Research Committee Co-chair Michele Saltoun, Board Chair Lynn Karlson, and Research Committee Co-chair Sabina White, May 2021 | Credit: Gail Arnold

At its May 5 virtual Celebration of Grants event, the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara awarded a record $750,000 to 10 local nonprofits. Members tuned in to see which of the organizations on the ballots they cast received the funds and to learn more about the work of these organizations. As in prior years, the grants were targeted at the critical needs of women, children, and families in south Santa Barbara County.

Grant recipients: (Clockwise from top left) United Boys & Girls Clubs Executive Vice President of Advancement Laurie Leis, Doctors Without Walls – S.B. Street Medicine Interim Executive Director Marguerite Sanchez, PATH Regional Director Santa Barbara Tessa Madden Storms, and The Cecilia Fund Co-President Marion Schoneberger. | Credit: Courtesy

Board Chair Lynn Karlson welcomed the 355 members and other guests to the virtual presentation, sharing how during COVID, the Women’s Fund stayed connected to each other, to the community, and to those it serves. Thanks to the generosity of the 1,100 members, she related, “we’ve helped turn a year marked by turmoil, confusion, and hardship into a year of real commitment to community, clarity of purpose, and compassionate response.”

Since 2004, this volunteer-led collective donor organization has pooled its members donations each year to make grants, which in recent years have been in the range of $50,000-$100,000 per grantee. COVID increased the needs of area nonprofits, and the Women’s Fund members stepped up with a record-size grant pool. 

The Research Committee, which presents the ballot to members each year for voting, probed deeply to understand the effects of COVID in South County. Through various subcommittees, it reached out to 40 community leaders for input and surveyed members on areas of priority funding.

While the pandemic lent complexity to the research process this year, the Women’s Fund historically is known for the rigorousness of its research, which it conducts over 10 months. Generally, nonprofits focused on education, health care, food insecurity, and homelessness are considered, and application is by invite only.

At the virtual event, Research Committee Co-chair Sabina White related how many nonprofits face financial uncertainties because of the cancellation of fundraisers and the reallocation of private and public funds. Accordingly, screening for financial viability was part of the process. Three grants provide gap funding, five expand services, one funds a new program, and one is for a capital program. White referenced how the $750,000 in grants this year truly puts into action the Women’s Fund’s motto — Changing Lives Together. Leaders of each of the 10 grantees then explained how the grants would further the nonprofit’s work.

Boardmembers: Governance Chair Nancy Harter, Information Technology Chair Laurie Tumbler, Corporate Secretary Melissa Gough, Member-at-Large Sarah de Tagyos, and Communications & Marketing Chair Jamie Dufek, May 2021. | Credit: Gail Arnold

In non-pandemic times, members gather in the fall to hear presentations from grant recipients on the impacts of their grants. Small group visits are offered to recipients’ sites, where members see firsthand the work of the organization and the impact of their grants. With COVID, members participated in virtual site visits. 

The Women’s Fund also holds educational forums with community leaders and subject matter experts on issues that the organization’s grants address. These too went virtual with COVID. Among the topics forums have covered are issues facing immigrants, the challenges of aging in place, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). 

Here are this year’s grant recipients: CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation): $75,000 to help sustain school-based mental health services for students, families, and educators; Carpinteria Children’s Project: $90,000 to sustain operations of the preschool serving low-wage working families; Casa Pacifica: $80,000 for an additional mobile crisis counselor to respond to youth experiencing mental-health emergencies; the Cecilia Fund: $50,000 for dental and medical costs of low-income residents; Children & Family Resource Services: $100,000 for training and support of volunteer Promotores to serve as certified Family Health Navigators; Children’s Resource & Referral of Santa Barbara County: $100,000 for training of and assistance to childcare providers; Doctors Without Walls – Santa Barbara Street Medicine: $60,000 to sustain the daytime outreach specialist providing medical and mental-health services to homeless people; New Beginnings Counseling Center: $75,000 to expand the Safe Parking program providing protected space and support for people living in their cars; PATH Santa Barbara (People Assisting the Homeless): $50,000 to replace its cargo van for collecting and distributing donated food to nonprofits that feed homeless people; and United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County: $70,000 to provide scholarships for low-income youth to attend educational summer camp.

Group Captains at 2019 gathering. | Credit: Courtesy

The Women’s Fund has no paid staff, holds no fundraisers, and donates nearly 92 percent of all funds raised. Most women’s commitment is limited to writing a check, but many volunteer opportunities exist for those who want to be involved. Membership is open to any woman at the individual level ($2,750 or more) or group level ($2,750 or more collectively from a group of any size). For more info, go to

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