Leading Voices

Glean insights from this diverse cadre of leading minds in philanthropy.

Saying Yes to Santa Barbara’s Nonprofit Needs

When Monte and Maria Wilson moved to Santa Barbara in 2010, the idea was that this beachside community would be the place where they would eventually wind down their careers for good. It’s been almost 13 years, and that has yet to be true. In fact, the Wilsons are busier than ever, both deeply involved in Santa Barbara’s philanthropic community while still engaging in business endeavors.  Back in 2010, Monte, who hails from the American heartland city of Peoria, Illinois, had parlayed his tech career, which included stints at industry giant Oracle and start-up style firms Documentum and Initiate Systems, [...more...]

Extended Family

Palmer Jackson Jr. comes by his fondness for philanthropy honestly. In fact, the concept of giving back through donating dollars and volunteer time has been passed down through the generations like a valuable heirloom or a middle name, a part of the fabric of the family.  The Montecito native was just 13 years old in 1978 when his father, Palmer Jackson, Sr., created the Ann Jackson Family Foundation, named in honor of Senior’s mother, who provided the initial seed money to continue Ann and her husband Charles’ philanthropic commitment in perpetuity. Ann Gavit Jackson herself was already a second-generation philanthropist [...more...]

Two Epiphanies Lead to a Life of Service

When she was young, Charlotte Gullap-Moore had two epiphanies that she felt would define her destiny. The first came at age eight, when her mother sent her to her grandmother’s house to spend the summer. The image of her grandmother returning home from her work as a nurse left an indelible impression.  “She had the white cap on, the white uniform, and white shoes when she would walk through the front door,” Gullap-Moore says. “She just had a radiant glow about her, and I knew then that I wanted to become a nurse.” The second epiphany came when she was [...more...]

Tragedy Inspires Innovation and Passion-Driven Philanthropy

Dr. Michael Brinkenhoff’s professional “aha” moment came at the nadir of his personal life, an invention born of tragedy. When his beloved wife, Gayle, was being treated for breast cancer in 2000, her treatments caused many distressing side effects; the damage to her once-beautiful eyelashes was the most distressing, Dr. Brinkenhoff remembers.  A practicing ophthalmologist at the time, and wanting to help his wife in any way he could, he told her, “I think I can come up with something” to help with the loss of the attractiveness of her eyelashes. He went to work with cosmetics chemists to discover [...more...]

For the Love of the Channel and the Life Teeming Through It

(Photo by Stacey J. Byers) It sounds like a question my daughter would ask me: “What’s your favorite whale?”  Still, I couldn’t help myself, after all, Hiroko Benko has seen them all. Well, not quite, as there are around 90 species of cetaceans – whales, dolphins, and porpoises – swimming around the world’s oceans and not all of them can be spotted in the Santa Barbara Channel. But a heckuva lot of them can be, including Blue Whales (the world’s largest creature ever), Grays, Minke, Sperm, Humpback, Killer Whales, and a variety of dolphins. About 27 species traverse the Santa [...more...]

The ‘Other,’ Kalyan Balaven

As the first person of color to serve as Head of Dunn School in Los Olivos, California, Kalyan (“Kal”) Balaven is, in many ways, a long way from his youth in the San Francisco Bay Area, where his family found itself houseless, surviving on what Balaven calls community wealth.  From an ethnic perspective, Balaven says that he’s always thought of himself as “other.” An outsider identification that informs his work today as the head of an esteemed private residential school with a rich history that didn’t always include leaders (or many students) that looked like him. “The idea of being [...more...]

Nancy Sheldon Sets a Large Philanthropy Table

When Nancy Sheldon was a little girl growing up in Milwaukee, her mother, Muriel, hosted dinners for Russian immigrants. It puzzled Sheldon, primarily because, as she recalls, “my mother hated to cook.” And yet, there she was, working away in the kitchen, creating beautiful dinners, to make these transplanted families feel comfortable. “I just remember not understanding what it was all about and why she was doing it, but feeling like there was a sacrifice,” she recalls. Although Sheldon could not completely comprehend the gravitas of the families’ plight at the time, her mother was actually helping to resettle “Refuseniks,” [...more...]

Wilma Melville: Dogged Determination

Wilma Melville is the most inspirational person I’ve ever met. She has done more during her retirement than most people have done during their entire careers. I recently had the pleasure of visiting her at the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation Training Center in Santa Paula, California, and then again in the hangar where she lives with her airplane. “Spark plug” is an overused term I have never used before. She is a spark plug. She is Annie Oakley. She is Amelia Earhart. Above all, Wilma Melville is an exhauster of my internal thesaurus of superlatives. One of the things [...more...]

Jackie Carrera Puts the ‘Community’ in Santa Barbara ‘Community’ Foundation

(Photo by Dean Zatkowsky) Jackie Carrera’s powerful sense of community started with her family, long before she moved from Maryland to California and eventually settled on the Central Coast. Today, ours is the community that the Santa Barbara Foundation CEO spends much of her time contemplating.   “I was raised by a second-grade teacher. We had a close-knit family with four kids. My family was my first community. And we all had a role in it. Whether it was vacuuming on Saturday mornings or doing the dishes every single night, we all worked and contributed to our home life. I came [...more...]

Lisa Greer’s Message to Philanthropy: Revolutionize Lisa Greer’s Message to Philanthropy: Revolutionize

While she had built a successful career, Lisa Greer wasn’t born into wealth. But when her husband Josh’s company, RealD, […more…]

From Local Kid to Social Sector Leader From Local Kid to Social Sector Leader

Easy Lift Transportation Executive Director Ernesto Paredes remembers his earliest experience volunteering as a young kid in Santa Barbara. Growing […more…]

Giving Back What Was Given to Him Giving Back What Was Given to Him

As a child growing up on the Santa Ynez Chumash Reservation, Kenneth Kahn never felt neglected. His neighborhood was filled […more…]

My Rich Experiences Thomas Rollerson

Thomas Rollerson is a natural-born empathizer and philanthropist – a condition that literally harks back to his birth. Driven by […more…]

A Force for the Arts A Force for the Arts

Kai Tepper knew from a young age that she was destined for the arts. Along with her sister – who […more…]

Santa Barbara’s First Lady of Philanthropy Looks Back Santa Barbara’s First Lady of Philanthropy Looks Back

Born and raised in a leafy suburb of Detroit, Michigan, located near the city’s zoo, Anne Towbes grew up surrounded […more…]

For Janet Garufis, Giving Is Not Only a Responsibility, But a Privilege For Janet Garufis, Giving Is Not Only a Responsibility, But a Privilege

Sometimes, life’s lessons emerge from the most unlikely places. For Janet Garufis – Montecito Bank & Trust’s dynamic chairman and […more…]

Treasure, Time, and Talent Treasure, Time, and Talent

Warren Ritter says that he was born with the passion to give back. By building a career in private wealth […more…]

Money as Medicine Money as Medicine

As told to Daniel Heimpel In 2018, a Native American philanthropy professional dropped a bomb on the industry. In his […more…]

Untangling Self-Interest from True Compassion by Nick Schou Untangling Self-Interest from True Compassion by Nick Schou

The winding path of Santa Barbara philanthropist Kevin Brine – from near-broke college student obsessed with Sanskrit studies to living […more…]

‘What Good Is a Platform if You Don’t Use It for Good?’ ‘What Good Is a Platform if You Don’t Use It for Good?’

As told to Daniel Heimpel I have known CNN host Lisa Ling for nearly a decade now. I never saw her […more…]

Philanthropy is a Family Business Philanthropy is a Family Business

As told to Brian Rinker Charlie Casey inherited the family business, Pacific Foundation Services (PFS), and turned it into a […more…]

Shining a Light on the Power of Community College Shining a Light on the Power of Community College

As told to Brian Rinker Geoff Green’s mantra is “of, by, and for.” Having learned the value of both activism […more…]

Building a More Equitable UC Santa Barbara Building a More Equitable UC Santa Barbara

Other than a brief stint in New York City in 1989, Katya Armistead has spent almost her entire adult life […more…]

From the Heart of Compton to the Soul of Santa Barbara From the Heart of Compton to the Soul of Santa Barbara

He grew up in Compton, but Guy Walker has deep roots in Santa Barbara County going back to the 1970s, […more…]

A Strong Family Tradition of Giving Back A Strong Family Tradition of Giving Back

When Ginger Salazar, along with her husband and four children, moved back to Santa Barbara 16 years ago, she was […more…]