Students, community members, local politicians, and an Australian shepherd lined up along Sola Street on Sunday to hold hands, joining one million others throughout the state in support of Hands Across California. Together, the participants counted down to 2 p.m., when hands met and cheers erupted. “Show your love for community colleges!” a woman called.
Inspired by the 25th anniversary of Hands Across America, which brought together nearly 6.5 million people across the nation to address the issue of poverty, Hands Across California joined most of the 112 community colleges in the state in an effort to call attention to the importance of the California Community College system and to garner financial support for its students.
Accommodating around 3 million scholars each year (25 percent of all community college students in America), California community colleges play a significant role in state education, enrolling three out of every 10 Californians between the ages of 18 and 24. They also educate 80 percent of state firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and law enforcement officers, and 70 percent of nurses, according to the Hands Across California Web site.
Although originally created to provide financially accessible education to all Californians, community colleges have become increasingly unaffordable due to relentless budget cuts and the ever-increasing cost of education. The event’s Web site notes that 90 percent of full-time California community college students now require financial assistance, and nearly half have no resources to fund their pursuit of higher education.
Donations raised by Hands Across California, therefore, support the California Community Colleges Scholarship Endowment, a foundation that offers annual scholarships to thousands of needy students. Additionally, every dollar raised for the foundation by the April 17 event will be matched with 50 cents by the Bernard Osher Foundation, which helped contribute to the endowment’s founding in 2008.
The Bernard Osher Foundation has further promised an additional $25 million, contingent on Hands Across California’s ability to raise $50 million by June. The fundraiser’s ultimate goal is to establish a scholarship endowment of $100 million, which would provide at least 5,000 California community college students with financial assistance every year.
In addition to receiving strong support from local policy makers like Mayor Helene Schneider, Assemblymember Das Williams, City Councilmember Grant House, and Supervisor Salud Carbajal, Hands Across California has been endorsed by a number of influential figures including former President Bill Clinton, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, California Congressmember Karen Bass, Quincy Jones, Ryan Seacrest, Mark Harmon, and John Force, among many others.
Residents of the Santa Barbara area are encouraged to contribute to Hands Across California by texting HANDS to 27722 (for a $10 donation) or by visiting its Web site at handsacrosscalifornia.org. Money donated with phone numbers from the 805 area code goes directly toward funding local community colleges.