Last Sunday, September 25, a sold-out crowd of nearly 700 supporters of the Santa Barbara Police Foundation gathered at Pat and Ursula Nesbitt’s Bella Vista Ranch in Summerland for the third annual Fun with the Force event. This year, the event was held in conjunction with the Montecito Motor Classic, which took place earlier that day on Coast Village Road and featured more than 150 rare and distinguished classic cars from across the state. Proceeds from the classic benefit both the Police Foundation and the Santa Barbara Police Activities League.
The Police Foundation provides support for deceased, injured, and ill police officers, employees, and their families and purchases much-needed equipment. It has provided bulletproof ballistic shields, fire-resistant clothes, communications gear for SWAT teams, and support for the K-9 program. A new program, At Ease, provides counseling, peer-to-peer programs, and training regarding the effects, care, and prevention of stress-related injuries to officers and first responders.
At the casual and very fun Fun with the Force event, guests had the opportunity to chat with SWAT team members while being outfitted with ballistic vests, helmets, and rifles for photo shoots.The K-9 dogs, Jake and Loki, were part of the welcome squad, and some of the winning cars from the classic were on display for viewing. Thrilling SWAT team demonstrations featured human and canine members charging and taking down a wanted man who was safely ensconced in a “bite suit.”
Booths from some of the area’s finest food and beverage purveyors, including Chef Michael Hutchings, Toma, Trattoria Mollie, Opal, Babcock Winery, and Summerland Winery, circled the expansive, scenic field, giving guests a wide assortment from which to choose.
During the formal program, Santa Barbara’s new police chief, Lori Luhnow, expressed her deep gratitude to the foundation for providing needed equipment and financial assistance to officers and employees when unforeseen costs arise. The foundation gives the department “the fuel and the energy” to do its work and “make sure we are whole.” She asked the officers and employees to stand and be recognized because they are the best she has ever seen. She thanked the 700 attendees for their support, noting that in all her years in San Diego, a city many times larger than Santa Barbara, she had never seen such a strong showing of support from the community.
A poignant video conveyed how critical the foundation’s assistance is by featuring officers sharing emotional stories of hard times that had befallen them and their enormous gratitude for the foundation’s financial help.
The event honored the two emcees, Sergeant Mike McGrew and Officer Greg Hons, who are also foundation boardmembers and event committee members, for their hard work and dedication to the Police Department, the foundation, and the event committee over the years.
In presenting McGrew with his award, boardmember Craig Case shared how McGrew’s sense of empathy and compassion has led him to counsel his fellow employees and made him an invaluable liaison with the foundation, conveying to it the needs of his colleagues. McGrew was also recognized for his instrumental role in the creation of the foundation’s At Ease program.
Case emphasized the breadth of the contributions by Officer Greg Hons, the “go-to guy” who has always delivered whenever there have been any logistical needs.
Michael Armand Hammer and the Armand Hammer Foundation were honored for their generous support of the At Ease program. Jimmy Nigro was honored for creating the highly successful annual Fun with the Force event, which has brought in nearly $300,000 each year (this year’s total is still be calculated).
An auction and paddle raise led by the charismatic team of actor Billy Baldwin and KEYT senior reporter John Palminteri garnered impressive bids and pledges for this worthy cause.
The balmy evening concluded with a VIP reception with dancing under stars.
The Montecito Motor Classic, a free event open to the public, featured rare and distinguished classic cars. Among the many with huge “wow” factors were a 1939 Bugatti Type 57C and Craig McCaw’s 1930 Duesenberg Model J.
Awards were presented in 11 categories, with the winner invited to attend the Fun with the Force event. The event honoree, the 96-year-old Ed Iskenderian, known for camshaft design and manufacturing, was interviewed at the classic by the “Car Guy,” Tom Ford.
The classic raised funds for the Santa Barbara Police Foundation and for the Santa Barbara Police Activities League (PAL), which serves more than 1,000 low-income youths each year. It provides after-school programs for middle and high school students free of charge at its 1235 Teen Center, including tutoring, various classes, and recreational opportunities.
PAL, with the Police Department, runs the Explorer Post, which provides leadership training, law enforcement training, and mentorship to youth ages 14-21 with an interest in a law enforcement career.
PAL also has various outreach services including the Campership Alliance, which provides scholarships for youth to attend summer camps. PAL receives little government funding so is dependent on its fundraising efforts, which includes its own Putting Kids First event.
To kick off the classic, The Gallery Montecito, owned by Marjorie Layden and Linda Evans, hosted an open house on Friday, featuring photography and fine art related to automobiles. The gallery, a recent addition to Coast Village Road, is donating all profits from this exhibit to the Police Foundation.
On Saturday, the classic again this year did meaningful community outreach in the form of the Senior Home Vintage Car Tour, which brought vintage cars to retirement homes. The event is the brainchild of co-chair Dolores Johnson, who wanted her mother to be able to see the cars. It is run by Susie Miller and is wildly popular among retirement home residents who enjoy seeing cars of times gone by that recall fond memories.
For more information on the Montecito Motor Classic, go to montecitomotorclassic.com. For more information about the Santa Barbara Police Foundation, go to santabarbarapolicefoundation.com. For more information about the Santa Barbara Police Activities League, go to santabarbarapal.org.
By Gail Arnold