus on two broad categories: programs that protect and nurture women and families in crisis, and programs that enrich and educate young children.”

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf were among the more than 300 people who gathered at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort for the event.

“The Women’s Fund is based on a simple, creative model — women combining our charitable donations so we can make a larger impact in the community than most of us would be able to do on our own,” Coughlin said. “Our grants are focused on programs that address the critical needs of women, children and families in southern Santa Barbara County.”

The organizations receiving funds include Casa Esperanza, Domestic Violence Solutions, the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, Posse Program: Opening Doors to College, SBCC’s Single Parent Achievement Program, the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, Storyteller Children’s Center and Youth Interactive Santa Barbara.

“You can’t imagine the joy and satisfaction in assisting the most vulnerable of our population achieve a new level of self-sufficiency,” said Interim Executive Director Bob Bogle, accepting a $50,000 grant on behalf of Casa Esperanza. “(With this money), we will be able to provide funding for six beds for a year, dedicated to supporting the women of Santa Barbara County as they transition from homelessness to housing.”

A $50,000 grant also went to Domestic Violence Solutions to provide a security system upgrade and a safe playground surface for families who’ve faced domestic violence.

“The research suggests that the younger the child the greater the impact of trauma, which is why a safe playground and toys for children that have few words to express their fear can be therapeutic and even life changing,” Associate Executive Director Marsha Marcoe said.

Womens Fund

Women’s Fund founder Carol Palladini addresses Monday’s luncheon. (Peter de Tagyos photo)

Accepting a $75,000 grant to provide a domestic violence attorney for women and children was Saji Gunawardane, acting executive director for the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County.

He spoke eloquently, stating, “Know that when we say thank you for your support, we are saying much more. We are speaking for many of the most vulnerable and voiceless women, children and families in our community who, until they arrive at our door for help, have been completely voiceless. It is through your support that we can finally give these once-silent victims not only safety and zealous protection, but one of the most empowering gifts of all: A voice.”

John Fowler, the new president and CEO of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, accepted a $50,000 grant from the Women’s Fund, which will provide after-school and summer educational enhancement programs for children of low-income families onsite at their affordable apartment complexes, where they will serve 120 kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

The Posse Program, an innovative collaboration between La Cumbre Junior High School and San Marcos High School, received an award for $75,000 for what La Cumbre Principal JoAnn Caines described as “a model program developed to support high achieving low income Latinos into high level classes in high school and through college. … The results from the first three years are beyond impressive: 100 percent passage of the high school exit exam in 10th grade by all of the Posse students, success in Honors and Advanced Placement classes where La Cumbre Latino students had been severely underrepresented, and successful students and future college graduates.”

San Marcos junior Jessica Zamora — a straight-A student with an impressive load of AP classes — shared her experiences as part of the first Posse group of 25 students who will apply to colleges next year: “You’re guaranteed to know someone in all of the hard AP classes, but we also all go together to La Cumbre after school every day and just work on our school work together, with City College students available and other mentors who are there to support us.”

“I think the main thing that is unique is having this set of students have their friends (their Posse) be in the same upper level classes with them,” San Marcos Principal Ed Behrens said. “One of the things that we heard before from the students is that they didn’t feel comfortable in the classes because they didn’t know anyone. So I think that it’s really making a big difference.”

An award of $90,000 went to SBCC’s Single Parent Achievement Program to provide child-care support for low-income single mothers allowing them to attend college. Vanessa Patterson, executive director of the Foundation for Santa Barbara City College, said, “On behalf of the single moms and their children whose lives are forever going to be changed because of your support, thank you!  You are their champions and are providing a gateway to higher education that will be the catalyst for lifting them and their children out of poverty and into a future of possibilities and opportunities most never even dreamed of.”

Elsa Granados, Executive Director of Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, accepted a $50,000 grant that will be used to provide crisis intervention and long-term counseling services to victims of sexual assault, telling a very moving story about how the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center provides survivors with avenues to transform their lives after a traumatic experience.

Also receiving a $50,000 grant was Storyteller Children’s Center. Executive Director Terri Allison said the funds would be used to continue the nutrition program for 100 of the community’s most vulnerable children each year.

The final grant of the day was for $60,000 and went to Youth Interactive Santa Barbara to provide entrepreneurial and job skills programs for underserved youth.

President Nathalie Gensac explained, “We have started several micro businesses, which are great vehicles for our youth to learn how to be productive, understand the value of teamwork and the connection between hard work, the classroom and the rewards of business enterprise. We have now developed a successful formula, which empowers disengaged youth by allowing them to keep their profits. …It’s a formula that is starting to pay great dividends. We have helped high school dropouts return to school, we have transformed graffiti artists into responsible commissioned artists who have painted murals funded by the city and much more.  Before today we were at a crossroads with excellent results but still struggling for funds. Your grant is truly transformational.”

Incoming Women’s Fund co-chairwoman Nancy Harter ended the program with a vivid description of collective giving efforts from Ana Oliviera, President of the New York Women’s Foundation: “You are one grain of rice. You come together with other grains, and it becomes a bowl of rice, and that is how we feed.”

Click here for more information about the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara.

Originally published in Noozhawk on April 28, 2014.