From the Desk of Barbara Robertson

The year 1962 seems almost impossibly distant today. For those old enough to remember it, the period was literally the better part of a lifetime ago. The rest of us know it only from history books and newsreels.

Nineteen sixty-two was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Beatles’ debut single, John Glenn’s historic orbital space flight, and Rachel Carson’s seminal book “Silent Spring,” among much else.

Closer to home, it was the year the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara came into being. Today, the foundation is the nation’s largest community-based provider of college scholarships, but its beginnings could not have been more modest.

On May 29, 1962, a group of civic-minded Santa Barbara residents – most of them PTA officers – gathered to discuss the plight of local students who could not afford college or vocational school. Emboldened by what they heard and shared, attendees voted unanimously to establish a permanent scholarship organization. Six months later, the newly christened Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation had 35 Board members and held its first fundraising event, a New Year’s Eve party that raised almost $350. In the summer of 1963, the fledgling group granted its inaugural scholarships – nine $100 book awards.

The rest, as they say, is history. It would be difficult to overstate the organization’s impact over the ensuing decades. To date, the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara (it was renamed in 1993) has cumulatively awarded in excess of $137 million to more 55,000 students countywide. Last year alone we awarded more than $8 million to 2,247 area students.

Impressive though these numbers are, they don’t begin to capture the true dimension of our influence in the lives of students and families up and down the coast. Fully half of our recipients each year are first-generation college students, and the foundation aid they receive is genuinely life changing. Students from all socioeconomic backgrounds routinely tell us that support from the Scholarship Foundation has provided invaluable motivation to complete their studies.

Many of our recipients return to work in Santa Barbara County, bolstering the regional economy, and foundation alumni include prominent doctors, lawyers, researchers, and entrepreneurs in the community. Numerous local teachers, nurses, first responders, and other professionals are past recipients as well.

What’s more, the Scholarship Foundation is a community enterprise through and through, having united countless philanthropists, educators, and other concerned citizens in the cause of expanding educational opportunities for generations of local young people.

And lest you think the foundation’s efforts are limited to awarding scholarships, our organization began providing free financial aid counseling in 1975, and each year serves tens of thousands of individuals through financial aid workshops and office appointments. Scholarship Foundation recipients leveraged an additional $35 million in aid through our advisory services in just the last year.

Make no mistake – the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara’s 60th anniversary is truly an occasion to celebrate.

Versions of this commentary have appeared in the Santa Maria Times and on Noozhawk.