“What about our veterans?”
For veterans and their families, it is no secret that finding support services can be a confusing and daunting ordeal. But why? What are the barriers to support services and how can they be addressed? Five years ago, Kathy Simas, then North County Director at the Santa Barbara Foundation, asked these questions.
Knowing that an assessment was needed if meaningful change was to be made, Kathy partnered with Nancy Berglass, project consultant and Senior Fellow at the Center for New American Security, to produce the Santa Barbara County Veterans Needs Assessment.
“We knew early on that data and creating evidence-based strategies would result in healthier, better integrated, and more civically-engaged veterans,” said Simas. “The assessment clearly identified the overwhelming need to connect our community service providers in efforts to provide more leverage for funding and wrap-around services.”
The resulting Santa Barbara Veterans Needs Assessment serves as a baseline for assessing how veterans are faring in our region and identifying opportunities for how to better serve them. The study made clear that better communication and collaboration between the many public, private, and nonprofit organizations serving veterans throughout the county was necessary. As a result of these findings, the Santa Barbara Foundation deepened their investments in veteran services by providing additional grant funding and staff support.
Years of dialogue, planning, and partnership development culminated in the creation of the Santa Barbara County Veterans Collaborative, a 501c3 nonprofit in formation with a collective impact model.
Formally launching in June 2021, the Collaborative serves as a forum to foster greater communication and build collaborative relationships among public and private veteran-serving organizations. The group’s goal is to develop integrated and informed services and resources that improve the wellness of veterans and their families throughout Santa Barbara County.
A volunteer Board has been formed and is being led by Board President Marcee Davis, who is a veteran of the Navy. “As a Navy veteran and native Californian, born and raised in Ojai, California, I am passionate about advocating for veterans and have spent my life after service researching and learning new ways to engage, communicate, and effect positive change for this diverse population.”
Other Board Members include Michael St. Denis, Retired Lt. Col. Alvin A Salge, Victor Virgen, Joe Fletcher, Ben Johnson, and Soledad Kennedy.
With leadership from the Board, the collaborative brings organizations together, in a structured way, to leverage their strengths to achieve social change. It serves as a monthly convener of participating cross-sector organizations and gathers many of the same stakeholders in working groups to develop strategies that address issues relevant to local veterans.
“A collaborative that can identify gaps and needs, address services, and connect providers is a dream,” said Steve Lavagnino, Santa Barbara County Fifth District Supervisor, at the June launch. “What I see in this collaborative is a social safety net to protect and uplift our veterans. A huge thank you to this collaborative and the service providers.”
To answer Kathy’s question, many veterans can get the support they need and deserve from the many veteran serving organizations, and the Collaborative will bring them all together and continue to reach more veterans, more effectively.
For additional information regarding the Santa Barbara County Veterans Collaborative, please visit SBCVeterans.org.
A special thank you to the donors who made the Santa Barbara County Veterans Collaborative possible, donors include – Steve Lavagnino, Fifth District Supervisor, County of Santa Barbara; Das Williams, First District Supervisor, County of Santa Barbara; Highland Santa Barbara Foundation Inc.; James S. Bower Foundation; June G. Outhwaite Foundation; Kirby Foundation in honor of Bob Kirby; Lompoc Record; Santa Barbara Foundation; Santa Maria Times; Santa Ynez Valley News; and Mrs. Margaret Waller.