Executive Director Laurie Leis (center) with Event Co-chairs and Boardmembers Carolyn McCall (left) and Katie Hoegh-Guldberg

On June 1, a sold-out crowd of 230 supporters of the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara (BGCSB) gathered for its Shanghai Nights Gala to raise funds for this especially worthy nonprofit. BGCSB provides after-school programming and Summer Spectacular Camp, primarily for low-income kids, at its Eastside facility.

The Santa Barbara Club provided an elegant setting for this 1920’s Shanghai-themed event, with Chinese lanterns and small white lights strung over the al fresco dining area and magnificent orchids adorning the tables. During the reception, guests mingled, enjoyed tunes by the JSH Jazz Quartet, and perused extensive silent auction offerings.

At dinner, guests were greeted by emcee Andrew Firestone, who shared how he is proud to have been involved with the club for a number of years because of the amazing programs the club offers to all kids, regardless of their income level. Firestone, who is a volunteer at the club, pointed to the wide range of programming and to the tremendous mentoring that the kids receive. He then introduced Executive Director Laurie Leis as someone who leads with her heart, treats all of the kids like they were her own, and inspires all the staff and volunteers.

Leis talked about three girls who began coming to the club last year and have thrived there. They were previously living with their mother in a car in Ventura and only recently, through an assistance program, got an apartment in Santa Barbara. The mother works 12-hour shifts so needs after-school care. Leis related how difficult it is for single moms (which Leis once was) who have to work long hours and can’t afford after-school care — and that’s where the club comes in. The club charges only $40/year and waives the fee for homeless kids, foster kids, and others who cannot pay.

Leis shared how one of the girls, who is 9, gives her a giant hug every day and made her a drawing on which she wrote, “Never give up.” In a particularly emotional moment, Leis shared how the club never gives up on the kids, but it is only through donations that the club can afford to provide the services it does at little or no cost to the families. 

In a touching video, a young boy shared how he had a very dark background and that staff at the club relate to him like nobody else can. A volunteer shared how day after day, there are special, powerful moments when kids master something, which gives them a big confidence boost. The video concluded with the kids proclaiming the club’s mantra with enthusiasm and smiles: “Great Futures Start Here!”

After Firestone led an auction and paddle raise, guests enjoyed a gourmet dinner followed by dancing to the music of King Bee.

Founded in 1938, the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara offers after-school tutoring, homework assistance, sports leagues, counseling, a nutritional snack and dinner each day, and much more. The club has a library, science lab, computer lab, music recording room, multimedia art studio, basketball gym, soccer field, workout gym, and Teen Center. While BGCSB charges only $40/year, the actual cost of providing the programming is more than $800 per child per year.

At the end of 2018, BGCSB had 1,698 members ages 5 to 18 and an average daily attendance of 121. Most members, 84 percent, come from low-income households. The club is located across the street from S.B. High School and a block from S.B. Junior High, and free transportation is provided from three elementary schools with more to be added soon.

BGCSB also operates a nine-week, aptly named, Summer Spectacular Camp that has weekly educational themes and lots of fun field trips. The club charges only $25/week and waives the fee for those unable to pay.  Last summer, 656 children attended.

For more info, go to boysgirls.org.

Send invites to gail@independent.com.

Graciela Montgomery and Board President David McKeever
Boardmember and Event Committee Member David Bolton with Sponsor Montecito Bank & Trust President George Leis
Ani Casillas and Treasurer Monico Casillas
Boardmember David Beard and Tracy Beard
Emcee and auctioneer Andrew Firestone with Executive Director Laurie Leis
Emcee and auctionner Andrew Firestone
Carrie Towbes and Judy Bruton
Pamme Mickelson and Steve Windhager
Guests enjoy dinner and the program.


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