Valentine’s luncheon to raise funds for critically ill children and families
“Hearts to Hearts,” a Valentine’s luncheon to raise funds for critically ill children and their families, will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Cabrillo Pavilion, 1118 E.Cabrillo Blvd.
The Santa Barbara event is the first benefit for Hearts Aligned, a new nonprofit founded by Vivian Solodkin.
Emcee for the luncheon, which is sponsored by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Foundation, is Janet Garufis, chairman and CEO of Montecito Bank and Trust.
Included will be a silent auction, raffle and video presentation of some of the families and their challenges. Tickets are $150.
Ms. Solodkin created Hearts Aligned as a legacy to her late son Carlos, who was born in January 2007 with a major congenital heart defect, pulmonary issues, gastrointestinal issues and DiGeorge syndrome.
He spent more than six months living in Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and fighting to stay alive until he was cleared for heart surgery to save his life. Unfortunately, he died during the surgery at just 9 months old due to his compromised lungs.
Ms. Solodkin was a successful entrepreneur who was the CEO of a large maintenance and restoration company so she had the financial resources to manage her situation. Her husband Peter was also employed and had the flexibility to care for their other child at home.
During that period, they divided their time between staying overnight at or near the hospital, while the other stayed with their 2-year-old daughter at their home over an hour away.
“When I was in the hospital, I met with many other families struggling with many more challenging issues than my family,” said Ms. Solodkin. “They talked about how they had to either leave a job or take time away from their work to care for the child, how they struggled with the pressure of paying overdue bills, how they needed help linking to community resources. And some were trying to understand the medical diagnosis and some of the medical invoices they received.”
Through the experiences of these families and many conversations with others, common themes emerged: The families needed help with expenses, running errands and understanding complicated healthcare diagnoses and medical bills.
In honor and memory of Carlos, the Solodkin family decided it was time to help as many families as they could through the creation of Hearts Aligned Inc., which officially began under the fiscal sponsorship of the Santa Barbara Foundation in July 2021 and took on its first family in November 2021.
“In 12 short months, we served 35 low-income families with a child with a critical illness by providing help with their utility bills (gas, electric, water, phone), gas cards for transportation to medical appointments, food vouchers, assistance with car payments, rental assistance and other essential expenses,” said Ms. Solodkin.
“We helped families with medical invoices advocating to ensure the health care system was picking up medical expenses and making connections to local groups for needs beyond our scope of services.”
Hearts Aligned provides essential services to strengthen families who have a child with critical illnesses, which include an autosomal recessive disorder, 3-M syndrome, skeletal disorder, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, heart issues, Down syndrome, numerous premature babies, numerous recent Type 1 diabetes, pseudohypoaldosteronism, G-tube, pulmonary hypertension, ventricular septal defect, respiratory syncytial virus with hypoxia and hypercapnia craniopharyngioma, stroke with cerebral ischemia and congenital hypothyroidism.
“All of the families served are from Santa Barbara County, and 100% are very low-income families based on the standards set by HUD for Santa Barbara County,” said Ms. Solodkin, now executive director of Hearts Aligned. “About 50% are from North County and 50% from South County; 36% of the families are Spanish-speaking as their primary language so our services are bilingual/Spanish.
“To our surprise, 23% of the families had a premature child, and 94% of our referrals come from Cottage Health social workers.”
Hearts Aligned services include financial assistance, personal support and patient advocacy.
Families are provided financial assistance up to $2,500 for current utility bills (gas, electric, phone, water etc.), rent, car payments, medical and prescription deductibles and other essential bills.
“These bills are paid directly to the provider of the services,” said Ms. Solodkin.
“Many of the bills are overdue, and we advocate with the provider to eliminate interest and other fees,” she added. “We provide emergency food vouchers and gas cards for families to travel to and from medical appointments.”
To provide personal support, Hearts Aligned plans to begin a volunteer program that will assist families by offering help around the house with transportation support and referral, light housework, temporary childcare for siblings, grocery shopping and running errands.
“These simple tasks will be of tremendous help to relieve many family stressors,” Ms. Solodkin said, adding, “We help families understand their child’s diagnosis. We assist in communicating with their healthcare provider to understand coverage and medical bills. We provide additional resources/referrals to resources outside our scope of support.”
The fledgling organization has four goals it hopes to accomplish in 2023:
— Expand its outreach program beyond Cottage Health to other medical facilities including Sansum Clinic, Dignity Health, Lompoc Health, Santa Maria Health Care Center, CenCal Health and local private pediatricians.
— Serve 50 to 60 families through a variety of programs. Hearts Aligned hopes to do this with additional funds from individuals, foundations, companies and other partners.
— Hire its first staff member, a program manager, to work directly with families.
— Begin to recruit and train volunteers to provide patient advocacy and personal assistance. Hearts Aligned said it hopes to do this with the help of its dedicated board of directors.
“We are reaching out to prospective partners to help us enhance and grow Hearts Aligned and reach our potential to serve many more low-income families in need,” said Ms. Solodkin.