United Way and Partners Launch Learning & Enrichment Centers Collaborative

In-Person Centers Will Continue to Serve a Critical Need for Students Now That Santa Barbara County Has Entered Red Tier

Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara Facilitator Carter Feld with students at its Learning & Enrichment Center | Credit: Courtesy

To address the needs of vulnerable youth brought on by distance learning, the United Way of Santa Barbara County brought together school district leaders, philanthropists, and leaders of youth-serving nonprofits to create a solution. Painstaking planning by these resourceful professionals, under the leadership of United Way CEO Steve Ortiz, led to the launch on September 14 of the Learning & Enrichment Centers Collaborative, a countywide learning, enrichment, and child-care initiative.

The centers provide, according to Ortiz, much-needed support to help students, families, and educators succeed. They address the need to provide internet access, adult supervision and learning support, social and emotional skills development, enrichment activities, healthy food, and exercise. Now that the Santa Barbara has moved into the red tier, Ortiz explained, the need for the centers will continue because most school district partners have indicated that they will slowly transition to a hybrid model, which will consist of only two or three days in the classroom, before resuming full in-person instruction. Other districts have indicated that they will not return to full in-person instruction until 2021.

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So far, $645,000 has been raised, which allows for 445 scholarships for the fall semester. The centers, open during the school day, are located at Boys & Girls Clubs of Mid Central Coast, Channel Islands YMCA, Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, Good Samaritan Shelter, Isla Vista Youth Project (virtual center), Police Activities League, Santa Maria YMCA, and United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County.

The critical need served by these centers was confirmed in this first two weeks of operations, according to Ortiz, when Center staff welcomed students who previously had not been participating at all in their virtual school sessions. Thanks to this collaborative, these students have gone from zero participation to full participation.

Seeking to serve the most vulnerable youth, the collaborative gives priority to foster and homeless youth, those qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, and children of essential workers.

“It is clear that there are some children and families for whom remote learning will just not work,” said Jon Clark, president of the James S. Bower Foundation, which has provided generous lead support.

Carpinteria Unified School District Superintendent Diana Rigby emphasized, “Vulnerable Carpinteria families have been marginalized during remote learning due to the digital divide, unreliable internet connectivity, and lack of childcare during school closures. Our partnership with United Way to provide scholarships for students in need to attend learning centers at Carpinteria Girls Inc. and United Boys & Girls Club is making a significant impact on the remote learning gap.”

More scholarships are needed, and organizers hope that donors will step up soon. If the need continues into 2020, organizers hope the model will be adopted and funded by the nine participating school districts: Santa Barbara Unified, Carpinteria Unified, Goleta Union, Hope Elementary, Lompoc Unified, Orcutt Union, Santa Maria High, Santa Maria-Bonita, and Guadalupe Union.

The centers were the result of dozens of meetings with school district officials, funders, and nonprofits — assessing the needs, and then ensuring adequate staffing, transportation, materials, and PPE. For funding, the United Way provided seed funding and appealed to foundations.

Funders, some of whom provided key advice and advocacy as well, are the Ann Jackson Foundation, COVID-19 Joint Response Effort, Hutton Parker Foundation, James S. Bower Foundation, Linked Foundation, Natalie Orfalea Foundation with Lou Buglioli, The Towbes Foundation, United Way of Santa Barbara County, and Yardi.

To make a donation, go to unitedwaysb.org/lecc or text SBLEARN to 919-99.

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