Zaca Center gains momentum with successful fundraiser

Drew Esnard

Guests at the fundraiser were treated to live music, appetizers, local brews and other refreshments as they bid on auction items, socialized, and marveled at Mendenhall Museum’s collection of memorabilia.

If the community turnout for Zaca Center’s fundraiser on March 4 at the Mendenhall Museum is any indication, the future looks bright for Buellton’s “little preschool that could.”

Concerns that the preschool could face closure were raised last September when the Santa Barbara County Education Office announced they would not be providing funding or operating the center after the end of the school year. Advocates of the full-inclusion preschool and members of its parent board rallied with its board of directors to fight for the preschool’s survival.

Members of Zaca’s parent board wanted to raise $10,000 from the event. “The numbers haven’t been finalized yet, but so far, they’ve far exceeded their goal,” said Zaca Director Shelley Grand.

The continued success of the school, now in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization, will require consistent community support.

“Remaining open is not a done deal, and we need support from families and the community to make it happen. We are cautiously optimistic that everything will come together, but it takes consistent effort, cooperation and diligence from numerous members of the school and community to make it happen,” said Erin Zivic, the parent board president.

Zaca Center has a unique role as one of only a few full-inclusion preschools in the county. There, children with special needs are fully immersed with their peers in learning and playing, while having access to support from physical and occupational therapists. The preschool also serves as a model for the Outdoor Classroom Project, and students get to spend a substantial portion of their day outdoors — exploring, experimenting and investigating their environment.

“Zaca is the best possible example of a full-inclusion education and was a pivotal part of my children’s lives. They were profoundly affected by their experience there,” said Leanna Watson, who’s been an advocate of the school since her children, now 14 and 18, attended years ago.

“What I love about Zaca is the openness. They give each child exactly what they need in order for them to learn. Having both of my children on the autism spectrum, it has been an amazing few years watching them grow and develop. The community needs this school. They need these teachers,” said parent Janson Harwood.

“If this school closed due to lack of funding, my heart, along with many others, would be broken.  I would be scared to know where my autistic daughter would go, knowing that she is absolutely thriving in this environment,” Harwood said.

The fundraiser featured a silent auction with donations from local businesses, such as Zoom! tooth whitening from Art Kaslow, dinner for 10 at Grappolo, eight hours of landscaping by Greenscapes, two nights in a vintage airstream or safari tent at Flying Flags, and more.

All funds generated through the auction and ticket sales will go toward the operating costs of Zaca Center. Figures of the total funds raised during the event will be posted online at as soon as they are available.

For more information on Zaca Center, email director Shelley Grand at or visit