Heidi Holly at the Friendship Center
Paul Wellman

“We’re one of the best kept secrets in Santa Barbara,” says an enthusiastic Heidi Holly about the Friendship Center, a nonprofit organization that offers compassionate and affordable daytime care for aging adults at two sites in Montecito and Goleta. “We do really good work,” says Heidi. “We’ve been providing services since 1976.”

The Community Action Commission founded Friendship Center as a pilot daycare project for elder and dependent adults in Santa Barbara’s small Friendship Baptist church, hence the name. By 1979, the program had grown into All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church’s larger property in Montecito.

“The ultimate goal is that caregivers get a break,” explains Heidi. “We’re affordable. We can deter long term care.”

That’s critical because long-term care is quite costly, running from $6,000 to $8,000 per month. Instead, Friendship Center offers eligible seniors and aging adults stipends to attend their programs Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“The number one priority of seniors is to stay at their home as long as possible,” says Holly. “With us they receive socialization, meals, and assistance with care and medicine, enhancing their quality of life, promoting self-esteem, and increasing their ability to continue living at home.”

It’s the only program like it on the South Coast. All of the staff is trained in CPR and dementia care and licensed by the state of California. “I love it,” she says. “It’s very humbling. It’s a privilege to serve my senior tribe, and seeing the TLC that the staff provides. We ‘share the care’ so caregivers can go to work and their loved ones don’t have to be placed in a long-term facility.”

In person Heidi is a total delight, so easily relatable and energetic. She’s originally from Davenport, Iowa, one of the Quad Cities that border the Mississippi. “That’s where they grow couches,” making fun of her hometown’s name.

After high school, she worked at the East Moline State Mental Hospital. “I worked in a geriatric ward, a criminal ward, and a medical ward,” she says. “This is where I developed my desire to provide a service.”

In 1979, she decided to move to Santa Barbara. “It was a brutal winter,” she says. “My sister was living here at the time. It’s cold there and it’s beautiful here.” She drove a 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle that was day-glo orange. She painted it yellow after arriving in Santa Barbara to signal her new chapter.

“Santa Barbara was Bohemia,” she exclaims. “I would go to the Blue Bird Café, Baudelaire’s, and Joe’s Café. I got various jobs, and went to SBCC and then to UCSB to study sociology, communications, and psychology.” She graduated in 1985 and got a job at the Friendship Center, becoming executive director in 1989.

Heidi is very proud of the comprehensive activities and programs they provide, including their Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) program that meets four hours a week to engage members in mentally stimulating activities such as Jeopardy and other games, trivia, and crossword puzzles. “It’s a social club,” she says.

Heidi Holly answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is the quality you most like in people?

Positive, happy, and passionate people with a sense of humor.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Some people say that I’m vibrant. Also that I have the ability to have fun at a moment’s notice, in addition to wearing outrageous outfits and costumes during holidays, or for theme events.

What is your motto?

Always be kind, have a good attitude, and never give up.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I have a lot. “I am Switzerland”, “You’ll be a Daisy if you do”, “We’re going to need a bigger boat”, “Is that right?”, “I’ll be your huckleberry”, “Let’s do this!”, “Your ride will be here after 2:00”, “This too will pass”, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”, “May I enlist your support.”

What do you like most about your job?

It’s very humbling and a privilege to serve my tribe of seniors who attend the Friendship Center. I am a much better person knowing that, all in a day’s work, my team of dedicated and caring people have contributed to the quality of one’s life and provided much needed respite to their often overworked caregivers.

I get to hear first- hand “pearls of wisdom” that make my heart go pitter patter, like, “I’m going to spend the rest of my life singing and dancing,” or “You are all phenomenal, helping us get through this life and confusion.” And lastly, “The secret to staying youthful is emptying your mind of negative thoughts day to day to keep your spirit full. If you can do that, you will be free.” Priceless.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Enjoying a picnic by a pond with great wine on a beautiful, warm sunny day with family and friends, surrounded by gorgeous trees and blue skies.

What is your greatest fear?

Corrupt politicians, malicious and mean people, and snakes. I find them pretty creepy.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Charlotte, the barn spider in Charlotte’s Web. She was truly a caregiver at heart and so supported Wilbur the pig with praise, respect, love, and goodness. I know that Charlotte may not be a historical figure, but she is to me. Did I mention that I’m not fearful of spiders? It is snakes I fear.

Who do you most admire?

This is a difficult question to answer. I admire a lot of people: family members, friends, colleagues. Also strong women who have overcome obstacles and adversity to make an impact and a difference in the world, like Rosa Parks, Michelle Obama, Helen Keller, and Assoc. Justice of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 85!

What is your greatest extravagance?

Trips to Palm Springs with my family and friends, and dining at Spencer’s, John Henry’s, and Melvyn’s restaurants. Also, chocolate, Rice Krispies treats, peanut butter pretzels from T.J.’s, a good book, and red wine. Not necessarily in that order.

What is your current state of mind?


What is the quality you most dislike in people?

Loud people, loud chewers, loud cell phone talkers in public places, and people who are disrespectful, arrogant, and full of drama. People who are mean and not grateful. People who misuse their wealth and power for social gain and prestige.

What do you most value in friends?

Loyalty, trust, showing-up, and definitely a sense of humor

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d love to be able to play one song on the piano very well. If I could play any Mozart concerto that would be amazing!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I tend to overthink things. I can be too wordy. Also, I can be a little compulsive. I wonder if this is an understatement, or overstatement? Did I use the right word? See what I mean? When I walk into a room and a picture is crooked I have to fix it. This kind of stuff drives me nutty.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I have two.

One is moving to Santa Barbara when I was 20 with one box of my possessions from the Midwest. While doing so, I crossed Wolf Creek Pass driving my day-glo orange super Beetle Volkswagen on my way to Durango, Colorado during a snowstorm (no chains) and lived to tell about it. That was scary, and I was sweating bullets! I painted my VW day-glo yellow when I arrived in sunny Santa Barbara. It was a new chapter!

Two is giving birth to my brilliant and beautiful daughter, Marisa.

Where would you most like to live?

Right here, I love Santa Barbara — best weather and people! However, I’m drawn to water, so I would like to have a home whereby I had a pond where I could enjoy my perfect happiness daily. I love picnics by a pond.

What is your most treasured possession?

I treasure people over possessions. However, I would choose my collection of heart-art painted by local artists and celebrities that we auction off at Friendship Center’s Festival of Hearts event. I have a self-portrait of Kirk Douglas that I love.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My husband Rick. He’s hilarious! Also, Jimmy Fallon, and any Seinfeld episode.

On what occasion do you lie?

When it may hurt someone’s feelings (little white lies). Other people’s happiness is important to me.


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