On October 20, Storyteller Children’s Center held a swanky Dirty 30 Anniversary Gala at the Hotel Californian. The event netted more than $400,000 for the organization, which provides therapeutic preschool for homeless and at-risk children and comprehensive support services for the children and their families.
A Rooftop Patron Party kicked off the black-tie gala, with martinis flowing and guests mingling on the ocean view deck. Another reception in the courtyard below followed, where food stations allowed the 275 guests to dine at the leisure inside or out. Andrew Firestone then welcomed the guests and shared how the evening was as much a celebration of the past 30 years and the thousands of kids who have benefited from Storyteller as it was a challenge for guests to help provide funding for Storyteller to continue its mission.
After being introduced by Firestone as the one who leads with passion and compassion, Executive Director Donna Barranco Fisher explained that Storyteller’s job is to get children ready for kindergarten, the grade level which has the highest expulsion rate. Children arrive at Storyteller having experienced trauma, which has caused their brains to not develop properly. The organization provides therapeutic counseling through a partnership with CALM (Child Abuse Listening Meditation). Storyteller provides health, vision, and dental screenings, as well as speech, language, and occupational therapy. Storyteller also offers clothes where needed and a nutritious breakfast, lunch and snack daily.
Fisher emphasized how Storyteller seeks to break the cycle of poverty so its reach goes beyond the children. Families are held accountable: Parents and guardians must work or attend school full-time. Parents and guardians are provided with therapy, education classes, case management, and referral services.
In an interview, Fisher shared, “Storyteller provides children a chance at success in kindergarten and beyond. Without Storyteller’s therapeutic educational programs, many of our children would easily be expelled in kindergarten due to their challenging behaviors. Our therapeutic, intentional approach works to re-wire areas in the brain, such as self-regulation, that have not developed due to early childhood trauma.”
James S. Bower Foundation President Jon Clark was honored for his 16 years of service to Storyteller, including eight years as board president and as chair of the capital campaign for the purchase of the De la Vina Street facility. In presenting the award to Clark, Santa Barbara Foundation President and CEO Ron Gallo noted how Clark is driven by empathy and an instinctual sense of social justice and praised his dedication to Storyteller and the community.
Clark displayed his self-effacing nature and sense of humor before sharing how when he started at Storyteller he was driven by the shocking differences between his life and the lives of those it served – having food and shelter and feeling loved and safe. After years of involvement with the organization, he sees everyone being on the same journey, but the families Storyteller serves are just at a different place. He shared a poignant story of someone helping his father as a youth and how he views his work for Storyteller as simply paying it forward.
In a spirited auction conducted by Andrew Firestone, Earl Minnis showed his tremendous support for Fisher and Storyteller by bidding $100,000 for a Pedro de la Cruz painting (which was valued at $2,500). Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds then took to the stage with their powerful modern soul music.
Founded in 1988, Storyteller now has two centers, both at capacity, serving a total of 80 families each year. Another 133 families are on the waitlist. Just over half the families served live on the street, in shelters, or in overcrowded housing. More than 90 percent live below the 2018 Federal Poverty Guideline, which is $25,100 for a family of four. Nearly half the children have developmental delays or disabilities. Parents often suffer from substance abuse, domestic violence or medical conditions.
State and federal funding cover only about a third of Storyteller’s expenses, making fundraisers like this imperative. The cost to provide one year of comprehensive services to a family is $15,000. An anniversary fundraising campaign had the motto: Sponsor a child today and change a life forever!
For more info, go to storyteller.org.
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