BY SAM WATERSTONE | March 9, 2021
With COVID-19 vaccine distribution picking up for Santa Barbara County residents, hope is finally on the horizon – but, the consequences of the pandemic are far from over. The Santa Barbara Foundation (SBF) remains committed to assisting those hit hardest by the pandemic, including small businesses. The Foundation might be best known for supporting nonprofits through our community grant programs, but as COVID-19 began impacting Santa Barbara County, it became clear that our small business community was also in dire need of help. That is why SBF partnered with local municipalities and companies like Deckers to help local small businesses weather the storm of COVID-19.
Through the Santa Barbara Better Together (SBBT) Fund, a committee-advised field of interest fund at SBF, the Foundation has granted $830,000 to 121 small businesses located in the cities of Carpinteria, Goleta, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and in the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County. Grant funding has been utilized to cover the costs of re-opening, rental payments, and other critical expenses as these small businesses focus on surviving the pandemic.
The Struggle to Keep Doors Open
One of these small business grantees was Columbia Children’s Center (CCC) in Santa Maria. Since 1992, CCC has provided quality child care to Santa Maria families, allowing parents to work while being confident that their children are receiving quality early care and education services.
Like all child care facilities in Santa Barbara County, CCC was rocked by the pandemic and scrambled to find innovative ways to remain safely operational. The center was able to remain open at partial capacity because child care is considered essential, but most parents withdrew their children from the program.
“Our enrollment dropped from 74 children per day to 16 per day within the month of March 2020. Parents were calling in and picking up their children, letting us know they had been laid off work,” said Lisa Chenoweth, owner and operator of Columbia Children’s Center. “The majority of our competitors chose to shut down for a few months, but I took it as a challenge. I felt committed to our parents who had supported us for all this time, and I knew some of them still needed care for their children. I just wanted to provide that in the safest way possible for the children and our staff.”
Chenoweth had to get creative in order to survive. She took advantage of the strong relationships she had built with her client families and asked them to continue supporting CCC even if they chose to keep their children home.
“Initially, the support from our families was huge,” Chenoweth continued. “Many parents stopped bringing their children in because they weren’t feeling comfortable with it, but continued to pay half tuition to keep their spot available. But after those first few months, many families who were paying 50 percent eventually chose to withdraw. Then, slowly, people started coming back – mostly as parents were offered their jobs back.”
Even with this support, Chenoweth had to ask several employees to take a voluntary layoff due to the limited demand. Funding remained tight, and without clear guidelines for how to safely operate a child care center, CCC was left to figure out how to continue providing high-quality child care while COVID-19 cases exploded in the Santa Maria community.
Seeking Small Business Resources
Fortunately, Chenoweth was able to join the Child Care Director’s COVID Collaborative, a group facilitated by Taundra Pitchford of the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO). Pitchford, who runs SBCEO’s Child Care Planning Council and partners with the Santa Barbara Foundation on the Emergency Child Care Initiative, created the Director’s Collaborative in order to benefit child care leaders from both the nonprofit and private sectors. Throughout the pandemic, the Collaborative has held weekly Zoom meetings to discuss funding options, best practices for navigating COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, and any other issues the group might confront.
“During these Zoom meetings, we have discussions about our work and people ask where they can get help,” explained Chenoweth. “Somebody brought up the Santa Barbara Better Together grant program, and at first I thought they were only for nonprofits. Later I learned they were offering Santa Barbara Better Together Grants for small businesses as well, so we applied.”
In December 2020, Columbia Children’s Center was awarded a $7,500 grant via the Santa Barbara Better Together Fund, which it used to purchase furniture and equipment to separate large classrooms into two separate spaces divided by clear plastic barriers. Chenoweth learned about this protocol through the Director’s Collaborative, and this new arrangement has allowed CCC to maintain separate cohorts of children to minimize interaction and increase overall safety.
“We just keep fighting, keep putting one foot in front of the other, with the help of our community,” said Chenoweth. “I want to thank all the volunteers and donors who have supported us, and who made this grant possible.”
“Our small businesses are the heart of our community, and the Santa Barbara Foundation is so glad to be supporting these businesses in need,” said Jessica Sanchez, Director of Donor Relations at SBF. “Through the pandemic we’ve forged even stronger relationships with our social and private sector partners, and the Santa Barbara Better Together Fund is a perfect example of that. By joining forces, our impact is that much more powerful.”
In 2021, additional small business grant cycles will occur in the county’s unincorporated areas, and in the cities of Santa Maria and Goleta. The Santa Barbara Foundation is excited to continue partnering with local companies and governments to meet the needs of our small business community countywide.