At a time of deep unrest and uncertainty, when social and economic divides are greater than ever and so many are struggling to make ends meet, it’s never been more important to reach out to each other and take part in solutions that lift everyone up. Santa Barbara County is home to an extraordinary project that is working to change the landscape of poverty and hunger here and across the country and, with it, we have a unique opportunity to get involved and make a difference — for our neighbors, our communities, and ourselves.
Founded in North County’s Los Alamos by The Los Alamos Foundation, Summer in the Park is a groundbreaking program helping to lift families out of poverty by providing daytime care for all the town’s children while creating jobs and opportunity for local students and under-resourced parents. The only recreational summertime care program in town, Summer in the Park is an all-day camp offering healthy meals, educational programs, mentorships, sports, field trips, mental health monitoring, leadership coaching, and more. It provides job training and life skills for local high school students, creates structure and support for kids, and empowers parents, who can take on essential employment through the summer knowing their children are safe and nourished.
Replicable across the country, Summer in the Park and its innovative model of meeting critical needs while creating jobs results is measurable and durable change for the entire community. Hundreds of children have received nutritious meals and the lasting benefits of nurturing, structured care off the streets. Having experienced the care and support of their community, they routinely return as counselors to help guide and uplift the next generation of kids, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of positive impact and potential. And so far, every student counselor at Summer in the Park — many of whom found their first job there — has gone on to a college career. This is the power of meeting needs at the root level.
It’s not enough to treat the symptoms of hunger and poverty — what we’ve tried in the past just hasn’t worked. True change means breaking the cycle at its core, bridging the gaps by pairing needs to resources, and building a new, stronger foundation that raises everyone up. By addressing the root causes of hunger, poverty, and instability and providing a whole-community solution, Summer in the Park creates a healthier Los Alamos and an example for the whole nation.
In a town of 1,270 people, where over a third of residents live with food insecurity, last year’s Summer in the Park program served more than 50 Los Alamos families and 160 children. Eighteen jobs were created for local students from low-income households, and 4,800 healthy meals were provided. The overall daycare value of the program was $115, 200, the meal value was $16,000, and the insurance and staffing value $127,000. Altogether, Summer in the Park created value to the community worth over $258,000 for a cost of only $35,000.
But the dedicated volunteers and student workers of Los Alamos’ Summer in the Park can’t do it alone. They need your help and support to make it happen. If we come together, we can create real positive change and see a cascade of benefits for everyone. After the disconnection and isolation of the past years, this is an opportunity to unite, take collective action, and create tangible progress that we can all be proud of. A scalable solution to hunger and poverty in America starts in one small town, and you are a meaningful and essential part of it.
Let’s sow the seeds of enduring change in Santa Barbara County and beyond. For more information and to get involved, visit www.summerinthepark2022.com.