Local Heroes 2006

We give to you 23 individuals and groups who deserve our thanks and praise, individuals and groups who dedicate their time, money, and skills to helping the less fortunate.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006
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They’re surrounding us, and we don’t even know it. People from all walks of life, doing special deeds to help their fellow human. These are heroes of the highest order, individuals and groups who dedicate their time, money, and skills to helping the less fortunate, empowering the powerless, and teaching the students who require it most. These are Santa Barbara’s Local Heroes, a breed that we at The Independent honor every year with this annual issue.

This year is especially sweet for us here at the paper, for it marks the beginning of our 20th year. That’s right — it’s been 20 years since The Independent was born, and if you remember, our first issue ever was Local Heroes, way back in 1986. We’ve upheld the tradition every year since, and we can now proudly proclaim it one of our region’s proudest honors.

So here we go again. We give to you 23 individuals and groups who deserve our thanks and praise. Read on and be inspired to do your own works of good.

Special Delivering

By Paul Wellman

Dick Evans

Almost from the day The Independent hit Santa Barbara 20 years ago, Dick Evans has been one of the people most responsible for getting the paper into readers’ hands and making sure our space-age newsstands are rarely empty. A crucial component of The Independent’s distribution team, Evans is blessed with a deceptively sly sense of humor and an easygoing manner, but his can-do ingenuity would put even the TV detective MacGyver to shame.

“For many people, he’s invisible,” said Evans’s boss Scott Kaufman. “But for me, he’s been indispensable.” Evans has perfected the delicate art of bolting news racks to the sidewalks without cracking the concrete, and he can take a beaten-up stand and make it look brand new. He also figured out how to remove graffiti from Indy newsstands without searing their plastic shells. The process involves a one-two punch of hydraulic brake fluid and solvents, but beyond that, Evans isn’t divulging any trade secrets.

Born in Stockton, Evans entered the Navy right out of high school, saw action in the Pacific during World War II, and since then has sold stationery, real estate, frozen foods, and chemicals. He’s also raised five kids, bought and sold two homes in Santa Barbara, and traveled throughout much of the world. Evans has always preferred working outdoors, and with The Independent he’s been able to do just that. “I get exercise without having to join Vic Tanny, and they pay me for it,” Evans said. “Besides, every day is different and everything new that comes along is an adventure.”

Dramatic Dedication

Catherine Cole

When world theater specialist Catherine Cole joined UCSB’s Department of Dramatic Arts in 1997, her life was about to change — dramatically. In October 1998 she gave birth to her son, Aaron; three months later she was diagnosed with cancer, and after a two-year fight to save her left leg, she agreed to have it amputated. None of this slowed her down, particularly — she continued to teach African theater and performance studies classes as well as contemporary critical and feminist theory, playing a lead role in bringing non-Western theater to UCSB. In 2001, Cole premiered a collaborative dance theater performance, Five Foot Feat, in which she removed her prosthetic leg and danced without it. The show went on to tour North America; Cole still refers to it as the most deeply satisfying project of her career. Her boundless energy also led her to establish a UCSB visiting artists’ program, and to convene a focus group for performance studies. Inspired by her students to expand the arts outside the university, Cole spearheaded Isla Vista Arts in 2002, which continues to bring weekly live performances and films to Embarcadero Hall. This year, Cole is based at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina, working on a book on South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “As a theater scholar I understand this as a very ‘performative’ event,” she said. “It’s deeply meaningful and inspiring to reach a wider audience with my work.”

The City’s Secret Santa

By Paul Wellman

John Forster

A housepainter by trade, John Forster is animated by the sweet insurrectionary spirit of the guerilla philanthropist. Back in the 1980s, he and a fellow housepainter started the now-mythic Painters’ Ball — which lasted about 14 years — in a jubilant spoof of Santa Barbara’s high society. Attendees were asked to come wearing formal attire or painters’ clothes.

As a child, Forster — a Santa Barbara native — had a soft spot for stray dogs and other lost souls of the animal kingdom, and brought as many of them home as his parents would tolerate. As he grew older, Forster would bring home stray humans as well. His brother Paul remembered the time Forster brought home a blind man who’d been robbed in a downtown bar and taken for all he was worth.

Every Christmas, Forster takes a long walk, dispensing modest sums of money to the down-and-out he encounters along the way. “If the shoe was on the other foot, wouldn’t you want someone to help you?” he explained. “I’ve been very lucky,” he admitted, “but it’s not that hard to imagine that happening.” And every Solstice, Forster donates a sizable load of paint, brushes, and rollers needed to transform heaps of wood, scrap, and wheels into the moving moments of magic they become in the Solstice Parade. When asked why he does what he does, Forster is quick to shoot back, “How can you not? Doesn’t it make you feel good?”

The Doctor Delivers

By Paul Wellman

Ralph Green

Dr. Ralph Green has blessed Santa Barbara women and families with personalized childbirth experiences for the last 39 years. With the skills of an obstetrician but the inclusive philosophy of a midwife, Dr. Green has eased thousands of Santa Barbara babies into the world since 1967 (he lost count at 5,000 births 10 years ago). Many women who feel dissatisfied with traditional prenatal care are recommended to Dr. Green — who, in turn, recommend him to others. At 70, he works at least 60 hours a week, sometimes sleeping at the hospital to ensure he doesn’t miss a birth.

Dr. Green’s loving smile and calm manner set his patients at ease, even throughout the most trying birth experiences. In order to be responsive to what “the individual desires out of birth,” Dr. Green aims to forge connections with his patients early on in the pregnancy, which helps him intuit potential problems and plan accordingly. Dr. Green also encourages his patients to have a doula — a woman experienced in childbirth who cares for the mother-to-be — present during the birth so that they are not “at the mercy of an attendant they have never met before.”

According to midwife Mary Jackson, Dr. Green is one of the few OBs who “view childbirth from the perspective of trusting in the process.” Part of this trust plays out in Dr. Green’s refusal to do routine episiotomies or to rush births. In an age where immediacy and anonymity seem valued over experience, Santa Barbara is fortunate to have a doctor who welcomes new life into the world at its own pace and in its own way.

No Time for Hate

By Paul Wellman

Ruth Harter

Becoming one of the 300 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) commissioners in the U.S. may seem like a long way from teaching charm school in Bakersfield, but, according to Ruth Harter, “That depends on what you think of as charm.” For Harter, who just celebrated her 80th birthday, charm has more to do with understanding others and learning to appreciate their differences than knowing which fork to use. After earning her degree in international relations from UC Berkeley, starting her family, and moving to Santa Barbara, Harter served on the county’s grand jury in 1987-88, and went on to serve on the Juvenile Justice Commission for 12 years. In 1998, she started Youth and the Law, a program she ran for five years and implemented in high schools, junior highs, and middle schools countywide. The program brought in representatives from every area of law enforcement — police officers, judges, probation officers, and others — to teach students about law in general, and about hate crimes in particular. The program diminished delinquency by 16 percent in its first year. Ruth and her husband, Jerry Harter, were instrumental in starting a Santa Barbara chapter of ADL, whose mission is to fight bigotry and hatred, and her work there continues today. To honor the Harters, that chapter recently established the Harter-Meyerson Award for young people active in the ADL. Meanwhile, Ruth and Jerry’s new goal is to place signs along the 101 at Santa Barbara’s city limits that read, “Check your hate here.” Unfortunately, Harter said, “We can’t get it past Caltrans.”

Helping the Working Poor

By Paul Wellman

Brenda Herrera

If it weren’t for Director Brenda Herrera, the Dorothy Jackson Center in Lompoc might be a less inspired place. Jackson, the center’s original genius, passed away last month, but her legacy includes the boundless compassion and creativity of her chosen successor. Herrera shares her mentor’s gift for understanding people’s predicaments without accepting any excuses. She is able to raise people’s gumption, and brings her personal fire to the center’s mission of helping the working poor find healthcare, jobs, education, and housing. Herrera created several weekly parenting classes, including one for single fathers. “If you have a question,” said Barry Mark, a psychologist who conducts one of the classes, “Brenda has an answer.”

Herrera has also brought in a simultaneous translator, counseling services, and connections to legal advice. “She is adored by her clients and by those who work with her because she has a strong heart and is not easily flummoxed,” said Mark. “She will stand her ground on her clients’ behalf, but in a very professional way that doesn’t alienate those who provide services.” The center’s clients include migrant workers not entitled to subsidized health services, but Herrera usually finds a way: It is rumored that she took a desperately sad young mother to the Chumash reservation, where a doctor agreed to see her and write her a prescription for antidepressants, so that the woman could get her children to school on time. That’s social work with a personal touch, the way it’s supposed to be.

Nursing with Presence

By Paul Wellman

Samvada Hilow

I think being present is the greatest gift you can give to another human being,” said Samvada Hilow, a registered nurse certified in hospice and palliative care. Hilow began working for Santa Barbara’s Hospice Care & Visiting Nurse seven years ago, providing medical and practical support to terminally ill patients either in their homes or at residential hospice centers. She recently transferred to Assisted Healthcare Services, a Ventura-based home health agency, and plans to launch a Santa Barbara chapter of hospice for AHS in December.

Born in Germany, Hilow lived in India and Australia before settling in Santa Barbara. The name Samvada, which means “divine dialogue” in Sanskrit, was given to her by an Indian mystic. For Hilow, hospice work is “not about dying; it’s about living. I find it very real meeting another human in that space — there’s no pretending.”

Hilow is currently earning her Family Nurse Practitioner license. She’s also an avid cyclist, runner, skier, tennis player, and a soon-to-be grandmother. Her approach to life and work is one of fearlessness and acceptance. “You have to go in not knowing how it will be,” she said of hospice work. “I feel very respectful of each person’s path — whether they want total intervention or none at all.” Her dream is to establish a volunteer group of people who will sit with those who are dying and “hold the space” for families to grieve. “Helping people surrender is more important than knowing what medicine to give,” Hilow said. “It’s sacred work.”

Defending Their Homes

By Paul Wellman

Mobile Home Coalition activists fought conversion.

It is true that the Goleta City Council risked much and was ultimately victorious in a legal battle defending rent control in mobile home parks, the remains of housing for the less-than-affluent. Yet the body could not and would not have done it without the Goleta Mobile Home Owners Coalition. Mobile home park dwellers, who own the trailers but rent the land under them, started organizing to defend their homes even before the city’s formation in 2002. In fact, they fought against cityhood itself, while litigious mobile home park owner Daniel Guggenheim fought for it, both sides reckoning that a brand new city would be ill-prepared to wage legal war against heavily lawyered landholders.

Indeed, the newly seated council was about to accede to Guggenheim’s demands when the coalition came in, led by soft-spoken bike shop owner Dennis Shelly. After passing the hat among park dwellers, the coalition managed to hire attorney James Ballantine, with whom they met the city manager and the city’s attorney to propose legal strategies. They also sat down with members of the City Council. Finally, in an affecting demonstration, hundreds of mobile home dwellers walked quietly through the council chambers. They made their point: The City Council opted to go to bat for the mobile home parks.

Guggenheim is not giving up, however, and a new council — with campaigns partially funded by Guggenheim — will be seated in January. The battle may have been won, but the war is not yet over for these heroes.

Nourishment from the Heart

By Paul Wellman

Robin Monroe

Robin Monroe had been working as a professional chef for a number of years when, while flipping though The Independent’s Local Heroes issue in 1997, she noticed honoree Evelyn Jacob, founder of Food from the Heart. “I thought, ‘That is so cool. I’ll go find her,’” said Monroe. And find her she did. Monroe began to volunteer for the organization and in 1999 was named its director and executive chef.

Since then, Monroe has used her passion for food to better the lives of countless members of the community. Spread over the tables of the First Presbyterian Church’s kitchen — graciously made available to Monroe for free — are heaps of freshly prepared ingredients and already assembled bags of potato soup, baby bok choy, chocolate cake, and bread donated by Our Daily Bread. Once the meals are packed, each is hand-delivered to a recipient.

Monroe’s gift to the community is about more than just food. “The thing that makes us different is that we aren’t just delivering food. It’s a gift that says, ‘We really care about you and you’re still included in the world,’” she said. It’s a much-needed message for Monroe’s clients, many of whom are terminally ill, and the work requires quite a bit of volunteer help. “Every week, I wonder how this is going to happen,” she said. Thanks to Monroe, it always does, though she is always on the lookout for more volunteers. For those interested in lending a hand, visit or call Monroe at 898-3981.

Bringing Music to Children’s Ears

By Paul Wellman

Nick Rail and Mary Jane Cooper

Begun in 1978 by the Santa Barbara Symphony, the Music Van visits grade schools in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties to demonstrate orchestral instruments. Third-graders learn about strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion, and then they get to hold and play the instruments. For a lot of these children, this is the only time they will ever toot a clarinet, pound a tympani, or try to get their chin settled into a violin and give it a stroke with a bow. For some children, the Music Van’s visit will be the beginning of a vital connection to music, for others it will open the door to a passionate interest, and for a special few it will become that cherished first experience that leads to a musical career. With state funding for the arts in schools at such low levels, this program fills a need that would otherwise probably go unmet.

It takes more than just the van, generously donated by Marilynn Sullivan, or the instruments, which have been provided, maintained, and replaced when necessary by Nick Rail since 1990, for the Music Van to bring the magic of the orchestra to an average of 42 schools and more than 2,000 children every year — it takes people, typically Nick Rail to handle the instruments, docent Mary Jane Cooper to do the driving and the talking, and a professional musician to make the magic of music real (often this is Kirsten Monke, principal violist in the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra).

For their direction and leadership of this worthy, creative, and vibrant service to the community, we recognize at this time Nick Rail and Mary Jane Cooper. Without their incredible dedication and persistence, this van would not be rocking.

Philanthropy for the Arts

By Paul Wellman

Marie Profant

Marie Profant is from a Santa Barbara family with a long cultural legacy (her grandparents, both pianists, helped start the Music Academy). She remembers growing up and watching her dad, an aspiring singer, go to work at his administrative job day in and day out. The necessity of providing for his family kept him at that job, but, thanks to her mother’s encouragement, he found some outlets for his talent when he was in his forties. In fact, many hopeful artists face all sorts of obstacles that make following their dreams difficult, if not impossible — which is where the Profant Foundation for the Arts comes in.

Founded in memory of her father, John, in 2000 by Marie, her mother Lyn, and a handful of others, the foundation’s mission is to give financial assistance to developing artists. Every year, the foundation receives about 100 referrals that are forwarded to a group of anonymous judges — artists in the field most relevant to the applicant — who are charged with selecting the recipients of the foundation’s scholarships, which are funded by the elegant Fiesta Finale Gala dinner. Though past winners have included a 9-year-old violinist, a 75-year-old painter, and every other age in between, the foundation recently launched Find Your Dreams and Live Them, which focuses specifically on children. As the card Marie carries around with her reads, “Every truly great accomplishment is at first impossible”; but, with the help of the Profant Foundation, the dreams of Santa Barbara’s future artists may become a little more possible.

Opening College Doors

By Paul Wellman

Lisa Prxekop

Having grown up in a low-income family with no history of higher education, Lisa Przekop always believed that a college education was just another luxury for the wealthy. This changed the day an English teacher pulled her aside and said, “You should go to college.” Przekop followed her advice — paying her way through community college in her native San Diego and then at UCSB — and then made a career of saying the same thing to similar “diamonds-in-the-rough” throughout California. “You can break the cycle,” she said. “Education is the way out.”

Since becoming USCB’s associate director of admissions in 1985, Przekop has changed the lives of thousands of first-generation college students, whom she meets when speaking in high schools and through counselor referrals. Given the difficulty Przekop encountered in convincing her own Latino family of the value of higher education, she understands cultural unwillingness to spend the equivalent of a yearly salary to study literature. But again and again, Przekop convinces people to take educational leaps of faith by explaining financial aid and how higher education pays off in the future.

Przekop’s dedication doesn’t stop there. She also volunteers as the adviser for a multicultural sorority at UCSB, whose members rely on her for academic, emotional, and financial advice. And she chairs Cal-SOAP (California Student Opportunity and Access Program), an agency dedicated to enrolling underrepresented youth in college. Speaking from her own experience, Przekop convinces thousands who would otherwise spend their lives “just hanging out” that “the single factor that will change someone’s world is to get educated, to see that there’s a world out there.”

The Children’s Shepherd

By Paul Wellman

Olga Rodriguez

Olga Rodriguez’s job is that of crossing guard at Peabody Charter School. But her mission in life is to put smiles on the faces of as many school kids as she can. “I want the children going to school happy,” she explained. To that end, Rodriguez has become famous for the lengths to which she’ll go: dressing up on Halloween, Christmas, and other holidays, or passing out candy and other goodies. “Every child gets special attention — a wave, a greeting — and any can stop and talk with her, or sit nearby while she works,” said a resident who lives by Rodriguez’s stomping ground, where Calle Noguera meets San Roque Road.

What makes Rodriguez so special is the energy and smiling warmth of her presence. One of nine children, Rodriquez was born in a small town in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. She grew up poor, and by third grade had to abandon her formal education to go to work. Thirty-one years ago, she moved to Santa Barbara to take a job as a housekeeper. Seven years ago, she was sidelined by a serious injury; happily, she started working as a crossing guard. With more cars on the road and people in a bigger hurry — drivers sometimes zoom right past her outstretched stop sign — Rodriguez’s essential function as her students’ shepherd has become more important. And greeting the students has its own demands. “Not always do I have the energy. But then in my heart I find it,” she said. “It makes me happy.”

10-Year-Old Life Saver

By Paul Wellman

Eric Rojas

The summer afternoon started off just like any other in the Rojas home. Grandma Cornelia was cooking french fries for her 10-year-old grandson Eric when, with Grandma’s back to the stove, flames from a grease fire began crawling up the kitchen wall. “I was so scared, I started throwing water on the fire,” said Cornelia. “That made it spread even more.”

When Eric heard his grandmother’s cries, he helped his ailing aunt and 81-year-old grandma get outside to safety, grabbed the fire extinguisher from behind the family’s mobile home unit, yelled to the neighbors to call 911, and then put out the fire himself.

About to turn 11, Eric takes it all in stride. Sitting in the family’s newly repaired home, he spoke of how he felt when he saw the flames — “panic and stuff” — and how he told his dad just after the fire that “a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”

But as his grandmother sang his praises, Eric’s shy smile gave him away. “I have such a good grandson and brave boy,” Cornelia said, prompting Eric to tell what he wants to be when he grows up. Before the blaze, Eric wanted to “teach karate or something.” But it seems his plans have changed. “Now I want to be a fireman,” he said.

The Protector of State Street

By Paul Wellman

Marshall Rose

Anyone who’s tried to sell lemonade on a street corner knows how hard it is to run a business. But up the ante to a State Street storefront, and it’s easy to imagine how scary an enterprise it would be. Luckily for those doing business there, they have Marshall Rose to watch their backs.

Rose, a native Santa Barbaran from a mom ’n’ pop retail family, is in his 10th year as executive director of the Downtown Organization, the networking and support lifeline for many a restaurateur and retailer. As its first full-time executive director — a job he took after retiring in the mid 1990s — Rose has professionalized the staff, fostered the crucial connection between businesses and cultural offerings, and revitalized downtown into a scene that bustles now more than ever. To that end, he’s made the Art and Wine Tour, Harvest Festival, and Holiday Parade not-to-miss events; he’s served as the conduit between businesses and every other downtown event; he’s overseen street maintenance and landscaping; he’s created a guide for visitors; and he’s grown the State Street flag program from a handful to 30 participants, with a waiting list of about 15 more.

“Downtown is in my blood,” explained Rose, who spent his teenage years milling about the then-depressed blocks of lower State Street. “We’re trying to maintain a certain uniqueness. We don’t want it to look like other shopping areas.”

Of course, the ever-humble Rose quickly points to all the other organizations and people who make his job worthwhile. “I feel good about this. Most everyone is on the same page, and they’re trying to make a positive difference.”

Rescuing the Unwanted

By Paul Wellman

Santa Ynez Valley Shelter

Anyone who has ever gone looking for a new family pet at more than one rescue shelter knows that those institutions come in widely varying degrees of comfort, hospitality, and care. In that regard, the Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society is in a class of its own. What began in the early 1970s as an informal group of men and women taking home unwanted animals and caring for them until a new home could be found has grown during the past three decades into a warm and welcoming safe haven for cats and dogs.

Situated on the outskirts of Buellton in a beautiful sun-soaked facility, the nonprofit — thanks to volunteers, committed staff, donations, grants, and funds from their thrift store House of Treasures — has become a 27-kennel, 14-cat cage refuge with ample outdoor space and a low-cost spay/neuter clinic, all with a gentle hand and compassionate heart attitude. Catering mostly to animals from the ranch land territory of the valley and Lompoc, the shelter gives the animals a place where “they can stay as long as it takes to find them a good home” according to Executive Director Kirsten Ruiz. Furthermore, beyond adoption and boarding services, the shelter has done its part to fight animal overpopulation, “fixing” more than 443 animals this year alone and a whopping 10,000-plus cats, dogs, and rabbits since 1985.

It was with a notable tone of sadness that Ruiz said recently, “We cannot handle all the animals that need our help.” But for those already in the shelter, life is good until they can be placed in an even more enjoyable living situation.

Courage at the News-Press

By Paul Wellman

S.B. News Press Newsroom

It takes a special brand of courage to walk off a job you love as a matter of principle, putting your career and financial security in limbo. It also takes backbone to stand up for what’s right and hang in there for the sake of the community and your profession, even if you risk being fired for it. The nasty drama that’s been played out at the Santa Barbara News-Press began with a newsroom meltdown in early July. Since then, nearly 30 reporters, editors, designers, and others have quit in protest regarding owner Wendy McCaw’s interference with the news and her outrageous treatment of staffers whose only sin was putting out an excellent newspaper. A couple of people have been fired, including union activist Melinda Burns. After the newsroom decided to form a union and McCaw handed down a gag order, the staff appeared at a De la Guerra rally with their mouths covered with duct tape. The campaign ended with a 33-6 vote to affiliate with the Teamsters, despite what staffers claimed were management intimidation efforts. Senior reporter Burns — a 21-year veteran, dedicated journalist, and prizewinner — paid for her organizing efforts by being fired. She’s fighting that. Some of the journalists have found work locally, others had to move away, and some are still jobless. But a solid core remains to put out the paper and continue the union effort despite McCaw’s opposition. The headline on that story: Profiles in Courage.

Battling Lompoc’s Meth Addiction

By Paul Wellman

Cyndi and Chuck Strange

One year ago in Lompoc, there was a large and growing methamphetamine epidemic and a terrible sense of futility. Then Cindy Strange and her husband, Lompoc Police Sergeant Chuck Strange, came to the rescue. After watching the addiction ravage one of their children and tired of being discreet about it, the Stranges leapt out of the closet and into action. Thanks to their efforts — and a willingness to risk Chuck’s reputation as the can-do former leader of the police department’s narcotics task force — Lompoc has come together as a warm, dynamic, recovering community.

The transformation began modestly last November, when the Stranges convened the first community forum on the meth epidemic. Cindy started the dialogue by talking about her son. Many in the audience stood up to tell their stories, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The result? The Lompoc Valley Recovery Task Force was formed, a former flower shop on Ocean Street was purchased, and Lompoc’s first detox center is scheduled to open there in January.

It is critical, Cindy said, to dispel the myth that people don’t recover from meth addiction. “If that’s true,” she asked, “then why can I show you 10 people who have been clean for more than a year?” Another myth is that recovering addicts are people you wouldn’t want to get close to. Those she knows are incredibly courageous, involved, and helpful. This summer, the group helped to put on a Fun Day picnic, which was attended by some 400 townspeople including addicts, families, police, politicians, and Judge James Iwasko, who brought enough macaroni and cheese to feed everybody. All in all it was a glorious day in Lompoc, where despair no longer rules.

Honing In on the Homeless

By Paul Wellman

Shaw Talley

Shaw Talley is absolutely on fire. To look into the eyes of the 28-year-old Santa Barbara native is to bear witness to a truly sympathetic and committed young man. Shying away from the traditional rat-race career path of so many of his peers, Talley returned from a Peace Corps tour of duty in Paraguay a few years back and immediately dove headlong into the selfless endeavor of working with our community’s vast and varied homeless population.

After working briefly as the homeless outreach coordinator at Casa Esperanza, Talley was recruited away to the New Beginnings Counseling Center to oversee its rapidly growing Safe Parking Program. In that capacity, he coordinates 11 parking sites around the city where — on any given night — some 30 to 45 people living in their vehicles get a safe and secure place to park at night in exchange for their sobriety. But Talley’s work doesn’t stop there. He has, in a relatively short period of time, helped more than 100 homeless people find jobs, secure more permanent housing, and enjoy a generally improved quality of life. As he put it, “Basically I am a personal assistant to more than 80 people whose lives are in chaos.”

Despite his success, Shaw is uncomfortable with taking credit for the work he does. Instead he points to his family, people like Ken Williams and Gary Linker, and the vast network of local nonprofits and agencies committed to helping the homeless as the true heroes. “I was given so much growing up I have no choice but to give back,” he explained.

Creator of SBMA’s Nights

By Paul Wellman

Kristy Thomas

In three short years the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s Nights — a series of parties held at the museum on every third Thursday from May through September — has gone from a notion to an institution. And Kristy Thomas of SBMA’s Education Department deserves primary creative credit for this success. She sees to every detail of the event, from the themes and invitations to the guest list, entertainment, food, and beverages. Through her vision, Nights has become a party people actually look forward to and depend on to give their summer months a special dose of fun and glamour. Nights creates a citywide buzz of anticipation for an evening that includes the added excitement of being held in the presence of some of the world’s greatest works of art. This testifies not only to the SBMA’s marvelous collection and programming, but also to Thomas’s dedication to giving people the opportunity to have a great time and even fall in love — with great art.

The fact that so many of those who attend Nights go in search of another kind of love by no means detracts from the atmosphere, which is always over-the-top festive. At the end of the last Nights event of the season in September, the impromptu dance floor reverberated to Prince’s “Erotic City” as a funk band in ancient Greek costume led a genuine bacchanal. Front and center on that dance floor was Kristy Thomas, celebrating another successful season for the biggest, most soulful monthly party in town. Art for the arts’ sake was never so much fun.

Making Match Point

By Paul Wellman

Ferenc Hodosy

In tennis, the phrase “match point” is uttered just before one player wins it all. But for Ferenc Hodosy, who runs a tennis program called Match Point for at-risk fifth- and sixth-graders, his point is to catch kids before they lose it all to drugs, gangs, or early pregnancy.

A tennis pro for the past 20 years who also has teaching credentials, Hodosy founded Match Point at Franklin School 12 years ago. Today, the program serves 70 kids (50 from Franklin, 20 from Isla Vista School) every Monday and Wednesday afternoon. It begins with a homework tutorial for one hour, and then the kids, who are hand-picked by their teachers for being at-risk, hit the tennis courts.

The game “is a great metaphor for living,” explained Hodosy. “It’s not a team sport, so it takes a lot of self-discipline — you have to make it happen yourself; you have to be able to adapt. And it takes a lot of focus, which is so important in life.”

Hodosy believes that fifth and sixth grades are “pivotal points” in a child’s development. He’s apparently correct, because most of the fifth graders return to Match Point for their sixth grade year, and he’s even run into former Match Pointers who thank him for helping get their lives on track.

“Our goal is not to make the kids great tennis players,” he explained. “Our emphasis is to help children become better students and better future citizens through the great sport of tennis.”

Following His Bliss

By Paul Wellman

Steven Aizenstat

Stephen Aizenstat has made a truly remarkable career out of helping and educating people — all while being “constantly informed” by his dreams. Born in the San Fernando Valley, the clinical psychologist and pied piper of confluent education came to Santa Barbara in the early 1970s for graduate school and played a vital role in helping the shattered minds of the Vietnam Generation through the now-defunct Isla Vista Human Relations Center.

Employing styles of peer counseling that were somewhat radical at the time, Aizenstat saw the center mutate throughout the years into a network of adult- and continuing-education classes, high-school outreach programs, drug addiction support groups, and a certificate program that has since gone on to become the internationally renowned psychology and mythological studies center Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Looking back on his I.V. days, which included helping kick off the first Earth Day and the sort of interdisciplinary beast of psychology, education, and politics that his life’s work has embodied, Aizenstat commented recently, “When you are inside something and part of its beginning you never really know where it’s going.”

Currently on sabbatical from his job as president at Pacifica, Aizenstat still finds time to be a steering committee member of the Sustainable Santa Barbara Project, an S.B. Foodbank volunteer, and adviser to the Global Village School in Ojai. After all, as he himself put it, “What it all comes down to is giving back. My whole life, what has been most rewarding to me is being committed to the world and being generous.”

Unsung Angels

By Paul Wellman

Sally Brown

Sometimes the biggest heroes are the quiet men and women who step up every single day. One such woman is Sally Brown. For two years she has been sending care packages to area servicepeople in Iraq. It began when her son told her a friend was being shipped to Iraq; Brown started sending him packages twice a month for the duration of his tour. “[For] the sacrifices these people are making,” Brown said, “they need to know they’re appreciated, supported, and loved.”

Soon, word spread and people began contacting Brown with the names of their loved ones in Iraq. So began the group effort she named Santa Barbara Angels. There is a constant rotation of recipients as tours end for some and begin for others. Currently, Brown sends boxes to 10 servicemen. “My goal is to get as many Santa Barbarans as possible, but I will take names from other places,” she said. (Brown’s son Daniel, a Cobra helicopter pilot, was deployed to Iraq this fall and is now on her list.)

The parcels are themed (e.g., Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Super Bowl, etc.) and each contains a letter written by Brown, along with snacks, candy, socks, DVDs, magazines, and other goodies — enough to share with the troops. “It’s rewarding and heartfelt,” Brown said of her undertaking, “and you know you’re making a difference.” That’s clearly true, given the warm letters Brown gets from those who have received her boxes.

If you know of anyone who would benefit from the support of the Santa Barbara Angels, or you’re interested in donating to the fund, call 682-6760 or email

A list of all previous year's recipients: is available here.

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