2020 in Review: A Message from Steve Ortiz, President & CEO

2020 has been a year unlike any other. In the midst of such upheaval and uncertainty, I am so proud of our community for coming together to support our most vulnerable residents during these difficult times.

Despite the hardships, there are many noteworthy accomplishments and milestones that you, our donors, volunteers, and partners, are responsible for helping to reach in 2020. Together, we forged ahead in the face of trying circumstances and demonstrated exactly what makes Santa Barbara County such a strong community. Here are just a few of the amazing successes you helped make possible this year:


The COVID-19 Joint Response EffortSupply distribution volunteer

Since its launch in March 2020, the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort for Santa Barbara County has raised a total of $5.2 million. This countywide funders' collaborative was launched by United Way, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and the Hutton Parker Foundation to provide financial support to residents in need and safety net nonprofit organizations. In just nine months, over 2,400 individuals and nonprofits have been awarded close to $4.3 million through the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort. Grants to individuals continue to be reviewed and distributed in partnership with Family Service Agency.  

Additionally, United Way has raised or been awarded an additional $6.8 million to lead multiple crisis response/recovery programs and collaborative efforts, such as the Emergency Child Care Initiative, Public Health Critical Needs Initiative, CARES Act and CDBG Rental Assistance Programs (in partnership with the County of Santa Barbara, the City of Santa Barbara, and the City of Goleta), Learning & Enrichment Centers Collaborative, and School District technology and supplies grants. To date, these programs have benefited close to 2,300 individuals, organizations, and school districts. Funds will continue to be available to serve our most vulnerable residents into 2021. 

In total, more than $12 million has been made available through United Way, its community partners, and you to improve the lives of local residents allowing them to stay housed and safe during this pandemic. One recipient wrote to tell us: 

“I wanted to thank you for your generous gift. When I opened your letter, I had to read it again and again. Then I sat down on the bed and cried. I have never had this kind of help in my life. We began slipping on payments and things were starting to snowball. What you have done for my family and the community is truly a blessing. Please thank everyone in your organization and all of your donors.” 

Click here to view the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort Video


ULC kidLearning & Enrichment Centers Collaborative

With local schools' switch to distance learning, many students and families struggled to adapt. In August 2020, United Way and its community partners launched the Learning & Enrichment Centers Collaborative, a broad child care and learning/enrichment model involving 19 partner school districts and youth-serving agencies and 11 funders. The Learning & Enrichment Centers provide access to technology and internet, adult supervision and learning support, social/emotional skill development, access to food, enrichment/exercise activity, and more. Over 500 vulnerable students are participating in Learning & Enrichment Centers. Because of your support, the Learning & Enrichment centers will continue to support hundreds of students and families through June 2021. 

Thanks to your support, Jamie*, who just started kindergarten, is now on a path to a brighter future. Jamie’s teachers noticed she often missed her virtual classes and when she did attend, she was unresponsive. Because of her parents’ work schedules, Jamie was often unsupervised without help available when she needed it. Jamie is now enrolled in a Learning & Enrichment Center and receives in-person, one on one support. Hope District’s Superintendent, Anne Hubbard, shared with us, “I can’t imagine what would happen to Jamie if she was not receiving in-person support. The Learning and Enrichment Centers make a huge impact on the lives of our students and their families.”


Virtual Fun in the SunFITS class screenshot

Due to the pandemic, United Way's Fun in the Sun summer learning program was rapidly adapted to a virtual model for the first time in its history. 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. Thanks to the generosity of over 50 funding partners and service delivery partners, students received much-needed academic support and enrichment, meaningful connection with peers and educators, and a sense of normalcy after so many months of prolonged school closures and social distancing. 

One mom shared with us: “Our daughter was always so engaged and learned new things while attending virtually. We truly appreciate everyone that took part in order to produce such a great alternative to the in-person summer program!”

Click here to see the 2020 Fun in the Sun program in action.


In 2020, the generous support of hundreds of partners and caring community members like you made a world of difference for our most vulnerable residents receiving support through United Way’s programs and countywide collaborative efforts. With the pandemic continuing, our friends and neighbors will need support in 2021. If you are able, we ask that you consider making a donation today by visiting www.unitedwaysb.org/give.  

We deeply appreciate your continued partnership in these crisis response and recovery efforts. Thank you for all that you do to make Santa Barbara County a better place.

Wishing you and your family good health.


Steve Ortiz Signature

Steve Ortiz

President & CEO