By Rochelle Rose
Noozhawk Contributing Writer

Every year, CommUnify, formerly known as the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County, recognizes extraordinary people and organizations that have helped improve the lives of children, youth, families and seniors in local communities. This year, CommUnify selected two individuals and one business for its 15th annual Champions Awards.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, CommUnify canceled its customary fundraising dinner and presentation. Instead, it hosted an outdoor event on Oct. 14 with built-in social distancing — an evening with a live auction, drawings, a vintage car show and a specially prepared dinner at the West Wind Drive-In in Goleta.

More than 200 guests registered for the outdoor benefit event. The 2020 CommUnify Champions were feted on the big screen with a video created in their honor and moderated by David Bolton.

The three honorees were:

Rona Barrett, a well-known entertainment reporter, commentator and producer who is now a champion for seniors at the Golden Inn & Village, a housing and wellness campus that she founded for low-income adults in Santa Ynez.

“This is a wonderful award that recognizes what I have been doing for seniors in this county,” Barrett said. “I owe a lot to my late father, who lived with me for the last 10 years of his life. This set my course in building affordable housing for seniors and to make something better for someone else.”

Jim Glines, a co-founder, and now chairman, of the Community Bank of Santa Maria. He frequently donates his time and talent as an auctioneer to help community nonprofit organizations. He has twice received Citizen of the Year awards from community organizations in Santa Maria.

“Seniors are important,” Glines said. “They are the ones who laid the path for us, instructed us and were our role models. Now we need to make their lives better and make them more comfortable — that is what we should be doing.”

The Towbes Group, a local development and property management company that has made philanthropy an integral part of its mission and core business practices, which include investment in the Give Where You Live and Towbes Grants programs.

Jim Carrillo accepted the award on screen on behalf of The Towbes Group.

“The mission of The Towbes Group is to create communities where people thrive,” Carrillo said. “We strive to go back into the community to make it a better place to live. We are so grateful to CommUnify for their programs, especially the senior nutrition program.”

Pre-film festivities included a vintage car show, and oldies music by Santa Barbara’s DJ Darla Bea. Sponsor Bunnin Chevrolet showcased a white 2020 Corvette.

The nostalgic evening featured a screening of the classic Alfred Hitchcock film “North by Northwest” starring actor Cary Grant and a 1950s-style meal prepared on site by Santa Barbara Catering. Guests could choose from menu choices of a beef burger, a beef hot dog, grilled chicken breast, a veggie burger, or a Caesar salad with caprese. The boxed meals were delivered to vehicles by volunteer car hops.

The Champions event raises funds to support the agency’s Senior Nutrition Program. It’s a home delivery initiative that serves more than 700 daily meals to housebound residents from Guadalupe to Carpinteria.

“We had to pivot from providing meals for seniors at 13 community sites to delivering to individual doorsteps, which significantly increased our costs for drivers and fuel,” CommUnify CEO Patricia Keelean. “Last year, we provided 155,000 meals for $1.6 million. We will serve significantly more people in 2020 and need $2 million to meet the current need. Since the COVID-19 health crisis began, requests for senior meals have increased by 68 percent.”

CenCal Health was the event’s $100,000 Diamond Sponsor. For every dollar raised, CenCal Health matched that amount up to $100,000.

“This matching fund opportunity, in combination with the support of our other sponsors, helps move us closer to our fundraising goal of $875,000,” said Linda Rosso, CommUnify’s director of development. “This is an unprecedented amount to raise, more than double last year’s goal, but these are unprecedented times.

“There are hungry seniors in our community. They can’t be forgotten.”

Other sponsors included Yardi, the Santa Barbara Foundation, The Towbes Group, The Towbes Foundation, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash IndiansDeckers BrandsBB&H Benefit Designs and Lois Moore.

Honoree Glines pulled double duty as he commandeered the live auction with the assistance of his son, also named Jim. They raised significant dollars from bidders.

Beginning with its incorporation as a private nonprofit organization in 1967, the Community Action Commission provided Head Start education to preschool children and their families, and then expanded its services and reach into the community with high-quality care and learning experiences for children ages 0 to 5, including Head Start; job training, education and mentoring for teens and young adults; leadership, involvement and educational opportunities for parents; healthy daily meals for children and seniors; improvements that make homes warmer, safer and more energy-efficient; and a free, confidential community helpline (Santa Barbara County 2-1-1) operating 24/7.

Click here for more information about CommUnify, or call 805.964.8857.

Noozhawk contributing writer Rochelle Rose can be reached at