On February 22 at the Hotel Californian, Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County hosted its annual Denim & Diamonds Gala, which raised $170,000 for its homebuilding and home repair programs.
The sold-out crowd of 180 guests, many in stylish denim and dazzling bling, mingled during the jazz reception on the scenic Serena Rooftop, which plentiful heaters kept toasty warm. Then emcee and Montecito Bank & Trust Chair/CEO Janet Garufis, looking striking in denim overalls and a diamond belt, necklace, and earrings, welcomed the guests in the Alhambra Ballroom. She shared her passion for Habitat, which she explained is committed to building strength, stability, and self reliance through shelter.
Habitat partners with low- and moderate-income individuals in southern Santa Barbara County to build or improve their home. Homeowners build alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. Since its founding in 2000, Habitat has built 22 new homes for 84 people, half of whom are children, and has helped re-build and repair 150 homes.
The event honored Leslie Meadowcroft-Schipper, whom Garufis praised as an extraordinary human being. Meadowcroft-Schipper donated a half-acre lot on Cota Street to Habitat, upon which Habitat will construct residences. She is the founder of TRADART Foundation, which supports craftmanship training in area junior high and high schools and is a leadership volunteer in neighborhood revitalization projects.
Habitat CEO Jessica Wishan reflected on the sad state of housing in Santa Barbara, with individuals or entire families living in a single room, an attic, a garage, a car, or on the street, but conveyed a message of hope. She acknowledged the supporters present, who believe in housing as the foundation for healthy communities. Wishan praised Meadowcroft-Schipper for her selfless, inspiring gift, noting that “during a time when things may feel impossible, Leslie shows us what is possible.”
Wishan shared how in the next year, concurrent with the Cota Street project, Habitat will be continuing its programs of repairing homes for low-income residents and will be doing neighborhood landscape projects.
Assemblymember Monique Limón, who serves on the Housing and Community Development Committee in the California Legislature, declared housing an issue of the utmost importance and praised Habitat for its work. She related how in her School Board days, she witnessed a pattern of families living one family per room and that so much needs to be done for the millions who need housing.
Board President Paul Wilson spoke from the heart in sharing how one of Habitat’s values is that everyone deserves a decent place to live. He acknowledged that “everyone” is a pretty tall order, and that one has to keep in mind that the “everyone” happens one family at a time. Wilson related how rewarding it has been to get to know Habitat homeowners — their work ethic, their persistence, their character, and best of all, their dreams for giving their children a safe place to live, study, and play.
Habitat, which has a lean staff of eight, operates from Gaviota to Carpinteria. Of its adult homeowners, it requires 250 hours of sweat equity building the home. Along with housing, Habitat provides its homeowners with financial education and budget planning classes.
Some of Habitat’s funding comes from its ReStore in Goleta, a large facility that accepts donations of home improvement goods and sells them to the general public at 50 to 80 percent less than retail prices.
With homebuilding and home repair work being its specialty, Habitat was well-positioned to assist in the 1/9 Debris Flow recovery. Nearly 2,000 Habitat volunteers worked on about 100 devastated homes, removing 42,000 tons of mud and debris. Since then, Habitat has done neighborhood educational canvassing to evacuation zone households and provided individuals and families with hand crank radios and flashlights.
Most funds raised by Habitat stay in Santa Barbara, though Habitat does make a small ($17,500) annual contribution to Habitat for Humanity International for its work worldwide.
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