Matt Sanchez: 1959-2012

Matt Sanchez
Courtesy Photo

Matthew F. Sanchez was born August 22, 1959, in Lynwood, California. He moved to Santa Barbara with his family in 1964, and he attended Our Lady of Guadalupe School and Bishop Diego García High. In 1977, he became a proud Marine, serving his country for four years. With a foundation of strong character attributes, sharpened by proud parents and supportive family, Matt was a natural leader. He taught us, “It’s not blood but rather love that binds us together.” No matter what his connection ​— ​as dad, grandpa, son, uncle, compa, brother, friend, or “Matt, honey” ​— ​he sealed it with love and commitment, and once that connection was made, it was hard to break.

He was the epitome of the God kind of love; heart always guided him. Matt would look you in the eye, ask you your name, and never forget it. For young and old, across racial, social, and economic lines, he made you feel like he was one of your best friends. There are so many who were positively influenced by Matt, be they family member, friend, or a young person he’d just met. Matt poured himself out to people and never considered it time wasted. He believed in positive human potential and that no one was without it.

His humor permeated the atmosphere in his home away from home, Montecito Barbers, where he interacted with friends others might call customers. It was not uncommon for folks to stop by for just a glimpse of that smile to brighten up their day.

His friend Jim Lichtman recently ended his monthly ethics blog with this question: “What are the better angels of our nature, and how can each of us more ably demonstrate their spirit?” The better angels of Matt’s nature are demonstrated by the love and influence he and his partner, Dawn, have instilled in their family and by the time and help Matt readily gave to friends new and old. They are demonstrated in the effort he gave to make you laugh and smile and in the many ways he ministered to the needs of others at the expense of his own ​— ​early wakeups, a multitude of calls, emails, and texts; writing and sending letters; and face-to-face visits to motivate and encourage positive change.

Matt was met with challenges and frustration along the way, but ultimately he found peace ​— ​year by year, day by day, hour by hour, step by step. His joy was in sharing it, to his last breath, letting us all know he made it to a place of ultimate peace. Rest in peace, beloved! We will miss you tremendously, and we are stronger because of you. Thank you for teaching us the meaning of love. We love you, and we will forever love each other more because of you.

Matt leaves us with the gifts of his wife, Dawn; children Joshua (Monica), Adriana (Alex), Manuel (Priscilla), Matt (Leah), Amber, Tim (Lauren), Daniel (Sarah), and Elijah; and grandchildren Arianna, Joshua, Leilani, Brianna, Selena, AJ, Isabela, Athaliah, and Lilly. Also surviving him are his parents, Sally and Bob Sanchez, and siblings Antoinette (Richard), James (Tanya), Renee, Tim, and Karen (Luc), and numerous nephews, nieces, cousins, uncles, aunts, and friends. Matt was predeceased by his brother Keith.

There will be a memorial service to celebrate his life and legacy on Saturday, August 25, at 1 p.m., at the Granada Theatre.

His legacy will live on through AllforOne Youth and Mentoring, the organization he founded. Please take some time to visit the website and register your comments of support for continuation of his vision for peace ( — Richard Muñoz

Richard Muñoz is Matt Sanchez’s brother-in-law and one of his many best friends.

The compelling voice of Matt Sanchez was silenced on August 8, 2012. Yet his influence will continue for generations in the changed hearts and lives of the many young people he touched.

It is always a challenge to assess a life and legacy, especially one as varied as Matt’s. Perhaps a drawing Matt loved and prized will help some understand what motivated this extraordinary man. The drawing is a realist pencil piece by my brother, Anthony Prieto, portraying many of the original members of the Varrio Hoods. The drawing includes Matt, his brother Keith, Chato, Moose, Dreamer, Huerito, my brother, and me in front of a wall with the Varrio Hoods scroll. A few years back, Matt and I spent a day taking this drawing to classrooms in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria to share about our experiences. Matt’s past acts as a young man demonstrated his authenticity and served as a cautionary tale to the students; his acts as an adult demonstrated his dedication to their lives.

Matt explained to the students that the Varrio Hoods were from all parts of Santa Barbara and transcended Eastside or Westside. The Hoods were committed to defending Santa Barbara from outside gangs. Some may say this explanation is a revisionist justification and glorification of the gang lifestyle. The reality, sad but true, is too many of our young people and communities are suffering the effects of gang membership and affiliation. Matt committed his adult life to bring reconciliation and healing to the lives shattered by this lifestyle.

The concept of the Varrio Hoods as a protector and unifier would serve as a foundation for Matt’s Hoods in the Woods efforts. I attended the first Hoods in the Woods expedition. Young men were taken out of their neighborhoods to go camping. For some it was their first time away from home. I still remember listening to the raw and honest conversations between the young men and the counselors, many ex-gang members. Only Matt’s presence and vision could compel those young men to shed their neighborhood affiliations and begin to understand their commonalities and potential.

Matt also shared during our visits with the students how he and others protected me because they believed I had a good chance to succeed. He was proud of my career as a lawyer. I will always be grateful to Matt and the Hoods. We best emulate Matt when we serve and love those whom society fears and shuns.

I join many at-risk youth as I mourn for the loss of a dear homeboy and carnal. I grieve for the Sanchez family as they deal with the loss of a beloved husband, father, son, brother, and uncle. I pray that the people of Santa Barbara realize they have lost a prince of peace. — Jeff Prieto


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