Birds of a Feather | RED FEATHER BALL

In partnership with key local community partner agencies, United Way of Santa Barbara County is leading efforts to build a strong and resilient community by providing children and families the educational base and financial stability they need to be successful in school and the future. 

We are excited to return to an in-person Red Feather Ball this October. We are raising funds to provide thousands of students with access to high quality learning experiences and resources through Fun in the Sun and United for Literacy programs in 2021 and 2022. 

Your support of our Birds of a Feather | Red Feather Ball makes this important work possible. A donation to this event supports two critical educational initiatives, Fun in the Sun and United for Literacy, that help change the lives of local children and families.



Every summer, UWSBC serves roughly 350 low-income children through its nationally recognized Fun in the Sun (FITS) summer learning and enrichment program. Due to COVID-19 closures, we adapted FITS to a virtual model, providing children and families with a safe, supportive learning environment. Virtual Fun in the Sun was able to continue supporting up to 350 students and families at seven virtual sites in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, Goleta, and the Santa Ynez Valley. 

Additional program components have been added to the FITS 2021 program, including:

  1. A robust mindfulness program called Inner Explorer that has been used in the Goleta Union School District (GUSD), which will be evaluated by GUSD’s former school psychologist, Peggy Grossman. Additional activities include yoga, and a partnership with Inner Warrior that develops mindfulness, self-defense and self-advocacy skills. We will also incorporate activities developed by our curriculum specialist for the next two years.
  2. Expanded bicycling program in partnership with Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. Students at all sites will stay active with weekly bike lessons. In alignment with our STEAM curriculum, students will also practice basic bike maintenance and problem-solving skills.
  3. Outdoor walking field trips locally where appropriate. With Nature Track, students will go on hikes with nature educators to learn about local ecosystems in their neighborhood.
  4. Additional social/emotional support for students and families. Family Service Agency will visit the sites weekly to support FITS staff with behavior management and difficult situations that may arise. Hospice of Santa Barbara will train FITS staff to create safe, supportive spaces that are conducive to healing and the mindfulness activities that are planned throughout the summer. Hospice will also meet weekly with FITS’s Counselors in Training to provide our teens with ongoing social emotional support and guidance.
  5. FITS is working with Explore Ecology and One Cool Earth to implement a gardening program at every site. FITS participants will learn more about gardening and food sustainability and will have the opportunity to revitalize neglected school gardens.


Every year, United Way supports the implementation of web-based literacy programs in partnership with 45 schools across the County. Local educators rely heavily on our online literacy improvement software, Lexia and Reading Plus, which can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere with an internet connection, as schools migrated to a virtual classroom setting. When schools closed in March 2020, program participants grew from 10,000 to more than 25,000 students per day. On average, United for Literacy participants gain 2 or more reading grade levels with regular usage.

Hope Elementary School Principal, Liz Barnitz, shared with us, “Reading Plus and Lexia are great tools for the times we face.” Students love the programs, too. Annet, a local third grader, loves Lexia because she said, “It helped me read more and faster.” 5th grader Crystal likes Reading Plus “because you can choose the stories you like and that interest you.” 

Early Learning Success Institutes 

Distance learning has caused particularly significant disruptions in the learning and social emotional development of young students in grades K-2 who have had little, if any, previous in-person learning. To help address this pandemic-related learning loss, United Way has coordinated with school districts to expand its formerly primarily kindergarten-readiness focused programming to address the learning needs of even more of our county's youngest students through the Early Learning Success Institutes (ELSI). For the first time, ELSI will serve students in grades K-2 beginning summer 2021 at Carpinteria Unified School District, Hope Elementary School District, Goleta Union School District, College School District, as well as Franklin and Harding Elementary Schools from Santa Barbara Unified School District.

At each site, a certified teacher and instructional aide will work with small groups of students to help them learn basic skills (i.e., sharing, numbers, colors, letters, early literacy, etc.). Teaching is individualized to address each student’s particular presenting needs. ELSI sites use rotational models that allow students to work in smaller groups with more individualized attention. Classroom sizes are being adjusted to comply with CDC guidelines.

To help students maximize their progress, ELSI will expand its services this year and will operate in tandem with the United Learning Center. ELSI students will participate in small group tutoring sessions with United Way instructors to work on personalized lesson plans. In addition, students will practice and develop social-emotional skills and mindfulness to better cope with lingering stress due to school closures.


Cash Assistance Grants for Individuals           

With the COVID-19 outbreak, many families faced economic crisis. Rapid, concrete support was critical. In March 2020, UWSBC partnered with other leaders in philanthropy to launch a program to give cash grants to individuals and families who were struggling. In 2020, more than 2,700 grants were awarded totaling over $2.5 million. 

Essential Workforce Emergency Child Care Initiative

Very early in the pandemic, we heard from health care leaders that their employees were in urgent need of child care during initial child care facility closures. In response,$554,000 was invested to support 251 free or subsidized child care spaces at four sites across the County. This collaborative ended in August 2020 as many child care programs reopened. 

UWSBC Critical Needs Fund

When the pandemic first struck, UWSBC joined with the County Public Health Department (PHD) and the James S. Bower Foundation to create the United Way of Santa Barbara County Critical Needs Fund (CNF) – a collaborative partnership that enabled government and philanthropic leaders to connect regularly and explore strategies to partner and invest in response to urgent needs. UWSBC helps raise funding and serves as the CNF’s fiscal agent and manager.

Today the CNF is supporting UWSBC’s Vaccination Equity Project (VEP).  For more information on how to support the VEP please visit:  

Learning & Enrichment Center Collaborative

When schools were forced to abruptly close and move to online instruction, students, parents, and educators did their best but faced huge challenges. Many parents had to choose between staying home to support their children’s education or working to put food on the table and avoid eviction. 

To help meet this need, in August 2020 UWSBC launched the Learning & Enrichment Center Collaborative (L&ECC) which continued until April 2021 when schools began to reopen. The Centers provided access to technology and the internet; adult supervision; learning support; social/emotional skill development; and access to food, enrichment, exercise, and more. Since its inception, the L&ECC served more than 600 students at 10 centers in partnership with 9 school districts across the County. In total, UWSBC raised and invested $1.3 million for this effort. 

Rental & Disaster Assistance Programs

Repeated stay-at-home orders and the shutting down of major industries made it clear that thousands of local residents would face fiscal crisis. In May 2020, UWSBC and local governments began to explore models for quickly and efficiently delivering new rental and disaster assistance to help keep vulnerable residents housed and stable during this crisis. With the County of Santa Barbara, the City of Santa Barbara, and the City of Goleta, we invested $2.9 million in 2020 rental and disaster assistance assisting 1,160 people.  With new federal stimulus funding available in 2021, UWSBC continues to support local residents in need with an additional $13 million in grants available.    

Adapting Existing UWSBC Programs to Meet Community Needs 

In addition to the new crisis response efforts described above, UWSBC also substantially adapted our core programs in ways that would continue serving our communities effectively in the new and challenging COVID-19 environment. Our United for Literacy, Fun in the Sun (FITS) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Programs were all adapted to meet the needs of students and other community members.  

Children and families with continued access to vital education programs and collaborative COVID-19 response efforts that help meet the community’s immediate and long-term needs. The need for help in our community already well exceeds total funding available at this time and additional support is urgently needed to meet long-term needs. To join this effort today, please click the Donate Now button below.