Social distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 crisis may preclude the possibility of having rooms full of kids at the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, but having artists and handymen go to its locations one at a time to do infrastructure updates is something that can be done.
From new murals painted by artists recruited by The Squire Foundation, to new roofs at Camp Whittier, to a new membership counter at the Lompoc club, these additions awaiting club kids upon their return are all part of the program “Lend a Socially Distant Hand.”
When the clubs ceased their normal after school programs as restrictions due to the virus outbreak took hold, UBGC CEO Michael Baker looked around the nonprofit’s locations and saw an opportunity to revamp them before the health crisis subsided and the kids came back. In an interview with the News-Press, Mr. Baker remarked that everyone who participated in fixing up the clubs kept their faces covered and worked individually in separate rooms to observe social distancing.
Once all of the updates are finished, UBGC’s Lompoc, Carpinteria, Goleta and Westside locations will each have two of its walls covered in murals painted by local artists whose talents were marshalled by nonprofit The Squire Foundation. According to foundation outreach coordinator Jana Brody, she saw a Facebook post from Mr. Baker that announced his desire for infrastructure updates at the clubs. When she saw that redecorating some of the walls was part of it, she wasted no time in contacting him to volunteer the services of The Squire Foundation.
“When I saw the word ‘murals’ I contacted him and within 15 minutes we had a partnership,” she said.
Among the artists recruited to beautify the clubs was local interior designer and plein air painter Sherri Jurey, who last week finished painting a stained glass design on the fourteen-inch wall trim of the main room in the Carpinteria club.
Always seeking to create designs “targeted toward positive environmental impact,” Ms. Jurey said she appreciated having the opportunity to enliven the club’s room with her craft.
“It was really uplifting because I am passionate about what I do and working with color and helping environments to come alive… It really brought life into that room,” she said.
Gigs for Ms. Jurey’s day job have dried up as of late since the pandemic has made people everywhere reluctant to go forth with interior decorating work they had planned. As she and so many artists are impacted by loss of income amid the coronavirus crisis, The Squire Foundation is paying all artists participating in “Lend a Socially Distant Hand” a stipend.
Ms. Brody told the News-Press, “It’s even more important to pay a stipend now because they need it more than ever. Artist is a true profession, so they need to get paid.”
Screen printer Celeste Wiedmann is one of several artists working on two murals in the Carpinteria location’s gymnasium, one depicting athletes with a basketball, the other athletes with a soccer ball. Currently recovering from a disability and navigating the transition back into full employment through vocational rehabilitation, Ms. Wiedmann said working on the mural has been “a good stepping stone” for her to see to what extent she can still work in the arts. She added that the final product will bring great joy to the UGBC’s kids when they return.
“It’ll be a nice surprise for them when they go back to the club,” she said.
Judging by what he’s seen thus far, Mr. Baker is more than happy with how the murals are shaping up.
“The ones that we’ve done so far are gorgeous,” he told the News-Press.
On top of newly decorated walls, “Lend a Socially Distant Hand” also includes many other improvements to the nonprofit’s facilities. Whereas the nonprofit’s Lompoc club formerly had an individual key for each of the 15 to 20 locks in the building, locksmith Joseph Valencia of Keyman Locksmith changed the locks so they’re all openable with one or two keys.
The Lompoc location has also received a new membership desk courtesy of retired geriatrician and woodworking hobbyist Leonard Grabowski.
The remodeling endeavor has also given the nonprofit’s summer camp, Camp Whittier, new roofs on all of its buildings installed by Titan Roofing & Rain Gutters. Titan owner Sergio Morales, according to Mr. Baker, is a former club kid who used to frequent UBGC’s Westside location. Mr. Morales and Titan Roofing replaced the roof free of charge, with UBGC providing all the materials needed for the job. Mr. Baker estimated that this donation of labor saved the nonprofit thousands of dollars and will extend the longevity of the Camp Whittier roofs by decades
“Now we get another thirty, forty years out of the roof he put in,” Mr. Baker said.
Though he called the support for “Lend a Socially Distant Hand” both “fantastic” and “overwhelming,” Mr. Baker doesn’t find the local community’s generosity at all surprising. As far as he’s concerned, support for nonprofits is just part of the Santa Barbara character.
“There’s a reason Santa Barbara has 2,000 nonprofits… There’s so many people who have a passion for what nonprofits do,” he said.