If the name CommUnify doesn’t ring a bell, Patricia Keelean, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer, thinks she knows why.
“We are our own best-kept secret,” Keelean said. There’s a good reason for that – CommUnify is actually the new DBA for what used to be called the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County – indeed quite a mouthful – that was formed way back in 1964 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. It was just three years later that the 15-member Community Action Committee appointed by the County Board of Supervisors to address the causes and conditions of poverty incorporated as a private nonprofit organization. CACSBC (also a mouthful) began by providing Head Start early education services, followed that same year by a senior support program; an adult job-training program was added in 1969. Now, half a century later, the nonprofit’s menu of services has expanded to include a wide array of programs focused on addressing poverty in all its guises.
Its 17 programs and services in the community include the well-known 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.
But not only has the organization grown exponentially to the tune of 400 staffers serving about 10,000 individuals each year – they also don’t do it alone – as they work with other nonprofit partners throughout the area.
“One of the reasons why we rebranded is because people typically know an individual program that we’re providing, but they don’t realize it falls under this larger umbrella,” Keelean said. “We haven’t necessarily had the resources as an organization to promote the organization and let the general community know who we are and all of the great work that we’re doing. Now we have a great new name that better reflects the work and our mission, and a beautiful new logo that represents the color and the spirit of our new brand.”
Whatever the name, CommUnify’s lofty goal remains the same in addressing the causes and conditions of poverty. But the vision has crystallized, too.
“We serve from age zero to end of life, trying to help those who are disadvantaged to stabilize and become independent and thrive in our community,” Keelean said. “And we have a board that includes a low-income sector, the private sector, and public official sector. That’s unique to community action and ensures that every facet of the community is working together to address the issues of poverty at a local level.”
What also sets CommUnify apart is its approach, she said.
“Because we provide so many comprehensive services, what we are really focused on is a person-centered approach on an individualized basis so that we can assess the unique needs of every individual or family that we serve and connect them with all of the resources that we provide as an organization. Bundling services together, rather than providing what’s sometimes called a ‘one and done,’ we can address their broader needs. It’s not just putting a Band-Aid on in an emergency but providing case management. Whether it’s rental assistance, help with an energy bill, weatherize their home, connecting them with Head Start so their preschooler starts life as prepared as possible – whatever the need might be within that individual or family, we want to be able to address it.”
CommUnify is also one of the few organizations in Santa Barbara County with a “true north and south county footprint and a true north and south county commitment,” Keelean said.
And if CommUnify doesn’t offer a service to solve a specific need, they refer them out to other agency partners in the community to provide the necessary assistance.
“We’re a large organization, but we can’t do this work alone,” Keelean said. “If we don’t have the service that will meet the need, we refer them to another nonprofit that does. That way there’s no duplication of effort.”
With that network, CommUnify really is about helping a person or family stabilize, improve their economic security, and move towards becoming independent and self-sufficient so that they can retain their dignity, she said.
“We want to identify the barriers that are keeping them in crisis and preventing them from moving towards becoming more economically stable,” Keelean said.
As to getting more recognition for the CommUnify name?
Keelean has an answer – “This year, we’re celebrating 55 years of service to the residents of Santa Barbara County, so we’re definitely going to make a splash and let people know we’re here,” she said.
Accordingly, the 55th Anniversary Champions Dinner takes place June 9 at the River Grill at Alisal Ranch in Solvang, where CommUnify will honor the Santa Barbara Foundation; Eric and Kelly Onnen, founders of Santa Barbara Airbus; and Robert Freeman, former CEO of CenCal Health, for their dedicated work on behalf of Santa Barbara County. Past recipients of the Champions award will also be recognized, including 2020 honorees The Towbes Group; Jim Glines, President / CEO at Community Bank of Santa Maria; and Rona Barrett, the former gossip columnist who runs her self-named nonprofit foundation.
Some of those private donations raised go toward expanding CommUnify’s new Seniors Safe at Home program that helps combat both isolation and the resultant neglect to simple home repairs that can lead to injuries because of a shrinking network. Meaning from Head Start to home repair for the elderly, CommUnify is there.
CommUnify, 5638 Hollister Avenue, Goleta, (805) 964-8857, www.communifysb.org, Patricia Keelean, CEO; Julie Weiner, CDO
(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.
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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.
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.
Ann Jackson Family Foundation
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
The Crawford Idema Family Foundation
The Towbes Foundation
The Towbes Group, Inc.
Walter and Holly Thomson Foundation