Leading Voices

Glean insights from this diverse cadre of leading minds in philanthropy.

From Local Kid to Social Sector Leader

Easy Lift Transportation Executive Director Ernesto Paredes remembers his earliest experience volunteering as a young kid in Santa Barbara. Growing up on the south side of town as a child of public education and community-based sports, Paredes briefly joined the Cub Scouts, which was a catalyst for his early interest in volunteering. “It was a good organization, but wasn’t the right fit for me,” Paredes recalls. “However, it introduced me to volunteering and to the Goleta Boys & Girls Club and lifetime mentor Sal Rodriguez. The club became my second home.” Paredes – whose professional career now revolves around providing [...more...]

Giving Back What Was Given to Him

As a child growing up on the Santa Ynez Chumash Reservation, Kenneth Kahn never felt neglected. His neighborhood was filled with friends and extended family members, and his life was rich – even if others in the world may not have judged it as such. This fertile environment helped Kahn understand the power of giving and volunteerism.  “From the outside looking in, I think people would say we were less fortunate, but from the inside, we were surrounded by family,” Kahn says. “We had a thriving culture that kept us engaged in our community. From that perspective, because I grew [...more...]

My Rich Experiences

Thomas Rollerson is a natural-born empathizer and philanthropist – a condition that literally harks back to his birth. Driven by the loss of his husband, Timothy Scott Palmer, in 1994, Rollerson turned his grief into founding the Dream Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to giving terminally ill adults end-of-life wishes. More recently, Rollerson has melded his decades of nonprofit experience into his current work as a philanthropic adviser with Advocates for All Things Good, helping givers make their donations more impactful and efficient.  For Rollerson, his journey into the social sector began with the early death of his mother at age [...more...]

A Force for the Arts

Kai Tepper knew from a young age that she was destined for the arts. Along with her sister – who now attends Berklee College of Music in New York – the Central Coast native experimented with everything from ballet to visual arts. “The arts have always been part of my life; both of my parents are very creative,” says Tepper. “My sister stuck more to performing arts and I went into visual arts.” While studying studio art, art history, and graphic design at California State University Channel Islands beginning in 2006, Tepper landed an internship at the Santa Barbara Arts [...more...]

Santa Barbara’s First Lady of Philanthropy Looks Back

Born and raised in a leafy suburb of Detroit, Michigan, located near the city’s zoo, Anne Towbes grew up surrounded by the sound of animals – an experience she credits with sparking a lifelong passion for nature. But the future wife of the late Santa Barbara philanthropist Michael Towbes – and the surviving half of the city’s most influential power couple whose impact on the Santa Barbara’s culture of public work is difficult to overstate – was also destined for a career in philanthropy. The child of a family dedicated to public service – including an architect uncle who helped [...more...]

For Janet Garufis, Giving Is Not Only a Responsibility, But a Privilege

Sometimes, life’s lessons emerge from the most unlikely places. For Janet Garufis – Montecito Bank & Trust’s dynamic chairman and CEO – one such place was her grandparents’ house in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. Garufis often went there as a child when her parents were working. “My grandmother and grandfather didn’t have much, but the homeless people who came by occasionally had even less,” says Garufis. “When they came to the door they did not beg for food, they asked for work. My grandmother always had something for them to do and then she would give them a sack [...more...]

Treasure, Time, and Talent

Warren Ritter says that he was born with the passion to give back. By building a career in private wealth management, he has found a way to do it. Born and raised in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where he graduated from Wofford College with a degree in psychology in 2012, Ritter began his career at the state capitol, where he worked on reforming policies involving agriculture machinery and small businesses. With the contacts he made in banking and finance – and a well-earned pedigree in financial services – he soon found himself a lucrative job as a bank manager for Wells [...more...]

Money as Medicine

As told to Daniel Heimpel In 2018, a Native American philanthropy professional dropped a bomb on the industry. In his book, Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance, Edgar Villanueva laid bare the inequities rife throughout philanthropy and the financial system.  Now in its second edition, Decolonizing Wealth is the central text for what Villanueva simply describes as “modern philanthropy,” one in which capital is used for reconciliation and reparations through wealth redistribution. To move that effort forward, Villanueva launched Liberated Capital, a donor community and intermediary that is working with more than 350 individual donors and [...more...]

Untangling Self-Interest from True Compassion by Nick Schou

The winding path of Santa Barbara philanthropist Kevin Brine – from near-broke college student obsessed with Sanskrit studies to living on an Upstate New York hippie commune in the 1960s-era to successful Wall Street investment manager – has landed him in Santa Barbara where he spends his time in pursuit of a private passion for religious studies and a public dedication to humanitarian work. Brine grew up in a spiritually minded, literary New York family, so perhaps his path wasn’t that surprising. After all, his cousin was a Hare Krishna devotee and acolyte of Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass, the [...more...]

‘What Good Is a Platform if You Don’t Use It for Good?’

As told to Daniel Heimpel I have known CNN host Lisa Ling for nearly a decade now. I never saw her as anything but a mentor, a world-class journalist, and someone with whom I had the honor of working.  Then, during the height of the heinous attacks on Asian Americans in 2020 and in 2021, I watched her on the TV being interviewed about the violence, braiding the history of racism against Asians in this country with her own experience. She spoke of the terrible things people were writing to her over social media, where she was extremely active in driving [...more...]

Philanthropy is a Family Business

As told to Brian Rinker Charlie Casey inherited the family business, Pacific Foundation Services (PFS), and turned it into a philanthropic juggernaut.  After graduating from business school at Vanderbilt University in 2003, Casey assumed his career would be a corporate job in brand management for consumer products. But then, life took a twist.  “My dad basically said, ‘Well, if you don’t want me to sell this business to a third party, then one of you has to take it over,’” Casey remembers his father saying. His brother is a teacher in New York and wasn’t interested. “I happened to be [...more...]

Building a More Equitable UC Santa Barbara

Other than a brief stint in New York City in 1989, Katya Armistead has spent almost her entire adult life in Santa Barbara, dedicated to broadening educational opportunities for marginalized students. Through empowering these youth, Armistead sees the path to a brighter future.  “I spent a short stint in New York working at an advertising agency,” the Pasadena-born UC Santa Barbara graduate and longtime administrator says “But that experience instilled in me that being of service was something more important, so I returned to California and decided I wanted to work at UCSB.” The move proved fruitful, and last October, [...more...]

From the Heart of Compton to the Soul of Santa Barbara

He grew up in Compton, but Guy Walker has deep roots in Santa Barbara County going back to the 1970s, when he attended Dunn School in Los Olivos. “I was part of the ‘inclusion revolution’ when I became among the first of a handful of students of color to attend Dunn during that era,” recalls Walker. “I would become the fourth Black student to graduate from Dunn.” A permanent resident of Santa Barbara County since 1984, the veteran financial advisor and founder of the privately owned Santa Ynez-based firm Wealth Management Strategies Insurance & Financial Solutions has provided vital leadership in Santa Barbara County’s nonprofit [...more...]

A Strong Family Tradition of Giving Back

When Ginger Salazar, along with her husband and four children, moved back to Santa Barbara 16 years ago, she was blown away by the strong tradition of philanthropy and giving in this community. She was not, however, surprised by it. After all, it was this community’s willingness to invest in her once upon a time that gave Salazar a critical boost to pursue her own personal dreams. By her own description, Salazar had a middle-class upbringing in Lompoc, California, where her dad served as mayor and coached her brother’s baseball team. “My parents carried from their parents a strong tradition [...more...]