New Beginnings partners with Banana Republic, Gap to provide gifts to families and veterans
Local nonprofit New Beginnings had the good fortune of expanding its annual “Adopt-a-Family” program this year.
By doing so, the group was able to provide holiday gifts for families and formerly homeless veterans through its charitable initiative that channels the local retail sector to purchase gifts for those in need.
The second annual event featured gifts for three families and four veterans who reside in New Beginnings’ Johnson Court, its 16-unit housing complex that opened in February 2020 in Santa Barbara.
The retailers included in this year’s efforts were local employees from Banana Republic and Gap, as well as Salty Brothers Soap Company, and Skechers. Community members also assisted in the event.
Through the partnership, New Beginnings has helped to ensure that parents who are struggling financially are still able to provide holiday gifts to their children.
“This was an opportunity to give people some gifts that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get or give themselves,” Dr. Jackie Kurta, board president for New Beginnings and registered therapist told the News-Press.
The families and veterans were selected following consultation with the New Beginnings program staff, who were asked to identify families who were in need or were struggling financially due to the pandemic. The beneficiaries included a family of seven, a single mother with two children and a veteran and his son. Most of the children are under the age of 15, said Michael Berton, development director for New Beginnings.
The retailers have said they hope to expand the program next year to help out more families, he added.
New Beginnings provided the retailers with a “wish list,” which included items such as pillow or clothing, and store employees purchased and wrapped the gifts for distribution.
“It was perfect for us to do this around the holidays,” said Mr. Berton. “Our clients were very appreciative and it really changed their perspective… they could focus on having a good holiday despite all the other challenges.
“It was really rewarding, and what was more powerful than the gifts was seeing how people care.”
Dr. Kurta explained that many events that New Beginnings would typically host around the holidays have been canceled due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The nonprofit conducted meal distribution in the spring and summer, but they have since been canceled in recent weeks.
Dr. Kurta has been involved with New Beginnings for eight years, serving as a board member for six. She took the role of board president in January 2020 alongside Kristine Schwarz, executive director of the nonprofit. The two attended Antioch College together.
“This organization serves our community in so many ways, including segments of the population that don’t always get served,” she explained. “It’s a combination of homeless services and counseling services.”
New Beginnings has been offering free counseling services throughout the pandemic, allowing those in need to get the proper assistance.
A majority of the nonprofit’s funds goes to provide direct services to its clients, with additional funds covering overhead costs.
“I’m very proud of how we’ve structured this and how Kristine has run it,” she said. “Donors can be confident that their money is going to the clients,” she said.
Dr. Kurta was at Johnson Court last month helping distribute the gifts to the clients, describing it as a wonderful experience.
“It was just so wonderful to witness their joy and appreciation, as well as the gratitude that they have,” she said. “We expressed it to them for all they have done for us and our country in their years of service. We did the best we could… to make people’s holiday a bit brighter.”
The local housing shortage continues to be an issue, and due to some of the financial burdens brought about from the pandemic, more people are in need of housing or shelter. The winter season also makes it more difficult for those without shelter, Dr. Kurta explained.
She went on to discuss the 2020 Point-in-Time count, which includes a survey of those living without shelter in Santa Barbara. The count revealed that a significant portion of the population is without permanent housing.
The New Beginnings Safe Parking Program has continued to see an increase in people looking for a safe place to reside. Dr. Kurta said a good percentage of those in the parking program have full-time employment, though many are in the service industry that has been affected by the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of partners to collaborate with and fill these gaps wherever we can,” she said.
In addition to the Safe Parking Program, New Beginnings offers supportive services for veterans, a counseling clinic and life skills.
Dr. Kurta explained that the clinical interns and volunteer clinical supervisors have been able to establish a strong bond with their clients.
“They are able to understand, from the personal perspective, what (the client) experiences and how we can be of service,” she said.
“So much of our staff is really personal with the clients,” she added. “They establish a personal relationship, professional of course, but they are face-to-face… or had been (before the pandemic) to help the clients with whatever they need.
“To not be able to be in person but still maintain that helpful relationship has been a challenge, but we’ve been keeping people connected to the services that exist. That connective link has been really vital to so many people.”
While many have turned to technology, utilizing FaceTime or Zoom sessions to connect digitally, that isn’t always the case for the clients at New Beginnings.
“We just try to get as creative as possible,” Dr. Kurta said.
While many of the gatherings and events have been put on hold, New Beginnings’ staff are still doing site visits and connecting in person, wearing personal protective equipment and observing health protocols.
The nonprofit is located at 324 E. Carrillo St., Suite C, in Santa Barbara. For more information, visit www.sbnbcc.org or call 805-963-7777.