For its 18th annual Community Dividends celebration, Montecito Bank & Trust (MB&T) shifted from its always lovely Coral Casino luncheon to a Zoom event, where it presented more than $1 million to local nonprofits and honored them for their work. While the usual ocean view and gourmet Thanksgiving dinner were absent, the bank’s generosity of spirit (and funds) and the nonprofits’ gratitude shined through in the virtual space. This year, 194 organizations in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties benefited from the program created by the bank’s late owner and founder, Michael Towbes.
Chair and CEO Janet Garufis welcomed and praised the 320 attendees for their dedication in this difficult year, “caring for the most vulnerable, healing the sick and the lonely, educating our children, meeting basic needs such as food and rent, and lifting our spirits with music and arts that remind us of the beauty around us.”
Garufis explained that Towbes always believed that the bank had a corporate responsibility to give back to the community that gave so much to it and that Community Dividends was a way for the bank to make a meaningful impact. Towbes also hoped, according to Garufis, that MB&T’s philanthropy would model the way for other businesses.
Pre-event, recipients got a gift bag, which included a mask with the message “Choose Kindness,” an expression that Garufis explained was inspired by the work the nonprofits do every day. In this tumultuous year, Garufis continued, “the kindness you show to one another and to the community gives us hope and confidence that we will come through this together.”
In addition to the traditional $1 million Community Dividends awards, the bank awarded a total of $175,000 to five recipients of the Michael Towbes Community Impact Grant, which was created last year to honor Towbes and nonprofits that deliver critical and sustainable services to a large number of vulnerable residents. Recipients this year were CALM, CADA (Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse), Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People, Organic Soup Kitchen, and Gold Coast Veterans Foundation. The very surprised recipients each expressed their deep gratitude.
Rolf Geyling, the president of last year’s Towbes award recipient, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission (SBRM), shared in a video that SBRM used the $100,000 to invest in its greatest asset — its staff — in the form of a compensation adjustment. Garufis first noted Towbes’s philosophy that if the bank takes care of its people, they will take care of everything else, and she related how heartwarming it was to hear that the Rescue Mission shared the belief in taking care of its own staff.
The event also honored another founding boardmember, Jerry Parent, with a video tribute and the creation of a legacy award in Parent’s name. The award will go to a nonprofit that creates sustainable change and a positive impact just as, according to Garufis, Parent has done. It was Parent who invited Towbes to invest in the bank, Garufis related, and he has dedicated 45 years of leadership and expertise to the bank and the community. The $4,500 award went to the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, an organization that Parent has been involved with and supported for many years.
Garufis shared how the day of the Community Dividends celebration was Towbes’s favorite day of the year and is hers as well, and that it is not just about the checks, but also about celebrating each other, sharing stories, listening, laughing, and being together, something she noted we now understand the value of so much more than ever before. The event closed with the same high level of enthusiasm it maintained throughout, with Garufis leading a dance to Towbes’s favorite song, “YMCA.”
Recipient organizations serve youth and education, social services, medical and health services, and the arts. Montecito Bank & Trust, with nearly $2 billion in assets, is the oldest and largest locally owned community bank in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. This year, it dispensed 1,850 Paycheck Protection Program loans worth more than $200 million. Annually, it donates about $1.5 million dollars and its staff give more than 7,500 hours in volunteer time to local nonprofits.
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