New Leadership Team Implements Bold and Enduring Vision for Storyteller Children’s Center… Through the Pandemic and Beyond
New Executive Director, Development Director, and ECE Program Manager are bolstering support, partnerships, and programs for vulnerable toddlers and preschoolers.
In the midst of the COVID-19-related protocols and lockdowns, Storyteller Children’s Center hasn’t stopped their momentum in serving the social, emotional, and scholastic needs of Santa Barbara’s homeless preschoolers. In the six months since Susan Cass took over in the role of Executive Director, the organization has brought on Adrienne De Guevara as Development Director and Maria Cervantes as ECE Program Manager. They have also remained open for the large majority of the year and achieved accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
“As one would expect, it has been particularly challenging for this leadership team to step into our roles during the pandemic,” noted Cass. “The economic hardships and needs of our families and students are greater than ever, so we need to remain focused on the opportunities rather than the obstacles. While new health and safety protocols have impacted our program delivery and revenue from fundraising events has steeply declined, we are committed to finding creative and strategic ways to continue to support our children, families, and staff during this time.”
Adrienne De Guevara, previously with the Lobero Theatre Foundation, brings her combined experience in fundraising, sales, and event organizing to support Storyteller Children’s operation and program costs. As a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, she serves on the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access committee while also staying informed on the latest trends in philanthropy both locally and nationally. This year she also served on the selection committee for the 2020 National Philanthropy Day Honorees.
For De Guevara, finding revenue has been all about reaching out and reactivating relationships. She has been identifying and applying for grants, upgrading the website to support online contributions, while managing the second virtual event to replace Storyteller’s annual lunchbox luncheon, “Lunch with Love,” which includes home-delivered meals to donors for a touch-base and connection.
“This has been a challenging year for everyone,” said De Guevara. “It’s understandable that we are not necessarily top of mind with donors and funders, because we are all distracted and a bit overwhelmed. My approach is really applying the old fashion method of picking up the phone and saying ‘Hi, how are you?’ It’s incredible to me how responsive this community has been to our expressed needs.”
Maria Cervantes comes to Storyteller with 23 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Maria believes that every child deserves a high-quality early learning program and that ECE educators should be recognized for their research-based approach to development. A graduate of National University in San Diego, Maria holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and will enter into a master’s degree program later this year. In 2016 Maria was awarded Preschool Teacher of the Year by Los Angeles Universal Preschool and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Maria will be overseeing programs at both Storyteller locations.
Cervantes’ primary focus is on supporting the foundation of the Storyteller’s therapeutic-based education: the teachers and staff.
“All teachers are carrying a great deal of added responsibilities and workload this year, and that’s threefold for Storyteller’s educators,” said Cervantes. “Not only do they have the curriculum and COVID protocols to navigate, but they are also trained to provide emotional support to students who have or are experiencing a great deal of trauma. Our students benefit when our teachers are supported with resources, technology, training, compensation, and… empathy.”
Operating out of two campuses on State Street and De La Vina Street, Storyteller Children’s Center supports approximately 80 homeless and at-risk children and families per year. Beyond their year-round educational program, they provide behavioral health services, two nutritious meals and one snack per day, medical screenings and home visits. Parents and guardians must be working or enrolled in a vocational program for students to qualify. The primary objectives for Storyteller are to foster social and emotional resiliency and kindergarten readiness, the most critical markers in the scholastic success of a child.
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Director of Development: Adrienne De Guevara,
Storyteller is a therapeutic preschool that serves children and their families toward “Kindergarten Readiness.”
Storyteller serves Santa Barbara’s poorest families, those living below or close to the poverty guideline and who also meet the Federal definition of homeless. This segment of our community may have difficulty accessing and paying for quality preschool.
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The Key Component is Love
We can’t change the world, but we can impact our little corner. Our teachers, our leadership team, and our Board are positively impacting children and their families’ lives every day.
A Lasting Impact on Children and Families
If the last year has shown us anything, it is that we need to lean on each other for support and strength when challenges arise. At Storyteller, teachers and staff have seen first-hand the increased levels of stress and trauma their families are experiencing as a result of the pandemic. From grieving the loss of loved ones to trying to obtain stable housing or employment, the families of Storyteller have experienced more than many of us could imagine. In response to this growing need for support and resources, Storyteller recently introduced a Family Advocacy Program to focus directly on the needs of the parents and guardians. The program provides early intervention for families before challenges become too complex or debilitating to overcome. With the support of community donors, this pilot program will become a permanent part of Storyteller’s service offering and have a lasting impact for years to come.
Jennifer Gillon Duffy
Daisy Estrada Ochoa