Doctors Without Walls–Santa Barbara Street Medicine (DWW-SBSM) is an extraordinary organization providing health care to homeless and low-income individuals in Santa Barbara, and every year it throws one extraordinary fundraiser: Glow in the Park. The sold-out crowd of 425 supporters mingled in a scenic field at Elings Park encircled by 10 brilliant, tethered hot-air balloons. Many jumped in for a spectacular ride before or after sunset. Eighty DWW-SBSM volunteers were on hand, some staffing displays explaining the organization’s critical work. Omni Catering provided a scrumptious gourmet wild salmon and flatiron steak dinner.
During the program, Honorary Chair and major sponsor Michael Armand Hammer thanked the guests for their support. Board Chair Paul Jaconette related how DWW-SBSM serves “the most vulnerable people in the community, who are either ignored or set aside or just don’t have resources to take care of themselves and get the care and services they need.” He shared how DWW-SBSM is expanding to meet the growing demand for its services, including adding new boardmembers: Father Larry Gosselin, Ridley-Tree Cancer Center Medical Director Dr. Fred Kass, City Fire Chief Pat McElroy, and Dr. Kayla Rosen.
John Palminteri led a short auction and ask and then led the countdown to the most spectacular moment of the evening: the simultaneous glow of all 10 balloons. Breathtaking! Tariqh Akoni and his One Night Only Band performed Stevie Wonder tunes, and guests danced and soared into the sky.
In an interview, McElroy shared that he wanted to join the DWW-SBSM board because as a firefighter, he has been dealing with the homeless for years, has known people who have become homeless, and recognizes that this is a super-underserved population. McElroy noted that DWW-SBSM’s work helps the community at large because without the organization, the homeless would otherwise be using fire and other emergency services.
In an interview, Dr. Kass shared how he joined the board because “the staff are my heroes. They are dedicated healers in the most noble sense of the word.” Kass continued, “We know the homeless — they are our neighbors who live on our streets, whose presence stirs us to walk a little faster, and with whom we work hard to avoid eye contact. Where we speed up, they slow down. Where we avoid contact, they work hard to engage. Where we react with hesitation and fear, they respond with love and kindness and enormous skill.” This enlightened, compassionate spirit seems to be shared by all DWW-SBSM volunteers.
DWW-SBSM sets up mobile medical clinics in Pershing Park and Alameda Park each week staffed by volunteer physicians, nurses, premed students and others. At Transition House three Fridays per month, DWW-SBSM operates the Women’s Free Homeless Clinic, which offers medical care, mental-health counseling, acupuncture, showers, a hot lunch, laundry services, donated clothing and hygiene items, and referrals to other services. A recently acquired mobile medical van has allowed DWW-SBSM to expand its 24/7 on-call service in Santa Barbara and to visit Lompoc twice per month. At all of its clinics, the working poor who do not have insurance, cannot afford their copays, or cannot get an appointment with a provider in their plan are seen alongside the homeless.
Executive Director Maria Long oversees 10 coordinators (who get a nominal stipend) and 230 volunteers, including 25 physicians and 51 other health-care professionals. Many of the volunteers are premed students who receive valuable medical and humanitarian training. Last year, this amazing organization served 755 unduplicated patients through 2,120 visits.
For more information about Doctors Without Walls–Santa Barbara Street Medicine, visit sbdww.org.
By Gail Arnold