Carrie Towbes & the Youth Mental Health Providers Recruit, Retain, Rest and Recuperation (4R) Fund

Click here to give to the Youth Mental Providers Recruit, Retain, Rest and Recuperation (4R) Fund.

By: Lauren Kim

The journey that led Carrie Towbes to become an advocate for youth mental health started long before she became president of the Towbes Foundation.

Ever since she was a young girl, Towbes has been immersed in the world of philanthropy. Growing up in a service-driven family, she saw firsthand the impact of a caring community that is dedicated to meeting the needs of its members. Towbes’ mother, Gail Towbes, served on the PTA at her school, was the Vice President of the Junior League,  volunteered at St. Vincent’s Children’s Center, and was a founding member of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara. Her father, Michael Towbes, served on the boards of numerous Santa Barbara County nonprofits, including Cottage Hospital, the Santa Barbara Foundation, Santa Barbara City College Foundation, the Housing Trust Fund of Santa Barbara, the UCSB Foundation, Lotusland, and the Granada Theatre. She can’t remember a time when her parents were not giving back in some capacity.

Her father reminded her that, as she quoted him, “it was the people of Santa Barbara who made him successful and he was obligated to give back.”

Committed to leading by example and utilizing their experiences witnessing local needs, Towbes’ parents founded The Towbes Foundation in 1980, a family foundation dedicated to strengthening the communities within Santa Barbara by partnering with local nonprofits. What began with a humble $500 evolved into a storied foundation that has distributed over $25 million dollars to more than 400 organizations in Santa Barbara County.

After her father passed away in 2017, Towbes became president of the Foundation and has since worked to develop a big-picture goal for what the Foundation can do for future generations. Under her leadership, the Foundation has professionalized their operations and focused their philanthropic attention to mental health and education, with a focus on youth and traditionally underserved populations.

As a special education teacher and licensed psychologist, Towbes has great familiarity working directly with youth in settings from schools and hospitals to community clinics and private practice work. With degrees in elementary and special education, and a PhD in child clinical psychology, Towbes shared that she firmly believes “[her] clinical experience informs [her] philanthropy” and this was where her interest to improve young people’s social emotional health emerged. Supporting youth mental health also means supporting the dedicated staff who provide direct service to children and families who are struggling and seeking healing.

While mental health service providers’ work is deeply rewarding, Towbes identified several gaps and needs within mental health service provision, recognizing low pay and the demanding nature of the occupation as two key challenges. “Behavioral health workers often experience high stress and sometimes secondary trauma leading to low job satisfaction and high turnover,” she said.

In a conversation with members of the Youth Mental Health Affinity Group — a collection of ardent funders who explore and examine the youth mental health crisis — she saw the need for local data. With that impetus, the Towbes Foundation, Santa Barbara Foundation, Youthwell and the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness collaborated to conduct a survey of mental health providers and organizational leaders in 37 nonprofits from South, North, and Mid-County. The survey gathered data about staff shortages that revealed 236 mental health staff vacancies, a median of eight vacancies per organization.

“In our dialog with nonprofit leaders in this sector, we learned that virtually all were struggling to hire and retain mental health staff, that salaries in many cases did not support a living wage, and that shortages led to burnout and high turnover,” explained Towbes.

“This compromises care for children. In some cases, behavioral health staff could earn more working as a barista and have less on-the-job stress.”

Towbes’ desire to provide nonprofits with resources to help skilled youth mental health staff sparked the creation for the 4R Fund; the 4Rs stand for Recruit, Retain, Rest, and Recuperation and the fund was established to support recruiting, retaining, rest and recuperation for youth mental health staff. As a fact-driven individual and a mother herself, Towbes knows that supporting staff who engage in this work can improve young people’s social emotional health and reduce family stress.

“Improving mental health builds resiliency and reduces parental stress, further impacting two generations,” said Towbes.

Towbes believes that early intervention sets up youth for future success in both life and academics. Fifty percent of mental illness begins by age 14, with onset of 75 percent of cases by age 24. “We focus on youth mental health because, as a child psychologist, I know the facts.”

The Santa Barbara Foundation (SBF) was “a natural go-to” to partner with the 4R Fund given SBF’s Community Grants Program, which provides multi-year, unrestricted funding to nonprofits, including behavioral health organizations.

“The Santa Barbara Foundation’s familiarity with youth mental health organizations and their overall infrastructure makes for a thoughtful and streamlined process for potential grantees to contribute to the overall mental health cause,” Towbes said.

SBF is proud to partner with Carrie Towbes to support the impact of the 4R Fund on Santa Barbara County youth mental health. To learn more about the 4R Fund, please visit:

Click here to give to the Youth Mental Providers Recruit, Retain, Rest and Recuperation (4R) Fund.

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