Etiquette Unlocking Life Potential

By Giving List Staff   |   October 29, 2021

The Key Class founder John Daly was 64 when he realized what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Daly had spent a successful, 44-year career in corporate events and he had already created six companies. But it took a teenager named Alex to change everything.

Daly met Alex, who was in foster care, while working as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and one night, he took him out for dinner in Oxnard to celebrate his fifteenth birthday. Alex ordered chili and Daly immediately realized the boy didn’t know how to use an eating utensil. There was chili everywhere. Daly cleaned up the mess on the table and taught him how to use a spoon properly. When they left the restaurant, Alex put his arm around Daly’s shoulder and thanked him, saying no one had ever bothered before to show him how to do it.

“I was totally choked up and I thought I’d been living in a bubble where I just think that people know these things,” Daly recalls. “I cried all the way to Santa Barbara and said, ‘I’ve got to do something about this.’”

When he got home, he woke up his wife and told her his idea for an organization that would mentor at-risk kids and teach them important life skills like social etiquette. He called it The Key Class. 

Daly wanted to provide young people with “the keys to success” and soon after, his classes were adopted by all high schools in Santa Barbara County. Eleven years later, The Key Class has taught 8,000 students skills as diverse as conflict resolution, how to behave in professional situations, or how to make a good first impression. Daly customizes the curriculum based on the individual needs and age of the students. He even teaches people beyond the college level, as part of a contract with the State of California Workforce Development Board.

“I work with people that maybe have had a job for 25 years and never looked for a job and got laid off,” Daly says. “And all of a sudden they don’t know how to write a résumé or anything.”

His proudest moment was helping a boy named Junior who had been mixed up in gangs. Junior entered Daly’s class by court mandate and resisted at first, dismissing Daly as a rich Montecito man who couldn’t possibly understand his circumstances. Daly got through to the young man and helped him get a job where Junior thrived. Two years later, Daly received a phone call from Junior. He had just enlisted in the Navy.

“I just called to tell you, thank you,” Junior told him. “You saved my life.” 


The Key Class

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(805) 452-2747
President: John Daly


The Key Class strives to deliver a comprehensive yet simple guide to social and business skills, the key to ensuring that all students (elementary to college), regardless of where they live, are prepared for career and life. 

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The Key Class teaches essential communication skills for students. Their lessons educate youth on critically needed life skills such as how to introduce themselves, the importance of showing respect, and how to respectfully disagree. Students walk away from the classes understanding kindness and empathy, the importance of first impressions, and how to best present themselves in a classroom, job interview, or conversations with peers and family. These are foundational communication skills needed throughout life. We wish The Key Class was integrated into every classroom throughout Santa Barbara County.
Jane & Paul Orfalea

Supersizing the Social

At the start of The Key Class, Daly bankrolled the whole thing; he eventually established a 501(c)(3) to cover expenses. He holds a formal tea and ice cream social every year attended by up to 75 people with an initial ask of around $5,000 that would attract contribution from a few corporations and local residents. Daly is always looking to attract more participants to the event to underwrite more of his courses and mentor additional students.

The Key Class Partners

The Mosher Foundation
The Audacious Foundation
The Towbes Group
The Santa Barbara Foundation
The Turner Foundation – Since 1958
The William Weiss Foundation
Dr. Robert and Christine Emmons Foundation
Chris Toomey
Judie Jacquemin
Shelly and Christine Schwab
Jerry and Joan Rocco
Marcia and Jamie Constance
United Way
First Republic Bank
The McCarthy Company
DD Ford Construction
Bob and Shauna Hirsch
Workforce Development Board