In 1986, the first-ever issue of the Santa Barbara Independent was dedicated to showcasing the amazingly selfless people who call Santa Barbara home. We christened those honorees as our “Local Heroes,” and a Thanksgiving week tradition was born.
Today, 32 years and more than 1,600 issues later, this Local Heroes edition remains our proudest and most meaningful annual achievement. It’s our best effort to remind everyone that, despite the steady drumbeat of bad news, we are surrounded by neighbors who care and who put those cares into concrete action every day.
This year, in the wake of the Thomas Fire and the devastating 1/9 Debris Flow, we were presented with more stories of heroism than we’ve ever seen. So we honored as many of those first and second responders as we could on page 20, knowing that we’d never be able to capture each and every lifesaving and community-recovering tale.
But we also adhered to our usual format of honoring the hard work of people who were not part of those disasters. The Local Heroes class of 2018 features homeless advocates, dancers, lawn bowlers, librarians, grocery store employees, and many more of our neighbors who regularly put the lives and well-being of others in front of their own needs.
We’re proud to shine a light on all of these good works, and we hope that it inspires others to do the same.
Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow Responders
By Paul Wellman
This is a picture of community. These women and men — and many others not pictured — took action during and after last winter’s historic Thomas Fire and deadly 1/9 Debris Flow. Among countless acts of heroism and kindness, they saved people, searched for the missing, dug out buried homes, and cared therapeutically for traumatized survivors. Many were professionally trained, ready to do their jobs. Others organized spontaneously in the wake of catastrophic disaster. All were eager to help, rebuild, and maintain the long view that when the mountain comes down, human nature can rise up.
We thank them all for large and small acts of response, rescue, and recovery. Most were able to gather at Montecito Union School for this photograph. The list of all nominated heroes is as follows: 805 Conservation Collective, 805 UndocuFund, Ace Rivington, All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, American Institute of Architects (AIA), American Red Cross, California Highway Patrol, Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Department, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), Cottage Hospital, Cottage Hospital Psych Association, Family Service Agency, Future Leaders of America, Habitat for Humanity, Hope 805 and the Mental Wellness Center, Hospice of Santa Barbara, Institute for Collective Trauma and Growth, Jeannine’s, KEYT News Channel 3, Lompoc City Fire, McCune Foundation, Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), Montecito Center for Preparedness, Montecito Emergency Response & Recovery Action Group (MERRAG), Montecito Fire Protection District, Montecito Trails Foundation, Montecito Union and Cold Spring school districts, Montecito Village merchants, Peter Lapidus Construction, Recovery and Rebuilding, Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness, Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Barbara Police Department, Santa Barbara Response Network, Santa Barbara Support Network, Schwan Brothers Excavation, United States Forest Service, Unity Shoppe, Village Cheese & Wine, Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), and Women’s Economic Ventures.
By Paul Wellman
Garden Court Guru
When Garden Court holds a musical afternoon, residents are challenged to name that tune, that hot band, or that famous singer from when they were younger. “No one can just sit back and not participate,” Charlene Fletcher said, as she leaned back and crossed her arms to demonstrate. “All the groups we bring [in] have to have an interactive program that’s 80 percent participation.”
Fletcher’s quicksilver energy has been flowing at the low-income senior residence since she arrived 13 years ago to help her grandmother-in-law for a couple of weeks. She never left. Now the resident services director, Fletcher has made the sunny main room at Garden Court echo with birdsong and the voices of young and talented visitors who liven up the day. Students from high school and college are welcomed for their community service hours, and more than once she’s seen them gain a new grandparent over the weeks.
Fletcher is also the one-stop problem-solver for any resident whose Medicare or Medi-Cal or other paperwork has become troublesome. And if she doesn’t know the answer, she knows someone who will. She’s earned their trust with her warm and levelheaded demeanor, as well as her ability to hold a confidence quietly.
Fletcher enjoys nothing more than relishing a success, as when men discovered the tea party. They weren’t very interested until she mentioned the Western theme, Fletcher recalled. They arrived after digging their Stetsons out of the closet and bolo ties from their drawers and sat down to linen-covered tables laid with porcelain tea sets. “I love my job,” said Fletcher. “I’ve never had a more rewarding job in my life.”
By Paul Wellman
Lawn Bowling Ambassador
More than a quarter century ago, when Bud Viard was looking for a sport that he could play competitively with his wife, Stephanie Viard, he found the Santa Barbara Lawn Bowls Club. “Lawn bowling is the greatest game,” said Viard of the activity, which is similar to bocce but with a more oblong ball. “Men, women, young, old — everybody goes out there on an equal footing and has a great time.”
In the 26 years that he’s been a member, Bud Viard, a Hollywood native who moved to Santa Barbara in 1973 after serving in the Coast Guard, has held every volunteer role, including president, and currently sits on the board of directors. Though the club’s membership has dropped from more than 200 to about 125 now, Viard explained that the sport’s popularity is currently growing among all age groups. “We have members as young as 9 and we’ve had members as old as 100, and they’re out there playing against each other,” said Viard, who worked as a bookkeeper for the Peppertree Inn, Chart House, and Nick Rail Music before he retired. “But lawn bowling was the love.”
About six years ago, when he learned that the Special Olympics bocce ball team was practicing on the normal lawn at Mackenzie Park, Viard helped bring the team to the lawn bowling club. The club built three special bocce sets to use, and it now hosts a regional tournament every year as well as the annual training sessions, which have greatly improved the team. For the past five years, Viard has been the coach, and he was named the Santa Barbara Special Olympics Coach of the Year in 2018. “They just love it,” said Viard of the Special Olympics athletes.
By Paul Wellman
Al Sladek shows up. Every Friday at
6 p.m., he steps to the edge of the fountain in front of Santa Barbara Mission to make an announcement. The gathering crowd may be small or large, the weather hot or cold, or somewhere in between. Doesn’t matter if it’s raining or if darkness has already arrived, as it does this time of year. It’s time to hike, and Sladek is calling out this week’s trail, as he has done steadily for the past 44 years, ever since starting this Friday-night offshoot of the Sierra Club’s popular Wednesday-night hikes.
By 6:15 p.m., Sladek — an avid jogger who routinely puts in 25 miles weekly — has encouraged hikers to carpool to the trailhead and hike at their own pace, paired up or in small groups of friends or strangers. “The important thing,” he said, “is that everybody has somebody to hike with.” And if somebody needs a flashlight, he may have an extra. Sorry, no dogs and no smoking. Westward on the front county, Arroyo Burro Trail may host the night’s hike. Sometimes it’s Romero Canyon. Often, it’s a popular route in between; he has a handful of favorites. “We head up about an hour and a half and turn around,” said the 76-year-old, who ventured from home at 15, served in Vietnam, got an engineering degree from UC Berkeley, and eventually landed at Delco in Goleta.
Coming down the mountain, everybody’s encouraged to regroup for pizza downtown and, once a month, back to the Valle Verde senior-living community — where Sladek has lived for the past five years — for a potluck and slideshow. “I just enjoy hiking and meeting hiking people,” he said. “It’s just a fun thing to do.”
By Paul Wellman
Better Lives Through Baseball
Volunteering is in Christina Songer’s blood. “I grew up in a really small Texas town with my mom and stepdad, and they instilled a sense of community in us,” she said. “If there was anybody that needed help, we helped them.”
Upon arriving in Santa Barbara in 1995, Songer began volunteering at Cottage Hospital and Domestic Violence Solutions, where she now sits on the board and brings gingerbread house kits to affected families every Thanksgiving. “It provides the family some fun time for the holidays,” she said.
But once she met Bill Pintard, head coach of the S.B. Foresters baseball team, Songer’s charitable works kicked into overdrive. She’s now president of the championship team’s board — where she was integral in their move from UCSB to Pershing Park — and is deeply involved in the team’s Hugs for Cubs program, which brightens the lives of kids with cancer by taking them to sporting events, enlisting them as bat boys/girls, visiting them in the hospital, and much more.
Hugs for Cubs was founded by Bill and his son, Eric Pintard, 23 years ago when Eric was sick with cancer and wanted to help others in his shoes. Though the younger Pintard passed away in 2004, the organization steadily grew. “We’re trying to expand it every year,” said Songer, who admitted the work can be very emotional, especially when kids don’t survive. But even then, said Songer, “We still talk to the parents. They’re like family.”
It affects the players, too. “Once you’re a Forester, you’re always a Forester,” said Songer. “It’s more than just playing baseball. There’s more to life than just that. We help them realize that with Hugs for Cubs. A lot of them go back home and they’re changed. They want to bring this sort of thing back to their schools and communities.”
By Paul Wellman
Cancer Center Angel
God may or may not actually exist, but angels clearly do. Mary Solis, a social worker for Ridley-Tree Cancer Center, proves this point. When Solis, now about to retire, started as patient care coordinator for the Cancer Center in 1984, the department consisted of only one desk, one phone, and Solis. Santa Barbara had no pediatric oncology program back then and no support groups. “Zero,” Solis recalled. Now the center offers no fewer than 10 that help patients cope with the challenges ahead or the storm they just weathered. “We go to where the need is,” Solis explained.
Some of the distress patients experience comes from sudden loss of control; a lot boils down to dollars and cents. Even for people with health insurance, the cost of co-pays for some chemotherapies can be crippling. Every year, Solis and crew tap various nonprofits for hundreds of thousands of dollars to ease patients’ financial burden; every year, they get $2 million in free drugs from the manufacturers themselves. In addition, they make sure staff is trained in how best to intervene with people fighting for their very lives.
Solis grew up in Los Angeles, her father a bricklayer and her mother a homemaker. With a younger brother who died when she was 7, Solis knew she wanted to pursue a healing path. With a push from a community college guidance counselor, Solis found herself at UCSB and then UC Berkeley for graduate school. During a brief stint out of grad school with Catholic Charities, Solis applied for the grant that resulted in the creation of the Transition House homeless shelter. Little wonder she won a lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Social Workers in 2004. At the Cancer Center, doctors know to call Solis when cases get especially rough. “We call her when the pain is the worst,” said oncologist Fred Kass. “We all have her number on speed dial.”
By Paul Wellman
Journalist for Life
Reporter Melinda Burns is seriously addicted to her work. Good thing for Santa Barbara she hasn’t stumbled onto the right 12-Step program. “It’s the best job in the world,” Burns said almost sheepishly, reflecting on the 41 years she’s spent asking questions and writing down answers.
Burns could have easily ascended the journalistic food chain and retired as an editor years ago. Instead, she’s still swinging the pick and shovel, pursuing labor-intensive stories that require more time than the 24/7 news cycle affords. “I like to say I specialize in being a generalist,” Burns said. Maybe so, but wherever she digs, deep holes tend to follow. Soft-spoken and deceptively stubborn, Burns will not be hurried. Her work is detailed and thorough. Her writing is clear and unapologetically sober. She elevates the journalistic IQ of the South Coast by at least 50 points.
More astonishing, Burns offers her reporting free of charge to all news outlets save for Santa Barbara’s daily newspaper, where she famously once worked. Burns started out as a freelance Latin-American correspondent in the 1970s. By the early 80s, she was covering poker parlors, casinos, and landfills for the Los Angeles Times. She started working for the Santa Barbara News-Press in 1985, right when the New York Times bought the paper, and quickly became an expert in offshore oil production, land-use planning, and anything relating to water and drought. She still is.
When Wendy McCaw bought the News-Press in 2000, Burns would later lead the charge for a newsroom union. She was fired soon after. With her Times pension and Social Security payments, Burns could do lots of other things now. Thankfully, she doesn’t want to. “My heart is in local news,” she said. “I like talking to people. It’s just so interesting.”
By Paul Wellman
Housing Lompoc’s Homeless People
Shawndel Malcolm’s father fell on tough times upon leaving the U.S. Air Force and spent a decade homeless on the streets of Lompoc. Malcolm, who graduated from Cabrillo High in 1992, helped his father as much as he could, ensuring that he did have a home for the last 12 years of his life. Today, Malcolm is finding shelter for even more of Lompoc’s sprawling homeless population through Planting a Seed, the organization he started five years ago and incorporated as a nonprofit in 2015.
“We spend a lot of time out in the field just communicating with them, finding out their history, and just giving them that love, showing them that there are people out there who care,” said Malcolm. “Everyone out there wants to be housed, but they’ve been beat up by the system so many times that they don’t trust it anymore.”
On the second and fourth Saturdays of every month, Planting a Seed volunteers are reaching out across the city and in the Santa Ynez River bed, although Malcolm usually hits the streets right after work each day. They also host an annual event called Lompoc Community Connect, in which people who are homeless get free haircuts, meals, clothes, and more services. That event symbolizes how Planting a Seed is the connective tissue between homeless people and the many entities trying to help, including hospitals, detox centers, shelters, veterans’ affairs, and more.
They also furnish the new homes once someone is placed. “The most depressing thing someone faces when being housed is having a roof and then no furniture,” said Malcolm, who has furnished 32 units this year. “They’ll just walk away from their housing.” They stay in touch with each person for at least 18 months, building a stable support network.
Malcolm and his father didn’t speak much about Planting a Seed while he was alive. But when his dad passed away in April 2016, the son did find that he had collected newspaper articles about the work. Said Malcolm, “I have to believe that he was proud.”
By Paul Wellman
Starr King Star
Parents frequently ask Yolanda Medina-Garcia whether their preschool kids are crazy. Almost as often, she’s asked whether the parents themselves might have gone around the bend. For the past 21 years, Medina-Garcia has been calibrating such parental anxieties — comical only in hindsight — while running the show at the Starr King Parent-Child Workshop, now celebrating its 70th year answering these increasingly pressing questions.
In person, Medina-Garcia is both nurturing and authoritative; she’s warm, calm, and in charge. The child of a preschool teacher herself, Medina-Garcia is all about helping parents understand what they can reasonably expect from their kids and how to help realize those expectations. It’s a tricky balance. Parents need to allow their kids the freedom to learn on their own terms through undirected play. But clear boundaries must also be set. “Parents are so fearful,” Medina-Garcia said. “Some parents confuse being friends with their kids for being the guide their kids need through childhood. Kids are real. They need you to be direct.”
Starr King offers a stunningly idyllic space for parents and children to absorb these life lessons. The play area includes a specially engineered creek gurgling with recycled water, a sand box that won’t quit, and a gloriously bulbous grass knoll to climb and slide down. But it’s the warp and weave of its social infrastructure that really sets Starr King apart. Parents aren’t merely encouraged to get involved; it’s part of the deal. There are the famous Monday-night meetings, two-hour tutorials on child development theory translated into very real-world practice. There are the mandatory work shifts where parents apply what they’ve learned. And, of course, there are the campouts and annual fundraising rummage sales for which Starr King has become famous. Starr King doesn’t offer opportunities for what social scientists like to call “accidental community.” At Starr King, it’s totally intentional. And it’s worked. Friendships struck at Starr King frequently last a lifetime. At a time when extended families are shrinking and single-parent households are expanding, this is a magical gift.
By Paul Wellman
Adrian Gutierrez and Brian Kerr
PAL Officers Adrian Gutierrez and Bryan Kerr
Teen Center’s Best Friends
The city’s Teen Center, run in conjunction with the Police Activities League (PAL), is a way station for kids headed home after a long day at school. It features snacks, a pool table, musical instruments, and tutoring, but what everyone enjoys the most is when officers Adrian Gutierrez or Bryan Kerr drop in. Far from being intimidating, uniform-wearing, gun-on-hip cops, the two are warm and genuine and are always willing to sit down for a listen.
“Once an officer shuns them, they never come back,” Gutierrez said, a substantial man, clearly attuned to the feelings of those around him. He’s the big guy near the door at public events, where he’s sometimes found his friendly hello to lead to long conversations with a young person at the end of their tether. That empathy is what attracted Kerr to policing; he was the “civilian” program leader at the Teen Center when the two met.
Kerr has always liked working with kids, but until he saw Gutierrez in action, hanging out with the kids and being himself, he hadn’t considered becoming a police officer. “He’s an example of a good leader,” Gutierrez said of Kerr, whom the kids tease for his love of old movies and scary stories, but whom they also feel to be a trustworthy father figure. “He’s really competitive, too,” everyone insisted, cracking up as they recounted dodgeball games or log-rolling competitions during camping trips with Kerr hollering that they “better do better than that!”
Gutierrez has made the Teen Center part of his week for 14 years, but Kerr is rotating out to new duties with the police department. Because they’ll miss him so much, the staff and kids made a life-size photo cutout of Kerr. It sometimes looms out of nowhere unexpectedly, so he’s still getting the last word.
By Paul Wellman
Supermarket Courtesy Clerk
Luis Prado has worked as a courtesy clerk at the Ralph’s on Carrillo Street for more than 15 years. Armed with a sly sense of humor and an easy smile, Prado collects carts, loads groceries into cars, and tends to duties inside and outside the store, such as filling in where needed and always finding time to say hello. Luis, who moved with his family to Santa Barbara from Guadalajara, Mexico, in the ’90s, said his favorite part of his job is that “even though I am disabled, I love that I can be physical and keep moving. The people are so nice, and sometimes I cry because they tell me I am doing a good job,” he added.
Prado is admired by his coworkers and store manager, who said that customers constantly praise Prado for his good mood and honorable work ethic. When asked what he thought about all these people admiring and appreciating his hard work, Prado said, “I’m grateful.” Despite his physical limitations, Prado has a bright outlook on life and his job, which makes the hardworking cart wizard an inspiration as he makes life easier for 4,200 daily customers without most of them even knowing.
By Paul Wellman
Tere Jurado is a household name in the Latino community — not only because she worked as a radio personality for Radio Bronco and La Preciosa for 18 years, but because she has unofficially become everyone’s go-to person when they find themselves in tough situations. “I still receive calls often,” said Jurado.
Jurado, originally from Mexico City, came to Santa Barbara in 1989 and has lived here since. Almost immediately she jumped into activism, cofounding Mujeres Unidas, a group of 10 Latina activists, in 1992 and working as a training coordinator for De Mano a Mano, a Latino helpline under the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. Since then, she’s started Latinos Unidos y Activos and has been a boardmember of PUEBLO, CAUSE, CLUE, and Casa de la Raza, and is a well-known and trusted organizer in activist circles. Jurado currently sits on the Santa Barbara Mariachi Festival board.
Of her myriad community activism, her greatest joy was the 17 years she spent working as a Family Advocate at Franklin Elementary School. There she connected families with necessary resources — after-school programs, food-assistance programs, parenting classes, and more. Her reputation for getting things done drew people well beyond the school to reach out to her when they needed support for anything from leaving abusive relationships to getting enough food on the table. Jurado used her reach as a radio host to share information about programs and resources with the broader community.
For 11 years, in addition to her activism, Jurado has worked four jobs seven days a week. “When you’re an immigrant, you have to work harder for things,” she said. Jurado has dedicated countless hours to activism to make life easier for the Santa Barbara community. “I’m just contributing my grain of sand so our community can have a better life,” said Jurado.
By Paul Wellman
Queen of the Skies
Growing up, Lynn Houston had it good. Her loving, supportive parents told her she could do anything. A wanderer at heart, she left home early to carve her own destiny free of parental expectations and requirements, eventually touching down in Hollywood as a set photographer. Then an African safari shoot from a small plane inspired her to pursue life on the wing. Horizons opened. She trained. She became an airline pilot. She moved to Santa Barbara. She felt fortunate and grateful. So she decided to give back.
In 2011, Houston launched A Different Point of View, an aviation-based nonprofit to help at-risk teenagers to literally see the world — and their place in it — from a new perspective. Since then, the program has helped 500 young women and men, ages 14-19, from Lompoc to the South Coast to Oxnard. Many of them had struggled in school and become entangled in the juvenile justice system. “We tell them, ‘Your life matters, and the decisions you make matter,’” says Houston, who recently passed the torch as the nonprofit’s CEO to return to her roots in singing and songwriting. “It’s a leadership program that expands into all realms of their lives.”
As they go through the program, there’s meditation, healthy food, study, and liftoff. The teens learn new skills. They meet inspirational leaders in firefighting and law enforcement. They discover lots of doors to careers they never knew existed. And, of course, they learn to fly. Along the way, they’re told that they’re loved and that they can do anything. “The important thing to me is when they make a point of telling me that they’ve done something they were afraid of,” Houston says. “The heroes here are all 500 teens.”
By Paul Wellman
Inspirational Artist and Collector
Nancy Gifford grew up on a farm, but you’d never mistake her for a farm girl. Throughout a successful career as a model, she pursued her interest in contemporary art with unstoppable passion, making work of her own, studying and collecting the work of others, and connecting with people over art. It’s a skill that she and her husband, Michael Gifford, brought to Santa Barbara from England, where they lived in the 1990s, by way of Miami, where Nancy helped jump-start the city’s legendary arts district in Wynwood. When the couple arrived in Santa Barbara a decade ago, they moved into a striking modern house on Sycamore Canyon Road in Montecito that was perfectly suited to displaying art.
What happened next turned heads and opened hearts among the artists and poets of Santa Barbara, as Gifford proceeded to assemble and show an unprecedented collection of work by living contemporary artists from the area. At the same time, Gifford used the home’s industrial-size studio space to dig deep into her own imaginative resources to create “Lament,” a monumental wall sculpture made of books that is an homage to the era of print. The piece was first shown at the MCA Santa Barbara and then at UCSB’s new library as part of their opening celebration. A short film based on the work, Imaginary Novels, has gone to 20 festivals and collected more than a dozen awards.
The group shows Gifford curated for Lotusland, Flock and Swarm, were breakthrough events that kicked off a new era of commitment to contemporary art at the gardens. Thanks to her tireless efforts on behalf of MCA Santa Barbara and the Arts Fund, the city has been a much richer and more beautiful place.
Taking Dance into Schools
Nothing communicates the joy of childhood more directly than dance, and no one in Santa Barbara County is responsible for getting more young people up and moving to music than Rosalina Macisco. The indefatigable founding director of the Santa Barbara Dance Institute organizes and implements in- and after-school programs on more than a dozen campuses throughout the region. Since 2005, she has been advocating for dance as a core element in the weekly curriculum at Solvang Elementary, César Chávez Charter School, Adelante Charter School, and many more.
Raised in Scarsdale, New York, and educated at Fordham University, Macisco danced on Broadway for 15 years before entering the Teaching Artist training program of the National Dance Institute. She credits NDI and its founder, Jacques d’Amboise, with planting the seed that has since flourished here. Her organization reaches hundreds of students every year, and its programs begin as early as the 2nd grade. The young members of her Super Wonderful and Talented (SWAT) teams learn a style of dance that integrates hip-hop moves with elements of street jazz and pedestrian movement, all set to the throbbing beats of contemporary hits.
The formula has proved highly successful, and each year, more children and their families gather at the Marjorie Luke Theatre for SBDI’s annual Event-of-the-Year performances. These shows, which often feature more than 300 students, are written, choreographed, directed, and produced by Macisco and her team. Each production has an original theme and story line, and all are written to reflect the experiences of the students who perform in them. According to Macisco, dance “can help students become better citizens,” and no one who has ever seen the smiling faces in one of SBDI’s shows could possibly doubt that claim.
By Paul Wellman
Lighting Up the World
At 69 years old, Claude Dorais isn’t slowing down. In fact, he’s speeding up. Between long recumbent-bike rides around the county, the recently retired attorney hustles among three volunteer jobs. His Habitat for Humanity gig has him digging trenches, hauling rock, and pouring concrete for a Carpinteria housing project. At the Red Cross, he helps oversee logistics and a fundraising effort to buy a new emergency response vehicle. And for Unite to Light, as the nonprofit’s cofounder and a current boardmember, Dorais is an ambassador for the solar lamps and charger packs it distributes all over the world to people without access to electricity.
During his tenure as Unite to Light’s first president, Dorais helped distribute more than 50,000 lights, and since then the organization has given out 50,000 more across more than 70 countries, including Somaliland, Haiti, and South Africa. The lamps are used by children to read and study, disaster survivors when electricity is down, and doctors and midwives in rural clinics or at remote homes. The small and nimble organization partners with the Rotary Club and Direct Relief to reach their recipients, and Dorais — along with Unite to Light’s other founder, UCSB materials researcher John Bowers — is constantly working to improve their hardware.
Dorais likes to help his Santa Barbara neighbors, too. He picks oranges for a 90-year-old woman on his street and recently helped an elderly man up the block survive a life-threatening incident. He’s not sure the title “hero” fits him, though. “I’m just an average person,” he said. “It’s just fun to make the world a better place.”
By Paul Wellman
Ken Ralph and his wife went looking for like-minded liberal folks when they moved from Seattle to Santa Barbara 20 years ago. Though nonreligious, they found their cohorts at the Unitarian Society, and in 2016, Ralph met Isla Vista street minister Reverend Doug Miller, who founded Showers of Blessing, a small organization that had converted a large trailer into a mobile bathing facility for homeless people. Ralph helped Miller get permission to bring the trailer into Santa Barbara, and when Miller was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Ralph took over as manager.
Miller has since passed away — a plaque affixed to the trailer commemorates his work — and Ralph has expanded Showers of Blessings to seven sites throughout the city. This year alone, they will provide more than 7,000 10-minute showers to hundreds of homeless people, offering them free soap, shampoo, socks, and underwear as well. The idea is to help restore in them a sense of dignity, Ralph said, “and make them realize it’s worth it to take care of themselves.” Clients can volunteer to clean and hand out supplies and even join a stipend program. “It gives them an anchor, makes them feel part of a team,” Ralph said. “Telling them you need their help builds their self-respect.”
In the coming weeks, a second trailer donated by St. Andrews Church will join their fleet, which operates under the Interfaith Initiative of Santa Barbara and is kept on the road on a shoestring budget. Ralph has dreams of one day growing large enough to reach North County and coordinating with other homeless service providers, because a nice, hot shower may be that small but critical first step to getting a person back on their feet, he said. “You step out of the shower, and you feel a little better about yourself.”
By Paul Wellman
A Sight for Sore Eyes
One out of every four children requires some form of eye care, but half of their families can’t afford it. Enter Rick Feldman, owner of the Eyeglass Factory. Twenty-six years ago, soon after he moved to Santa Barbara from New England and opened the Eyeglass Factory’s Milpas Street location, Feldman hosted his first Kids Day, where children received a free eye exam and pair of glasses. More than 200 families showed up to food and entertainment, and the kids were handed high-quality sets that Feldman made sure were hip enough to withstand the scrutiny of the schoolyard. He’s hosted a Kids Day before Christmas every year since, except in 2017, when the Thomas Fire forced him to cancel.
But the disappointment turned into light-bulb moment. Feldman’s company, with stores also in Ventura and Camarillo, now offers kids who can’t afford them free glasses year-round. They just have to be under 18 and explain to an employee: “I am a student and need help.” Vision problems can be a major impediment to a child’s success in school. “There’s nothing more important than the health and well-being of our children,” he explained. “But how can you be expected to learn if you can’t read the chalkboard?”
Last September, Feldman extended the giveaway to the Carpinteria Unified School District. With kids and grandkids of his own, he’s cognizant of the young’s rough-and-tumble lifestyle, so he always offers to replace a lost or broken pair, also for free. It’s a source of pride for him and his employees, who are regularly thanked by appreciative parents. “We’re thrilled to be in the position to do this,” said Feldman. “We’re very fortunate to give back to the community we love.”
By Paul Wellman
Jace Turner has had a long relationship with the Santa Barbara Library system. Born and raised here, the avid reader was a regular visitor to the central branch growing up; in his early twenties, he applied to be a page, helping shelve books and the like. Enchanted by the people and the place, Turner decided that he wanted to make a career as a librarian. So he went back to university and got a degree in library science; he was hired as a full-time librarian at the Central Library in 2005 and has never looked back.
The job of librarian goes much deeper than knowing how to shelve books or find them in the catalog — they must understand the community and subsequently how to offer them what they need. “That is an important distinction,” he explained. “The library is this place that is open to everyone, and we want to make sure that we are providing not only the resources, but also helping people make the connection in the community. We know how to create the space, we know how to publicize it, we know how to market it, and so those are skills that you use and that you learn.”
After 20 years with the library, Turner still enjoys an effervescent enthusiasm for his work. In fact, “the passion becomes more acute,” he said, of his career. “We have a space for almost every activity and that’s responding to community needs. What does the community want? Let’s modify this space so it provides the resource they need. That’s the exciting thing about being a librarian — our jobs are always evolving.”
Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow Responders
By Paul Wellman
The women and men listed below are pictured in the responders photograph in our 2018 Local Heroes issue, and we thank them for representing the thousands of people in the various organizations that responded to these disasters.
American Institute of Architects
Robert Ooley, FAIA
All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church
The Rev. Victoria Kirk Mouradian
California HOPE 805/Mental Wellness Center
Carpinteria Summerland Fire Department
Carpinteria Summerland Fire District
Cold Spring School District
Cottage Hospital Emergency Department
Family Service Agency Santa Barbara
Ada A. Martinez
Future Leaders of America/805 UndocuFund
Eder Gaona- Macedo
Habitat for Humanity
Hospice of Santa Barbara
Institute for Collective Trauma and Growth
KEYT News Channel 3
MERRAG Montecito Emergency Response and Recovery Action Group
Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP)
Montecito Trails Foundation
Montecito Union School District
Peter Lapidus Construction, Inc.
Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade
Santa Barbara City Fire Department
Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness
Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office
Santa Barbara County Fire Department
Santa Barbara Support Network
Santa Barbara Police Department
Santa Barbara Psychological Association/ Community wellness team