Thanks to generous donors and supporters, United Way of Santa Barbara County's (UWSBC) 21st Annual Red Feather Ball raised nearly $300,000, the most in event history. The funds will benefit the nonprofit's award-winning Fun in the Sun summer learning program and United for Literacy initiative.
Held Oct. 6 at the Four Seasons Biltmore Coral Casino, the record-setting night saw committed philanthropists and admired leaders from throughout the community bidding in a silent auction and raising their paddles to pledge funds in support of the programs. In his first year as UWSBC President & CEO, Steve Ortiz thanked the crowd for the support, describing how far he has seen children come in a short time during Fun in the Sun and the importance of reading skills for young students.
"Every single year we see kids coming into kindergarten lacking the basic skills they need to be successful," said Ortiz. "Some of them do not recognize shapes, colors and numbers. What's shocking is that in some rare cases the 4- or 5-year-olds coming into our programs don't recognize their own names. Thanks to your support every year, United Way and its partners provide the building blocks they need to be successful in school and life. Thank you for all that you have done."
The evening served as a special recognition of Maryan Schall, who received the 2017 Abercrombie Community Excellence Award for her decades of outstanding service and generosity within the Santa Barbara community. Most recently, Schall approached United Way with a $35,000 challenge grant to help fully fund United Way's Kindergarten Success Institutes. In addition to her generous donations, Schall volunteers her time, spending time with UWSBC students.
"Overall, I have to say that Maryan has a very kind heart, a brilliant mind and wonderful sense of humor," said Ortiz. "We need more people like Maryan in our community."
Attendees were also touched by the video story of Yessica Arroyo, who came to United Way's Fun in the Sun program while falling behind in class. Her parents received a limited education, leaving her unable to ask them for academic help and feeling alone in her studies. Despite having early doubts about going onto college, Arroyo went onto graduate from UCLA in 2015 and today proudly works at UCSB and mentors United Way students.
"It was amazing being part of a program where I felt so empowered," said Arroyo. "From the moment I was introduced to my leaders, I really felt like I could trust that these people were there, that I could speak to them about anything I was worried about. I knew that they cared."