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Three of the Women's Fund Founders– Joann Rapp, Anne Towbes, and Perri Harcourt

Twenty years ago, a group of twelve women embarked on a mission to help women, children, and families in Santa Barbara. 

The small group wanted to support nonprofits for those most vulnerable in a big way. 

“We started with twelve women around a table … who had a vision for this kind of giving model in the community. And it’s one of those timeless models that works … that people get excited about," said board chair Jamie Dufek of the Women's Fund of Santa Barbara.

Over the years, the Women’s Fund grew into a powerhouse of sorts, increasing in size to 1,300 members along with hundreds of volunteers.

“They wanted to go out into the community and understand the needs in the community ... and then identify agencies and projects that would make a difference for people. A true difference," said vice chair Carolyn Jabs of the Women's Fund of Santa Barbara.

In the course of two decades, the organization donated nearly $10.5 million to 142 local nonprofits with grants exceeding $100,000. 

"Many are living under the poverty line so many of those are unhoused is some living in their cars or hotels, and we are trying so hard to mitigate the effects," said executive director Gabriella Garcia of Storyteller Children's Center in Santa Barbara.  

“And the teachers are very creative and so they bring opportunities out here that are extensions from the classroom," said principal Veronica Binkley of Harding University Partnership School in Santa Barbara.

"By being able to not only take care of the decay itself and the disease, but also give them a little bit more confidence in their smile, and actually makes a very big impact for them," said dental outreach coordinator Martin Villegas of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics.

"We see less and less children who need fillings ... so that’s why we are going forward with this," said chief dental officer Quynh Nguyen of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics.

Now in its 20th year, the organization is about to grant $1.125 million to local agencies.

"I am excited and extremely proud … this is a milestone that no one person can do alone," said Dufek. Choosing the grant recipients is a meticulous process, involving an all-volunteer research committee.

"Then our research committee goes out and does hard research ... an investigation into what kinds of projects would make a difference," said Jabs.

Then comes an all-member vote. 

"Ballot comes together and then all of the members ... over 1,300 women ... get a voice in which of those programs will be funded," said Jabs.

The results of this year's grants will be announced during the Celebration of Grants at the Lobero Theatre on May 7th. 

“I'm very excited to see where it goes … in another 20 years," said Dufek. The non-profit hopes those benefiting by this huge milestone, will pay it forward, one life at a time.

KEYT-TV - reporter Patricia Martellotti