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Executive Director Gabriella Garcia and Board President Michael Wasserman | Credit: Gail Arnold

Storyteller Children’s Center hosted its 9th annual Lunch with Love at the S.B. Woman’s Club for more than 200 supporters. There was a reception on the sunny patio and then lunch inside, where guests were welcomed by Board President Michael Wasserman. He recognized some of the many public officials present, including Mayor Randy Rowse, Police Chief Kelly Gordon, County Supervisor Laura Capps, and City Fire Chief Chris Mailes.

Executive Director Gabriella Garcia explained how Storyteller provides high quality early childhood education to children who have faced adverse circumstances so early in their lives that it has often led to trauma. Accordingly, Storyteller’s staff are highly trained to support the social, emotional, and behavioral challenges these children present. The goal is to get the children to be on a par with their peers when they enter the school system. 

Garcia made the exciting announcement that Storyteller will soon bring its programming to Transition House’s infant/toddler program, providing programming to those six weeks to two years old. This initiative seeks to maximize Storyteller’s impact by having an earlier start for programming, which will be play-based learning for social and emotional development. Storyteller’s existing two campuses provide programming for children 18 months to five years old.

Storyteller also fosters growing brains, Garcia related, by providing two meals and a snack daily. All food is provided through a partnership with the S.B. Unified School District. Often, Garcia shared, this food is the only food the children have to eat for the day; a statement that quieted the room and powerfully conveyed the plight of the demographic served and the challenges Storyteller faces in its mission.  

Garcia, with her warm and positive demeanor, quickly pivoted from this stark reality to sharing how Storyteller makes such a critical difference in the lives of the 85 children it serves each year. At its residential-style campuses, Storyteller prides itself on providing a home for the children where they have a safe, predictable environment. It offers year-round education, and behavioral and emotional support through partnerships with Family Service Agency, Family Support Services, and CALM. Teaching is through a trauma-informed lens, with the focus on social and emotional growth. 

An important component of what Storyteller offers is services to the families, which seek to ensure that they have the tools needed to break the cycle of poverty. A grant from the Women’s Fund currently funds a Family Advocate to provide family support services. 

In the keynote address, pediatrician Dr. Samira Kayumi-Rashti explained how the early years are the most influential on a child’s brain development and that every interaction shapes this development. 

After announcing the next big event, its 35th Anniversary Gala on October 6, the lunch adjourned.

At Storyteller, all children served are below the poverty line and 16 percent are homeless. All children are enrolled in the federal Head Start program or the CA State Preschool Program, both of which provide funding, but Storyteller relies on private support for about 60 percent of its budget. If it can increase donations, priorities are expanding programming for some of the 132 children on the waitlist, recruiting more qualified teachers to improve the teacher/child ratio, and replacing materials and supplies lost during flooding from the recent storms.

Santa Barbara Independent 4-20-23