(L-R) Donna Reeves, Shelley Rickard, Carrie Offott are three of the volunteers for the Santa Barbara Bowl’s COVID Compliance Team. | Credit: Courtesy

The 2022 Santa Barbara Bowl event season is in full summer swing, albeit with a few new protocols for those entering the popular outdoor venue. In our current pandemic-influenced world, concert-goers are familiar with showing proof of vaccinations or a negative COVID test result to Sansum Clinic staffers on arrival. But few are aware of the amazing efforts going on behind the scenes to keep us safe.

The Santa Barbara Bowl’s COVID Compliance Team is hard at work to keep everyone safe. | Credit: Courtesy

Starting at 7 a.m. the day of a performance (and occasionally a day or two before), a jovial team of four volunteers administer COVID tests to about a hundred people who work in various capacities at the Bowl: security, food preparation staff, unions, trucking companies, and others. The team members talk and laugh with workers while they await results, usually about 10 minutes. 

“We are the first line of defense,” says COVID Compliance Director Maria Long, who created the testing system at the Bowl’s request in 2021. “It’s all Jackson Browne’s fault,” she laughs, explaining that in 2021, as he was preparing for his band’s first show after lockdown, Browne wanted to help. “He wanted to provide masks for everyone attending and wanted everyone who worked at the Bowl to be COVID-negative and compliant. He didn’t want anyone to get sick and bring it on tour. It was such a beautiful opportunity. The whole industry flipped its head, going forward during really dark times.”

Long earned an official COVID Compliance Certificate and trained three other volunteers — Donna Reeves, Shelley Rickard, and Carrie Offutt — to administer tests and screen for symptoms for the Jackson Browne show and subsequent events for the remainder of the season. Now in their second Bowl season, the team is a well-oiled machine. “We all get along,” says Long, who adds that all four members share a contagious sense of humor that entertains workers as they await results. “It’s a recipe for joy! Who would have thought COVID tests could do that?”

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The COVID testing team is the latest project in Maria Long’s extensive history of nonprofit service, with roots dating back to childhood. She grew up in Marin County, the only child of a psychiatrist and a social worker/journalist. Her father died when she was just 3 years old, and her mother took a job at Child Welfare Services for the County of Marin. “I was raised to be of service. It was demonstrated to me; it wasn’t expected of me.”

Maria Long, left, and Shelly Rickard. | Credit: Courtesy

Tragedy struck again when her mother died of cancer when Long was 16. She became a ward of the court and lived with three different foster families before becoming a legal adult. “It was a really, really rich childhood and at the same time quite painful.” Long says these early experiences laid the foundation for who she is today, emphasizing that “we’re products of our environment.”

She became a volunteer at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Marin, “because I could relate so well to foster kids.” She also worked in the hotel and fashion industries during a time that coincided with the Bay Area music scene heyday of the ’70s, with regular concerts featuring the Grateful Dead, Santana, and other legendary groups rocking the local stages and parks.

In 1998, Long moved to Santa Barbara to open a bikini store on State Street. Customers complained about body image, and Long decided she’d be better equipped to help them as a psychologist. She earned a master’s in clinical psychology at Antioch University and has devoted her career to service ever since, working for nonprofits CADA, CASA, and Doctors Without Walls. Today, she is the Director of Development and Community Awareness at Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics. She also produces and hosts a KZSB talk show, Community Matters.

At the Bowl, Long’s volunteer COVID testing project has allowed her to marry her three main passions: music, medicine, and humanitarian assistance efforts. “It’s a labor of love,” she says. “We love the Bowl and music, and when it’s joyous, it’s amazing.” 

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