In Good Hands

Montecito Women Help Non-Profits, Hand-in-Hand, One Month at a Time

After reading an article in a local paper about Community Angels Network, a local giving group composed of community-minded people who pool their charitable dollars in a common fund, Kristin Hogue and Laura Corrigan were inspired to start a group of their own. But as busy Montecito moms they didn’t have much time, yet wanted to feel more connection to the charities than simply writing a check. After writing a letter to friends, they quickly found 10 other women to start the group. They set up simple guidelines for the group: each member would get to choose their own nonprofit, the nonprofit must be local, and the item purchased must be tangible. This is how Helping Hands was born and for the past three years, the women have spent each month learning about and donating to local nonprofits. At monthly meetings held at a member’s home, wine and cheese are served and, occasionally, a box of Kleenex for the emotional stories.

Hogue and Corrigan were already active helping people when they founded Helping Hands three years ago. Hogue was collecting food at Montecito Union for the Unity Shoppe and was taking care of her three children. Corrigan, a medical psychologist, had donated her time helping Ventura County Medical Center patients with emotional issues that came from dealing with chronic and terminal illnesses. She also interviewed students for the Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation and was busy taking care of her three children as well.

Corrigan recalls the first Helping Hands experience. “I decided to donate to Pediatric Services at Cottage Hospital,” she says. “It was Christmas time and Jaynie Woods at Cottage Hospital said they desperately needed craft supplies for the children. She basically said they had run out and she had a floor full of recovering children to entertain. She had just been sitting at her desk wondering what she was going to do moments before I had called. I rushed over to the craft store and soon found myself with two shopping carts full of supplies. A customer stopped me and asked why I was buying so much. When I told her the reason, her eyes filled up with tears.”

The first meeting turned out to be emotional for the group as well. “After hearing a twenty-minute presentation about the work Cottage Pediatrics does, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room,” Hogue recalls. “We appreciated sharing the experience of our donation.”

In addition to the craft supplies, the group made a purchase that improved safety at the Brain Injury Association of Santa Barbara (formerly Jodi House), a nonprofit established to provide services to adults with acquired brain injury. The organization needed a security gate to prevent its clients from falling off the entryway to the house. Helping Hands made it happen.

“The edification was much needed to help prevent potential accidents as members in wheelchairs, as well as others with unbalanced gait, come in and out of the premises,” says Luciana Cramer, the organization’s executive director. “Helping Hands had the wonderful habit of stepping in when we most needed them.”

Although there are about 900 nonprofits in Santa Barbara to help, Corrigan says Helping Hands concentrates on ones that are off the big donor radar. “We tend to gravitate towards nonprofits that are lesser known and do important things in our community,” she says.

The causes include Noah’s Anchorage, Compassionate Care for Caregivers, LifeChronicles, All for One, Ocean Futures Society and many others. In a letter to Helping Hands after received its donation, LifeChronicles founder Kate Carter, wrote, “It is such a wonderful thing that women like all of you in Santa Barbara Helping Hands take the time to inform yourselves about charitable work being done in the community and lending your ‘hands’ to help. I hope that warms your hearts each day that you are making a difference in the lives of others in need.”

After three years and 22,000 in donated dollars later, the women of Helping Hands still enjoy learning about and donating to nonprofits, and there are enough charities in this county for endless months come.

As Corrigan wrote in a letter to fellow Helping Hands members after the group’s first year, “We have helped many different people in our community and we all have learned a lot, not to mention laughed and cried a bit too.”

The members of Helping Hands include: Ali Banks, Carolyn Chandler, Dr. Barbara Donnelly, Laura Corrigan, Elizabeth Eringer, Diane Gabriel, Kristin Hogue, Jennifer Kinsella, Dawn Lafitte, Brenda Nancarrow and Susan Regenhardt.