David Selberg has dedicated decades serving the community, from his early beginnings as a Vons grocer and Chart House server to stints as a City College sailing instructor and Transition House volunteer. Selberg, a Santa Barbara native, eventually came to lead Pacific Pride Foundation, where he saw the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) center through budget cuts and huge political moments like Prop. 8 and Santa Barbara’s first Pride Festival. On January 20, Selberg will begin his new role as CEO of Hospice of Santa Barbara.
You have had decades of experience working in nonprofits. How do you anticipate Hospice to be the same or different than what came before?
Some of this role as CEO of Hospice of Santa Barbara is very similar to the role I played at Pacific Pride Foundation. Letting the community know about the program is a critical piece, raising funds toward those programs is a commonality, and making sure that patients and clients are being served to our best ability is as well.
How did your time at PPF prepare you for your new position as CEO at Hospice?
During the time I worked at PPF when it was called AIDS Counseling and Assistance Program, way back in the 1990s, I was a frontline AIDS worker. Most of what the organization did was HIV programs, because of the decimation of mostly gay men dying quickly of AIDS, and there was very little treatment. During those early years, we worked very closely with Hospice. If you were diagnosed with AIDS you had anywhere from 12-18 months before you died, and a lot of what we did with Hospice was help folks die. There’s a fair amount of crossover of community collaborations from the PPF years — I worked closely with police, sheriff, school districts, senior facilities, Cottage Hospital, and a lot of those relationships are very much a crossover from where I’m going with Hospice of Santa Barbara.
What will your role be as CEO of Hospice of Santa Barbara?
I’ll be overseeing all the programs of Hospice of Santa Barbara. The Hospice of S.B. is a social model hospice. It’s a non-medical hospice; it’s got social workers, counselors, therapists, children’s programs, and I’ll be overseeing all that piece for it. I’ll be working hard on fundraising. There’s no insurance billing; it’s all 100 percent donor dependent, and a lot of the fundraising helps pay the people that provide the services. It’s an amazing model. It serves the entire family, not just the individual, with social workers, with social support and counseling support, and there’s no time frame on it, which is a big deal. At medical hospices, there’s a clock that’s ticking as far as reimbursement rates and health insurance mandates. Our Hospice of S.B. is second oldest in the county of this model. It’s a model that can be shared beyond our own community, across the country, it’s that innovative of a program. It’s been around 40 years.
Why did you decide to take on the position of CEO?
I was thinking about other areas that I might challenge myself, stretch myself. I’ve been at Pacific Pride as executive director for almost a decade, and I worked in the field in the ’90s. I’ve reached a place in my life where I was willing to sort of learn different things, take on new challenges, and I’ve known Hospice for so many years. I’ve watched their trajectory for the last 20 years, how they’ve expanded and grown. I wasn’t out looking for a new career; it just was something that organically presented itself.
Who will be replacing you at PPF?
Pacific Pride has an outstanding board and really great staff. The board organized a search committee; they’ve secured a search agent and are going to look well beyond our county for the right candidates. Cynthia Camacho, whom I hired many years ago and runs our HIV programs and our Santa Maria office, is the interim executive director at Pacific Pride. It might take the search committee three to four months to find the right candidate.
How has the LGBT political climate changed since you first joined PPF?
I think it has shifted somewhat just in the last decade. A lot of what we’ve been focused on has been equal LGBT rights — everything from the equal right to get married; to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; to things like the Fair Education Act. A lot of the last 10 years has been about those basic civil rights issues for the LGBT community. My successors’ focus will be whether we have all those laws on the books and making sure those systems are held accountable. The continued relevancy of a center like Pacific Pride is about educating, and being a safe place. I heard just days ago about a horrible suicide of this young person who identified as transgender, and left a very poignant note … a safe place, a community center could have made a difference. Just because it’s 2015, and Modern Family is on and Katy Perry kisses a girl and all that, it doesn’t mean that tragedy still doesn’t happen. Also, HIV/AIDS still has no cure and continues to affect gay men, the poor, and marginalized.
How has the climate changed in Santa Barbara?
When I came to PP, there hadn’t been a Pride festival. There was no LGBT social scene. One of the first things that folks came to me about was having a LGBT pride festival, so Pacific Pride first started doing more social programming to bring the community together. Prop. 8 made a huge difference. We were sort of a ground zero for that campaign across the Central Coast, and so much of the straight community came to Pacific Pride in North and South County — friends, grandparents, attorneys that believed in fair and equal — and it really broadened our base of support. Prop. 8 affected everybody; we worked hard together with that huge moment.
Death has seen a political movement lately with the Death with Dignity movement. What might be Hospice of SB’s role in that debate?
Hospice of SB is very apolitical. I believe that it’s all about care and services. Dignity and respect for those facing life threatening illnesses and those who love them is very embedded in Hospice’s mission.
What do you consider your biggest achievement career-wise, looking back?
When I graduated from UCSB, a lot of my friends knew what they wanted to do, and I wasn’t sure. My life has somewhat unfolded into work that is in service to others. For me working at Pacific Pride, going to work at Hospice of S.B., and having worked at Transition House, which is a family homeless shelter, I really feel it’s a life well lived, a life where I’ve spent my work doing my work and service to others. For me, it offers great personal meaning.
You have had a very personal relationship with Hospice of S.B., when your partner was dying of AIDS. Can you speak about that experience?
That journey I went through with Gabriel was very transformational for me. The support that Hospice provided, the counseling, the social service support, it was all so critical, because I was able to work and be present for him both, during a very long, drawn out process of his dying. I am so grateful for the therapists and social workers who helped take care of him; I didn’t have to do it all alone. He was a brilliant guy, with a PhD, Ivy League school, a brilliant, brilliant guy, and I can so vividly remember, during the last months of his life, the Hospice workers helped him do an art installation, working with him as he documented his life through visual art. Hospice helped him not just on the deep emotional aspect of facing his mortality but helped him recount his life of 34 years.
Why are the services Hospice of S.B. offers important?
I think when death comes close to home, oftentimes it can make one feel like one is alone with it. I think that the gift of the Hospice of S.B. model helps you feel you’re not alone with that journey. It takes time. It took me a long time. I’m the youngest of six brothers, and one day my mom dropped dead very suddenly. She was my only parent, no father in the picture. I felt so alone with the death of my mom, who I was so close to. The value of the program that Hospice of S.B. provides, to have others who can support you through the many layers in going through the death of someone close to you … it’s golden, it’s amazing. Walking into Hospice offices, you see these groups that are gathering to meet, from children to professional adults. Hospice of S.B. serves the impoverished parts of our community, they serve the Latino community, they serve LGBT same-sex couples … they are really broad in their service range, and all services are free.
What lessons did you learn at Pacific Pride Foundation?
When I started as the director of Pacific Pride, there were two things I didn’t do very well. One was I wasn’t too great at reading a spreadsheet or a budget, and the other was that I wasn’t particularly good at giving speeches or being a public figure. This past decade at PPF has been such a learning experience for me, because those are two areas that were fairly intimidating to me. I learned to jump into what you’re most unsure of in yourself and just try to do it. I have learned how to follow and read a budget with the $2.5 million budget that Pacific Pride has had, and I’ve learned how to manage being the public face of the LGBT/HIV movement across the Central Coast. It’s been quite a lesson.
Any final words?
I’m just super excited and honored to be going to work at Hospice, to work with the amazing staff, the board, and all the stakeholders and supporters of the growing organization. I am so honored to have spent almost 19 years serving LGBT HIV/AIDS communities. It’s been a true honor.