Uniting Santa Barbara Against Poverty

By Giving List Staff   |   October 18, 2021
Head Start alumni Joseph and Anthony with their mother Debbie Ramirez

People in the nonprofit world often talk about “A Tale of Two Santa Barbaras” to describe the county’s gaping wealth disparity. There’s the American Riviera version, the one with society’s most well-heeled living in multi-million-dollar mansions. And there’s the other Santa Barbara, the one where more than 20 percent of the county’s residents live below the poverty line.

Adolescent Family Life Planning case manager Monica Gonzalez and client Ruby Sierra

CommUnify CEO Patricia Keelean is all too familiar with the other Santa Barbara. Her organization, which provides children’s, community, and family services to the county’s most disadvantaged, has been on the front lines against poverty for the last 55 years.

“The disproportionate nature of poverty here in Santa Barbara and California, as it compares to other states, is really significant,” Keelean says. “That’s something many people aren’t aware of.”

According to the MIT living wage calculator, a single mother with two children needs to earn $64,000 per year to live comfortably in Santa Barbara County with a roof over their heads, food on their table, and access to healthcare. People who live below the state poverty line struggle to make ends meet here without the support of organizations like CommUnify.

Established in 1967 as the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County and renamed CommUnify in 2020, the organization serves the community in a multitude of ways. As one of the county’s largest nonprofits, its nearly 400 staff operate more than 17 programs and services, including Head Start/Early Start programs, energy assistance, home weatherization services, financial literacy and family self-sufficiency supportive services, a variety of prevention and intervention services for youth, and the 2-1-1 information and referral helpline.

CommUnify is one of the few nonprofits in the county truly able to provide county-wide coverage. Despite its footprint and deep pool of services and programs, it relies on multiple partnerships with nonprofits to tackle the chronic poverty problem across the county. The rebranding to CommUnify was designed in part to rally the community around this cause.

“The needs are so great and we recognize that we can’t be successful on our own,” Keelean says. “Our new name, CommUnify, represents our commitment to bringing the community together to address the issue of poverty.”



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(805) 964-8857 ext.#1105
CDO: Julie Weiner


We provide education and supportive services in partnership with the community so Santa Barbara County residents can improve their economic security, become self-sufficient, and retain their dignity.

Begin to Build a Relationship

We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s director of development and/or Executive Director.

I have been involved with CommUnify (formerly Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County) professionally and later as a proud supporter for over 33 years. I have continued my involvement with CommUnify for all these years because I have seen all the exceptional programs and services they provide to the entire Santa Barbara County community and the way they ‘step up to the plate’ in times of need. They provide a full spectrum of services for and support to vulnerable members of this county prenatally to older adulthood and ages in-between. CommUnify represents the best of the best in Santa Barbara County.

Flo Furuike
A longtime supporter of CommUnify

Help Us Serve Seniors

Did you know that low-income seniors are among the most vulnerable people in Santa Barbara County? Many were productive members of our community before retirement, but now live on fixed incomes which do not keep up with the high cost of living here so they can’t afford home repairs. Each year, 950,000 older adults nationally are hospitalized due to a fall, making this lack of repairs a serious safety concern. CommUnify’s Seniors Safe at Home program provides minor electrical and plumbing repairs, upgrades water heaters and furnaces, and installs carbon monoxide detectors, smoke alarms, and slip-and-fall prevention devices so our seniors may age safely in place. Thisprogram serves 150 to 175 senior households each year, but with your donation we can increase this number to ensure more seniors have a safer home and prevent potentially catastrophic injuries, hospitalization, or death. We hope you’ll support Seniors Safe at Home.

Key Supporters

Ann Jackson Family Foundation
CenCal Health
Dr. Hildegard H. Balin Charitable Foundation
Edwin and Jeanne Woods Family Foundation
Eric and Kelly Onnen
Hutton Parker Foundation
Latkin Charitable Foundation
Mark and Dorothy Smith Family Foundation
Mike and Linda Cordero
Montecito Bank & Trust
Norm and Jane Habermann
Santa Barbara Foundation
Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians
Sara Miller McCune
Susan Rose
The Crawford Idema Family Foundation
The Towbes Foundation
The Towbes Group, Inc.
Walter and Holly Thomson Foundation
Williams-Corbett Foundation