Hillside House is in “financial crisis.” That’s at least the way its board members describe the current state of the 61-year-old care center, which until 2004 survived almost entirely on the generosity of state tax payers. Put another way, “we have the need for the community to be more involved than before,” says Norris Goss, a Hillside House board member who came to work with the 59-resident center 10 years ago through her involvement with Assistance League.

The fiscal difficulties stem from a lot of factors, says Goss, a main one being that Hillside House, which treats people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, has to compete with more non-profits than it did when it opened its Veronica Spring Road facility in 1945, placing “more demands on state funding than there used to be.”

Yet another reason is that “we haven’t been out there,” says Goss, meaning that the organization wasn’t developed in its abilities to raise funds and make connections.

With $3.1 million, or 81%, of its budget financed by the State and one “private pay” resident, the remaining $700,000 is left up to fundraising, and the margin grows annually.

This where events such as the May 18 “Women of Purpose” luncheon come in. Two years ago, Nancy Read, a board member who became involved with the care center five years ago when she brought her dog Duffy as part of pet therapy sessions, hosted Transition House’s first ever fundraiser at her Montecito home. The 2005 luncheon took place at El Mirador Estate and so will this year’s, with an anticipated guest list of more than 200 people.

Like past luncheons, the May 18 get-together is by design meant to be short and sweet. For instance, there’ll be no auction, save for one item, a painting of El Mirador by local painter Jim Dow. The entertainment, banking off the luncheon theme “Strength for the Journey,” is speaker and singer Renée Bondi, a recovering quadriplegic who performs on a national level. Copies of Bondi’s autobiography “The Last Dance, But Not the Last Song” will be on sale. With lunch included, the entire event will last no more than an hour and a half. “The focus on the program is not something that’s long and drawn out,” says Nancy Read, “which we think is kind of rare in Santa Barbara.”

So, the bulk of the fundraising effort will come from ticket sales. Last year, 160 women paid the $75 entry fee and Hillside House also filled two tables of 10 men, each dropping $1,000 for a seat and the privilege to be called a “Man of Excellence.”

Still, the real male honor will go to Dr. David Winter, erstwhile president of Westmont College and community contribution dynamo, who will add to his pedigree Hillside House’s “Man of Purpose” Award.

“We consider him unusual in his distinguished legacy blended with unconditional love,” says Goss. “That’s been especially fruitful for people in Santa Barbara.”

The Hillside House “Women of Purpose” 2006 luncheon will be held on May 18, from 11:30 am to 2 pm, at El Mirador Estate, 800 Cold Springs Road. For more information call Curt Lauber, development director, at 687-0788, ext. 15.

Sponsors for the luncheon include Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, MarBorg, Venoco Inc., Best Western Peppertree Inn, Merrill Lynch, Ty Warner Inc., and others.