Fast Pitch Santa Barbara Semi-Finalists Announced

Fast Pitch SBFast Pitch SB—a Shark Tank style competition for nonprofits to make three-minute pitches to a panel of judges and a live audience for cash awards, including a $25,000 Judges award and two $10,000 Coaches awards—is off and running.

Social Venture Partners Santa Barbara (SVPSB) has chosen the following semi-finalists out of  a field of more than 100 applications from nonprofits looking to receive personal coaching and communications training from experts in the field:

A Different Point of View, whose mission is to engage, inspire and transform underserved youth using flight lessons as a launching pad.

AHA! is dedicated to the development of character, imagination, emotional intelligence, and social conscience in teenagers.

American Indian Health & Services is committed to empowering our community delivering accessible, socially responsive, and culturally appropriate health care.

Angels Foster Care of Santa Barbara places infants and toddlers in loving homes throughout Santa Barbara County.

C.A.R.E.4Paws works to reduce pet overpopulation and keep animals out of shelters in Santa Barbara County.

CASA of Santa Barbara County: The mission of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Santa Barbara County is to assure a safe, permanent, nurturing home for every abused and/or neglected child by providing a highly trained volunteer to advocate for them in the court system.

Family Care Network, Inc. operates family-based treatment programs as an alternative to group home or institutional care for children and youth and  serves over 1,400 children, youth and families annually in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

Girls Incorporated of Carpinteria provides programs for girls 6 to 18 years old that focus on science, math, and technology; health and sexuality; economic and financial literacy; sports skills; leadership and advocacy; and media literacy.

Hospice of Santa Barbara, whose mission is to care for anyone experiencing the impact of life-threatening illness or grieving the death of a loved one.

Just Communities advances justice by building leadership, fostering change, and dismantling all forms of prejudice, discrimination and oppression.

Leading From Within provides leadership development for the nonprofit community offering programs for executive directors, emerging nonprofit leaders, and helping to build the capacity of the nonprofit sector, nurture and sustain committed community leaders, and develop the next generation of engaged and involved citizens.

Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, which advances creativity and inspires critical thinking through meaningful engagement with the art of our time.

Sama Group, a family of impact enterprises dedicated to ending poverty and promoting social and economic justice.

Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, a countywide advocacy and resource organization that promotes bicycling for safe transportation and recreation.

Santa Ynez Fruit and Vegetable Rescue (“Veggie Rescue”) redirects or “gleans” local produce from farms, farmers markets, home gardens, and orchards  and deliver it to charitable organizations and school lunch programs in Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez and Santa Maria—all at no charge.

Sarah House Santa Barbara, which provides a home and end-of-life care for people with low income.

Solvang Elementary School’s Viking Cafe,  a brand new lunch program that is reforming the old school re-heated foods into farm fresh organic fruits and vegetables.

Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, which provides financial and emotional support to families of children with cancer living in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties.

The Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens works to preserve and operate Fairview Gardens, the historic and educational farm in Goleta.

Sanctuary Psychiatric Centers of Santa Barbara has been providing a distinctive continuum of care for mentally ill and co-occurring disorders adults since 1976.

The ten finalists will be announced on May 9.

Those groups will present their three-minute “fast pitch” to a panel of judges at the Music Academy of the West on May 15. There will be a live audience populated with potential investors, donors and community members, as well as satellite voting and viewing locations set up throughout Santa Barbara. 

For more information about getting involved with Fast Pitch SB click here. To read a Santa Barbara SEASONS story about Fast Pitch SB click here.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on March 28, 2014.

Archstone Foundation Grant Supports Hospice of Santa Barbara

Hospice of Santa Barbara logoThe Archstone Foundation recently donated $80,000 to support Hospice of Santa Barbara’s Spiritual Care Program in three areas: advance the integration of spiritual care into HSB’s non-medical, community-based programs that serve people with life-threatening illness and bereavement needs; decrease the spiritual suffering & isolation of residents of long-term care facilities in the greater Santa Barbara area; extend the reach of HSB’s trained spiritual care volunteers into long-term care facilities. In addition, a key component of the grant is funds for in-depth research on the impact of the program with the goal of publishing the findings in appropriate journals. This is the third year in a row Hospice of Santa Barbara has received this award, with the amount increasing from $50,000 in 2012 to $80,000 this year.

For more information about Hospice of Santa Barbara, including volunteer opportunities, call 805/563-8820 or visit

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on March 15, 2014.

Hospice of Santa Barbara Light Up A Life Stars Available Through December


Courtesy Hospice of Santa Barbara

Courtesy Hospice of Santa Barbara

Looking for a special way to honor a loved one this holiday season? Hospice of Santa Barbara—an organization that “volunteers” its free professional counseling and care management services to more than 700 children and adults every month who are experiencing the impact of a life-threatening illness, or grieving the death of a loved one—recently hosted its 30th annual holiday Light Up A Life celebrations in Goleta and Santa Barbara and its 20th anniversary celebration in Carpinteria, inviting families and friends to gather to celebrate the lives and memories of their loved ones. Hundreds of lights and stars illuminate memorial trees at each site through the month of December.

Light Up A Life memorial stars will continue to be sold throughout December at the following locations:

Anna’s Bakery in Camino Real Marketplace (7018 Marketplace Dr., Goleta)

Lovebird Boutique & Jewelry Bar (7 E. De La Guerra St., next door to Casa De La Guerra)

Curious Cup Bookstore (929 Linden Ave., Carpinteria)

Peebee & Jay’s (1007 Casitas Pass Rd., Carpinteria)

Montecito Bank & Trust (1023 Casitas Pass Road, Carpinteria)

Hospice of Santa Barbara office (2050 Alameda Padre Serra, Suite 100) and at or by calling 805/563-8820.

A $15 or more donation is suggested for each star, and all proceeds support Hospice of Santa Barbara. Stars may be hung on Light Up A Life trees located at:

Camino Real Marketplace, Goleta (on the corner plaza between Pier One and Hollister Brewing Company)

Casa de la Guerra, Santa Barbara

The Seal Fountain at Linden Plaza, Carpinteria

–Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on December 22, 2013

Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Stephen Jacobsen

Stephen Jacobsen

Stephen Jacobsen

After serving 16 years as Senior Pastor at Goleta Presbyterian Church, Stephen Jacobsen recently took over as Executive Director of Hospice of Santa Barbara.

Leslie Dinaberg: Did you always want to go into this kind of work?

Stephen Jacobsen: No. … I was a history major at UCSB a long, long time ago, so that whole thing of where do things come from, why is the world the way it is, it’s interesting to me. … I think too, in my ministerial work, it had a focus within a congregation. I did get involved in the community in a number of things over the years, but here at Hospice of Santa Barbara it’s like there are no boundaries. I can be anywhere in town listening and learning, so that’s pretty fun. It feels like a big toy box.

LD: Is that unusual to go into a school like UCSB and then go into the ministry?

SJ: When I was at UCSB I had no interest at all in religious stuff. …There are friends of mine that still can’t believe I ever went into this. But I was there in 1970, the bank was still smoking and lots of smoke was in the air of all kinds, so in that whole milieu it was a pretty exciting time, a pretty fascinating and wonderful time. … I made some decisions that weren’t too good for my health psychically as well as physically, and out of that I came to a personal crisis and then found a little grace point out there in the universe that kind of turned me around.

… Later, that led me into a relationship with the woman who is now my wife and we started going to a church and I was like, “I’ll be darned, every time I go here it’s kind of like this experience I had.” Before I thought organized religion was the most dull thing there ever was, but this has actually been going on for thousands of years, these writings in any tradition, so that’s what got me into it. UCSB was the last place … I never took a religious studies class there. … Personally, it’s a wonderful kind of a wonderful grace to where I kind of screwed up my life there. Here I get to go back and be a tax paying, responsible kind of a person who’s trying to help, and in that sense, I never thought I’d get back to Santa Barbara. But here I am, and in that sense it’s kind of a circle that I feel I wouldn’t have ever dreamed of.

LD: I know you served on the board before becoming executive director. What initially drew you to become involved with Hospice of Santa Barbara?

SJ: I’ve been in ministry 27 years and wherever I was people had such reverence for the work of Hospice and I got on the board in the 80s in Ventura County, when I was working in Santa Paula and it was an interesting board to be on. … Often in our culture we’re kind of like whoa, keeping things at arms length, and going through those things (loss of a loved one) kind of slows us down a little bit and makes us a little more reverent. So I thought this is interesting chemistry to be around where it’s people who have gone through some tough things in life. …Gail (Rink, the retiring executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara) and I would do occasional programs together and I just loved hearing her speak.

… So with all that then, what got me interested in the job was I just felt personally in my life, I am 55 and I’ve been doing what I had done for 27 years and it was wonderful, but I thought I would be open to something different. I have a great appreciation for what this organization does, but also a sense that at this point in Hospice of Santa Barbara’s growth it really wants to–in addition to doing all of the care giving it does for people–move to work with others in the community.

… There’ s a movement, the Alliance for Living and Dying Well … it has these two goals, to do kind of the nuts and bolts thing of how can we get all the services well integrated? How can we get advanced directives very available to people? But then there’s this second kind of a thing that the alliance is very much wanting to do, which is take this message, to form and articulate this message and take it into the culture in which we live.

There’s a saying that I really like by a guy named Matthew Fox, which is, “If we savor more we buy less.” And so instead of saying I should buy less, it’s like if I come to terms with the idea my life is limited, then I start to enjoy each detail more and then I just don’t feel like I have to buy quite as much because what I am doing is really awesome.

LD: It’s amazing how quickly we lose touch too. When you’re in that moment of something big happening you think I’m going to remember this forever and then it fades and you go on with your life.

SJ: Yeah, yeah absolutely.

LD: As you evolve from a board member into the executive director that sounds like that’s going to be one of your things you’ll emphasize.

SJ: Yes, I think of my job as internal and external. Internal is the usual things that an executive director does, supporting and helping to manage the volunteers and staff and in that sense I kind of feel like a guardian. I want to protect my people and give them what they need but on the other end is this kind of external community relations thing and we’re interested in doing a lot of community education and collaborative things.

… One of my favorite definitions of leadership is the interweaving of relationships, so there’s one thing about setting the vision but there’s another thing about just seeing how all the relationships at all the different kinds of levels can just be woven together all the time so it’s strong, it’s not just one person out there in front of a charge. So a lot of what I look at is how to keep weaving relationships between Hospice of Santa Barbara and the healthcare people in town, the educational groups, all kinds of stuff.

LD: What do you do when you’re not working?

SJ: I love the beach, bicycling, I love to swim, I love opera, I love baseball. I’m a big Dodger fan, and there are 31 people that work here, but I don’t think there’s anyone else that cares, so I had to learn that the first week. … I love to travel. I don’t think I’ll be doing as much traveling here, but in my previous job had two weeks every year and I could save them on account, so I went to Mexico City and I loved kind of spiritual journeying, going to see the world. Here a lot of the journeying will be here in town.

Vital Stats: Stephen Jacobsen

Born: Nov. 8, 1952, San Bernardino

Family: Wife Ann; daughters Autumn (30, lives in Seattle), Alegra (21, lives in Austin, Texas), and Aria (18, a freshman at UC Santa Cruz); grandson Asher; Sophie the dog; and two chickens, Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley

Civic Involvement: Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life (UCSB) advisory group; board member Hospice of Santa Barbara andIsla Vista Youth Project; recent past president of the Interfaith Initiative of Santa Barbara County; former board member of La Casa de Maria Retreat House

Professional Accomplishments: Senior pastor at Goleta Presbyterian Churchfor 16 years; Visiting Scholar at the UCSB Religious Studies Department; taught courses in history and religious studies at Heritage University in Toppenish, Wash.; pastor at Community Presbyterian Church in Wapato, Wash.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: La Sumida Nursery “smallest ripe tomato” competition

Originally published in Noozhawk on October 6, 2008. Click here to read it on that site.

Legacies: Hospice of Santa Barbara

“A PLACE WHERE COMPASSIONATE CARE is freely given”—that’s how retiring executive director Gail Rink describes Hospice of Santa Barbara, which officially opened its doors in 1974, making it the second-oldest hospice program in the United States.

Now tucked away on a serene Riviera hilltop, the nonprofit organization offers a wide array of supportive services—all 100 percent free of charge—for people diagnosed with terminal illness or facing the loss of a loved one.

Offerings include individual, couples, family and group counseling and support groups tailored to address specific circumstances such as organ transplant, suicide or the loss of a pet. Educational programs and complimentary health and wellness therapies are also included.

The 6,500-square-foot building—designed pro bono by local architect Barry Berkus as a testament to his late wife Gail and the comfort Hospice of Santa Barbara provided when she was dying—looks and feels more like a high-end health spa than a place designed to deal with death and grief.

In many ways, it is.

“This is part office, part spa, part chapel,” says Rink. Stressing humanistic rather than medical treatment, Hospice of Santa Barbara emphasizes the emotional, social and spiritual care needs of the terminally ill and their families. Stephen Jacobsen, former senior pastor of Goleta Presbyterian Church, took over the stewardship from Rink this fall, although she will stay on as a consultant until the end of the year.

“In my 30 years of work here, there has been a continuous stream of people saying how much Hospice meant to them,” says Jacobsen, who has served as a board member of Hospice of Santa Barbara, as well as Interfaith Initiative, Isla Vista Youth Project and La Casa de Maria Retreat Center. “For me, in this part of my professional life, it’s like a golden opportunity to take everything I’ve learned and learn a lot more.”

There’s a nice synergy in the relationship between Goleta Presbyterian Church and Hospice of Santa Barbara.

“When Hospice of Santa Barbara was founded in 1974, Goleta Presbyterian Church gave us the seed money to start it, and the pastor at that time, Don Hawthorne, became the board president,” says Rink.

From 1990 to 2001, Hospice of Santa Barbara partnered with Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care, which can sometimes be confusing. Explains Rink, “Hospice of Santa Barbara is a volunteer hospice that provides emotional, social and spiritual support for the terminally ill and the bereaved. The emphasis of a medical model hospice (such as Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care) is the nursing piece. They are covered through insurance and insurance defines their mission, whereas all of our services are free, and we receive no insurance reimbursement.”

“Yes, it is thanks to the generosity of people who support us that we have no billing department,” says Jacobsen.

“Historically that has really been important in this organization. Our board has always been committed to providing free services,” Rink adds.

Looking to the future, board president Roger Heroux says, “The vision is to grow because there is a lot of work to be done. Not only do we want to grow and expand the clinical aspects of this organization, we want to penetrate the Hispanic community in a big way…. (Also) we’ve got to make sure that our infrastructure is solid…to make sure that we’ve got the capability internally to deal with the growth. And finally we want to collaborate with a couple of like-minded organizations that will serve as a good referral source to us, but who also share our commitment to this process.”

“I think that it will be a different kind of leadership,” says Rink. “I’m a fundamental program person and have been in the business a long time (27 years as a hospice social worker/counselor) and Steve has been affiliated with the business for a long time. I built the fundamentals, he’ll build the future.”

To find out more about Hospice of Santa Barbara, call (805) 563-8820 or visit

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in the Winter 2008/09 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine. To read the story as it appeared, click here and here.

Grief Book Benefits Hospice and the Temple

The sun shined on Hospice of Santa Barbara and Congregation B’nai B’r61DjnDCK+3L-1._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ith Sunday afternoon at a special event honoring the publication of Sissy Taran’s new book, The Sun Will Shine Again: Life Lessons from a Year of Grieving, ( with all proceeds going to support the two organizations.

“This is the first time in history of Hospice of Santa Barbara that we’ve ever sponsored a book,” said Executive Director Gail Rink, who interviewed Taran and Rabbi Steve Cohen about their experiences working together. Taran and Rabbi Cohen wrote the book–which documents Taran’s first year of grieving the death of her husband Bernie–through a series of conversations. They met once a week for seven months, primarily at the Breakwater Restaurant, to share the journey Sissy went through.

Rabbi Cohen said he viewed the project as a unique opportunity to learn more about the grief process. He was with the Taran family when they learned of Bernie’s cancer diagnosis, and with them shortly afterward when he passed away. “It was a wonderful but very short-lived period of intimacy,” which he welcomed the opportunity to extend through collaboration on the book project.

He initially decided to become a rabbi because it was important to him to be close to people in key moments of their lives, and saw this project as a rare opportunity for that type of closeness.

One of the most important lessons he learned was that there is not a linear progression from devastation to happiness, Rabbi Cohen said.

“We walk it all differently, but it’s our individual walk. So this, somehow, and I don’t know why, this book was burning within me. Somehow. Because I’ve never written and if I had to sit down at a computer I still wouldn’t have written a book,” said Taran, who taped all of her sessions with Rabbi Cohen and pieced together the book from the transcripts, with the help of editor Laurie Deans Medjuck. “We ended up throwing out about 75 percent of it,” said Taran.

Even though she was, and still is grieving, Taran said she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. “How can you have pity for yourself when you have someone who’s there for you with so much love,” she said of her collaboration with Rabbi Cohen.

“I don’t know how I or Sissy or any of us would have faced this journey alone,” said

Congresswoman Lois Capps, who was widowed in 1997. “You’ve created a beautiful thing out of most deep and personal pain. What a lesson and what a gift!”

Through writing this book I found something within me that wanted to help myself and other people, said Taran. “Today’s benefit is my way of giving back to two organizations close to my heart.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on February 12, 2008.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Sissy Taran

Author Sissy Taran, courtesy Noozhawk

Author Sissy Taran, courtesy Noozhawk

A combination of laughter and tears helped Sissy Taran survive the sudden death of her husband Bernie, in June 2005. “There aren’t any magical answers to survive the loss of a loved one,” says Sissy, but she hopes to help others by bringing that same bittersweet combination of humor and compassion to her new book.

Leslie Dinaberg: Tell me about The Sun Will Shine Again: Life Lessons from a Year of Grieving? How did you come to write the book?

Sissy Taran: People kept asking me how I was doing, and I had no answer. Usually I’m not shy and I’m not at a loss for words … Finally I came up with, “Well I’ll just write a book.” (laughs) That was my response to “how are you doing” because I didn’t know how to say it any other way.

So (five months after her husband’s death) I’m at the temple…and I see the Rabbi’s door open and I decide I’m going in and I’m going to ask the Rabbi to write a forward for this book that I’m going to write.

Now I have no idea how to write a book. I don’t have the foggiest idea how to write a book. But the door was open, so I went in and I spent an hour with him and when I was through, I said, “Gee, do you want to co-author this book with me?” … Then I went home and I called my neighbor (Laurie Deans Medjuck) to ask her how to write a book. … She ended up being the editor.

…The Rabbi started to interview me, he interviewed me for seven months, an hour and a half, every week, and I spoke, we spoke, 500 pages, 100,000 words. … The whole book came from the transcripts.

LD: Did you feel like in reflecting on what you had said originally that your feelings about some things had changed?

ST: What happened was I didn’t feel like the same person anymore. When we started writing it and making it into the book, it was this person I watched grow. This person I watched from the very beginning of her baby steps. It was almost like taking myself and putting myself over here and being totally removed and watching the growth and how she became empowered and looking at it now, two years later, I still look at her as another human being. It’s fascinating.

LD: How much of how you feel now do you think has to do with the act of writing the book, as opposed to going through the whole grief process?

ST: Well, interesting enough, I didn’t think of the book as being cathartic. It was only after I did it, it was like visiting a therapist, but I didn’t know that.

… We were doing something for somebody else. It wasn’t for me. I was writing this because there was nothing available I felt that people could relate to. So I had a project and I like projects.

LD: One of the things that really struck me was how you always think about someone grieving the big things like holidays, but not how many little day-to-day reminders there are.

ST: I think probably the turning point for me was putting in the new driveway. … when we make a decision we bounce it off of people. … But in the driveway I didn’t do that. In the driveway I shook hands with the person that put in the driveway. I didn’t have a contract, I didn’t bounce it off of anybody and I said, this was it. Now I didn’t know at the time that that was going to be as monumental in my life … when I drive up to the driveway every single day … and I drive up to those rocks. Those are MY rocks. I did that.

… we walk it all differently, but it’s our individual walk. So this, somehow, and I don’t know why, this book was burning within me. Somehow. Because I’ve never written and if I had to sit down at a computer I still wouldn’t have written a book.

LD: But it’s interesting how you came up with a way that worked for you and you were able to do it and it felt comfortable and it reads like you too. And I think there are a lot of levels to relate to it.

ST: The interesting part was that I thought that it would be much more about Bernie and it ended up not being. It started out where the rabbi and I were co-authors. It didn’t turn out that way, because he’d ask a question and I’d spend an hour talking. And then it turned out that it became a legacy to my mother.

So it changed its direction. Bernie was the vehicle for me to experience all of this, but the lessons that I learned as a child and the things and the sayings that she taught me, that was really the bread and butter of it. … Throughout this book you will find quotations from my mother, Buddie Shrier. Some of these I found after she died, written on lists or pieces of paper and collected in a small wooden box. Others were simply things I heard her saying on an everyday basis. The life lessons they express form the foundation of my life and had an enormous influence on how I coped as I mourned the loss of my husband. … So for me, this is really a tribute to her. So as it started it out, where it was co-authored with the rabbi. Didn’t happen. Where it was about Bernie, didn’t happen. It’s my journey.

LD: It’s interesting too that you say that because that’s something that has struck me about people that I’ve known that have lost a spouse. One of my friends lost her husband when she was pretty young and she’s gone to accomplish things professionally that she would never have done if she were married, because she wouldn’t have had to. It’s definitely an example of one of those one door closes another one opens kind of thing. …

ST: That’s right. And it’s a choice, Leslie. It’s really, really a definite choice and you can watch those who do it and you can watch those who don’t do it and I think we’re born genetically with our certain DNA that we’re positive or we’re negative and then you have a choice after that. And my choice and was to do this, to make a difference.

… I’m just along for the ride and wherever it goes, it goes.

LD: Well it’s a great accomplishment to have written a book and have it sitting in front of us here, even if it never goes anywhere else. The fact that you wrote it and you got everything you got out of writing it. And the product itself is a whole other journey.

ST: I did it and I love it. You know it’s interesting, I look at it, and just like they can’t ever take your education away from you, I am always going to be a published author.

Vital Stats: Sissy Taran

Born: Detroit, Michigan, November 26, 1944.

Family: Three grown daughters, Tiffany, Francine and Nadine; Son-in-laws Scott and Zach; and grandchildren Ethan and Blythe.

Civic Involvement: Mentor to two children in the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse’s Fighting Back program; CALM; Anti-Defamation League; Coalition Against gun Violence; Hadassah; B’nai B’rith Temple.

Professional Accomplishments: Former elementary school teacher who has been honored with outstanding service awards from the Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara PTAs.

Little-Known Fact: “My dad was part of the Kennedy administration and I was raised on a ranch outside of Bakersfield.”

Benefit for Hospice of Santa Barbara and Congregation B’nai B’rith

On Sunday, February 10, from 2 to 4 p.m., Hospice of Santa Barbara’s Executive Director Gail Rink will interview Sissy Taran and Rabbi Steve Cohen about their experiences working on “The Sun Will Shine Again: Life Lessons from a Year of Grieving.” Then refreshments will be served and all book sales from that day will go directly to Hospice and the Temple.

Originally published in Noozhawk on February 3, 2008.

With Open Arms: Sarah House

Sarah House (courtesy photo)

Sarah House (courtesy photo)

While the image of a residential care facility for people who are sick and dying doesn’t exactly conjure uplifting images, a visit to Sarah House is more inspiring than depressing.

“Sarah House is a place where you live your life until the last breath. It’s a celebration of your life,” says Kerrie Kilpatrick-Weinberg, board member of the nonprofit, which opened in 1994 as a home for people with AIDS, and has expanded its mission in recent years to focus on end-of-life care. “You have your family and the things that mean so much to you around. This is important and sometimes gets overlooked when you’re in a larger setting such as a hospital.”

According to executive director Randy Sunday, throughout the past year, 85 percent of Sarah House’s occupancy was for hospice care and only 15 percent for people with AIDS. While anyone designated as “low income” (making less than $27,000 per year) is eligible for care, about 40 percent of the people who live there were previously living on the streets, with no income at all. “These numbers have picked up because awareness has increased in the community,” he says. People often ask if there are conflicts with having formerly homeless people living alongside low-income people, but Sunday says “when you’re sitting in the living room in pajamas, it doesn’t arise; there’s a great quality about that.” He describes the atmosphere at Sarah House as, “not a luxury bed and breakfast, but there are always muffins or fresh granola. For the homeless, it might be the home that they never had. For everyone else, it’s just inspiring. The element of hospitality is something we always want to keep. The unit of care isn’t just the residents, it’s their families and friends as well.”

Working closely with the other end-of-life care agencies in town–such as Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care of Santa Barbara, Doctors Without Walls, Hospice of Santa Barbara, and Cottage Hospital’s Palliative Care Unit–who provide referrals, medical services and counseling, Sarah House offers a warm home for people to live out their days in a caring, extended family atmosphere. Named for the late Sarah Shoresman–her daughter, Linda Lorenzen-Hughes, remains active on the board of directors–Sarah House offers the highest level of medical care in an intimate, eight-bed setting, rather than a sterile hospital environment. “There’s such a need. It’s a special place, and we’re able to offer something to a group of people that may otherwise be forgotten,” says board president Jay Albert.

“We are committed to teaching people to see this as a natural journey, and this is a place to take that journey along with your friends and loved ones,” says board member Nancy Lynn. Part of that community education involves participating in special course on caring for those approaching death. “A lot of people come to the class, it’s not just caregivers but folks who think they might become caregivers at some point and people who have lost someone and want to understand more,” says Sunday.

Sarah House, which doesn’t receive funding from Medicare or Medi-Cal, raises about half a million dollars each year from private sources, individuals, foundations, and special events in order to provide all of its services at low or no cost to residents. The annual events–which include Light Up the Night, an annual holiday party where gorgeous holiday trees designed by local artists and celebrities are auctioned off; an Oscar Party, which celebrates the Academy Awards; and Second Seating Dinner Parties, where members of the community are invited to Sarah House to sit among the residents and learn about the program, among others–are designed not only to raise money but also to help educate people about the organization. “You have to have fun,” says Kilpatrick-Weinberg. “And it’s not making light of the situation. Sarah House is not about dying, it’s about celebrating and living your life right to the very end.”

For Sarah House’s annual holiday fundraiser–“Light Up The Night: The Artizan’s Ball”–on December 8 at the Santa Barbara Women’s Club, dress as your favorite artist or work of art and enjoying live music and special cocktails such as Cosmo Van Gogh. The Oak Group artists will be creating paintings on the spot, to be auctioned off, and many other unique works of art will be available for purchase, along with the traditional holiday trees, designed by local artists and celebrities. Tickets: $100 suggested donation. For more information, call 882-1192 or visit

Originally published in Santa Barbara Magazine on December 1, 2007.

A Helping Place, A Healing Space

Courtesy Photo.

Courtesy Photo.

When Hospice of Santa Barbara was founded in 1974, it was only the second hospice in the United States, dedicated to providing care and easing the pain of dying for both patients and their loved ones.

Now with more than 3,200 programs established in the U.S. and nearly 885,000 people cared for in 2002, it is that same fundamental dedication to compassion that continues to set hospice programs apart from the type of care provided by hospitals and other facilities. According to the Hospice Foundation of America, an umbrella group that provides leadership in the development and application of hospice, “hospice is not a place but a concept of care.”

But fortunately for suffering Central Coast residents, a physical manifestation of the concept has also opened its doors like outstretched arms offering those dealing with painful tribulations a place to find help, understanding, friendship, and peace. And there could not have been a building more perfectly designed for its purpose.

Executive Director Gail Rink describes Hospice of Santa Barbara’s new 6,500-square-foot headquarters as “A place where compassionate care is freely given.” A tranquil, welcoming feeling envelops visitors as they enter what looks more like a high-end health spa than a place designed to deal with death and grief–and in many ways it is. “This office is part office, part spa, part chapel,” says Rink. With an emphasis on humanistic, rather than medical, treatment, the center is focused not just on grief but on healing, and not just on patients, but on their loved ones as well.

Tucked away on a serene hilltop in Santa Barbara’s Riviera area, the facility offers a wide array of supportive services–all 100 percent free-of-charge–for people diagnosed with terminal illness or who are facing the loss of a loved one. Offerings include individual, couples, family and group counseling; educational programs; health and wellness services such as massage, Reiki, yoga, and meditation; community meeting spaces; and of course, a well-stocked kitchen and dining room.

“We feed a lot of families,” laughs Rink. She means that in both a literal and figurative sense. It was the generosity of some of the families nourished by hospice services that helped make this new center a reality.

“One of the things that makes us a highly functional board is the fact that everyone involved has either experienced needing hospice services themselves or within their families … or has someone close to them who has,” says Board President Mary Blair.

The Berkus family was critical to the development of the center. Renowned architect Barry Berkus relied on hospice services when his wife Gail was dying, and designed the building free-of-charge as a testament to her, and as a thank you to hospice for the comfort they provided his family. Paired with his daughter-in-law Dana Berkus’s distinctive interior design, a feeling of peaceful healing practically emanates from the walls of the new headquarters.

Walking in the center feels like getting a big warm hug. “What we want to be able to do is be able to embrace people who need security and help to face their fear and heal their sorrow,” says Rink.

When the organization moved to larger quarters last spring, it had the opportunity to expand some services, like the family and children’s program. Many children were not getting the kind of care they needed during the grieving process. “Children grieve. And adults are awkward when children grieve,” says Rink. “And yet we felt strongly that we needed to start a program that would address the needs especially of grieving children or children who may be anticipating the death of a parent or sibling.”

Starting with support groups for children, hospice then began a mentor program, where children were paired with an adult who had survived a similar experience of losing someone close to them when they were young. Children who “graduated” from the mentor program then formed a mentor associate program so they could help other children who were grieving. The parents of these children also formed a support group just for parents.

“So now our family and children’s program has grown from being a simple support group for grieving children to a more complex program that provides both parents and the children and those who have graduated from the program with things to do to help serve others and help make that relationship stronger. That organic kind of process is very healing,” says Rink.

Hospice recently held its first Children and Family Night, where multiple generations gathered for dinner, then broke into play groups and counseling sessions.

“Think of the reason that they all have in common, the death of a parent, or the death of a sibling or a spouse … it’s amazing that people would gather for such a sensitive reason–and yet, if you create the environment, they thrive,” says Rink. “What we’ve found is with more space and with such a healing and nourishing location, our business has continued to grow and for us. Of course that’s excellent, because we’re reaching more people in the community.”

Other Hospice Services on the Central Coast

“Shiva’s Center for the Human and Animal Bond” supports people who have lost a pet. You can find their information at

Hospice of San Luis Obispo County offers group meetings devoted to such issues as Widowed Persons, Weekly Suicide Bereavement, Parkinson’s, Perinatal Loss, and Pet Loss. They also offer the following events to support Hospice members. Check their website for specific times and locations:

Hospice for the Central Coast: Monterey promotes and supports end-of-life care and services for Monterey and San Benito counties through community education, fundraising, prudent management of assets, and conscientious disbursement of grants to quality, non-profit organizations that provide these services.

Originally published in Central Coast Magazine

Hospice offers tips for dealing with grief in the workplace

“People who grieve the death of a loved one are going to grieve it wherever they are,” said Hospice of Santa Barbara executive director Gail Rink, adding, and that includes the workplace.

Educating local businesses about how to deal with grief in the workplace and the free services Hospice provides was the subject of a Feb. 24 luncheon.

“It’s a passion for me that you people get a message,” said Rink, as she spoke eloquently about her struggles at work — even in an office that deals daily with death and dying — after her brother was murdered in Georgia. “Death is a very personal event and grief is a very personal event.”

When a coworker suffers a loss, feelings and symptoms of grief can take weeks, months and even years to manifest. “We have triggers in grief that come out of the blue — we can’t control them,” said Joanne Talbot, director of counseling services for Hospice.

There are still ripples in the workplace from the 2002 drowning death of 14-year-old Katie Janeway at Los Banos pool, said acting Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Director Nancy Rapp. She said she saw a lot of different reactions.

“We had staff who were in denial, we had people who absolutely couldn’t function at all, and everything in between,” said Rapp, who brought in Hospice counselors as part of the response team. They were flexible and provided bilingual counseling when needed, and it was all free, she said.

When one of the counselors in the Department of Rehabilitation died suddenly, Kathy Humphries also brought in Hospice to help. The staff not only had to deal with their own grief, they also had to deal with reactions from that counselor’s clients. “Joanne came in to talk to people about their memories of those people,” said Humphries.

After the death of a coworker, employees can be distracted by emotions that range from confusion to chaotic pain, from dismay to devastation. Hospice advises that organizing an employee support group can provide an avenue for staff to discuss their feelings openly and address ways to deal with grief as a cohesive group.

When a coworker is grieving the death of a loved one, that grief will inevitably be brought into the workplace. Employers should be aware that returning to the workplace can be overwhelming and employees may be tempted to quit for fear of failure or to reduce the pressure on them. Hospice advises employers concerned about the loss of productivity to also consider the alternative cost of replacing an otherwise well-trained employee. Coworkers are told to listen but know they can’t resolve the grief, ask if they can help out, include the grieving person in work projects, ask occasionally about deceased, and alert a supervisor if they seem to be getting worse.

For more information about the free services available from Hospice of Santa Barbara, call 563.8820 or visit

Grief in the Workplace: What you should know

  • Hidden grief costs U.S. companies more than $75 billion annually, according to the Grief Recovery Institute.
  • Approximately 30 days of work is lost for each employee grieving the death of a loved one.

Grief in the Workplace: What to say

A simple word means a great deal when a person suffers a loss. Saying the “wrong” thing hurts less than saying nothing at all.

Appropriate words include:

“I am sorry to hear about your loss.”

“I heard about your loss. I don’t know what to say.”

A simple shared memory is helpful. “Remember the story you told me about … [the deceased].”

Avoid these phrases:

“You’ll get over it.”

“I know how you feel.” Each person’s loss is unique.

“It was God’s will,” or “God never gives us more than we can bear,” or “At least she isn’t suffering.”

— Source: National Hospice Organization

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on March 3, 2005.