When I went to an event Sunday night, June 7, at the Santa Maria Inn, I did not expect to see the likes of Congresswoman Lois Capps, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, and 1st District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

But there they were in a room full of 140 folks who came to the Santa Barbara Community Action Network’s (SB CAN’s) North County “Looking Forward” annual awards dinner.

The trick of making an awards dinner something other than a big ho-hum is injecting something unexpected and fun into the program. SB CAN did just that.

click to enlarge Hobnobbing with Helen
COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS: Ken Hough poses with Terri Zuniga (center) and Joyce Howerton at SB CAN’s awards dinner held Sunday evening, June 7, at the Santa Maria Inn. Hough is executive director of SB CAN. Zuniga is on the SM City Council; Howerton was emcee for the event.

Chuck Osborne played the accordion during the social hour, as people visited the no-host bar. There is nothing like an accordion to get group energy flowing.

After dinner, actors and singers from awardee Deborah Tobola’s Poetic Justice Project performed an amusing skit that garnered lots of laughs. In the tradition of the Commedia dell’arte, they wore half-masks with exaggerated noses. Everyone looked like Pinocchio.

During the awards presentation, performer and committee member Gale McNeeley (with Betty Faas on piano) sang for each awardee a song that they had preselected. Isn’t that a fun twist? Of course, the crowd joined in. “We Shall Overcome” and “Country Roads” got a lot of participation.

Former Lompoc Mayor Joyce Howerton was a wonderful emcee, masterfully introducing the awardees and telling their stories. (Of course, we all know she is now a rep for State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.)

Awardees included Laura and Ron Selken, Al Thompson, Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt, Tobola and the Poetic Justice Project, and the organization Peoples’ Self-Help Housing. 

Tickets to the dinner ranged from $65 to $75, depending on when you made your reservation and whether or not you were an SB CAN member. There was a choice of Cornish game hen with polenta and carrots or linguini with eggplant, along with salad and chocolate cake. 

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Judge Art and Carmen Garcia. City Councilwoman Terri Zuniga helped check people in.

My table included Congresswoman Capps, former city librarian Jack and Susan Buchanan, May Kwok, and John Fowler, the president and CEO of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing.

At her table, awardee Lyons Pruitt was surrounded by her family and friends, including her daughter Erika, Agatha Shorter-Lewis, Deneice Tell, and Charletha Anderson.

click to enlarge Hobnobbing with Helen
THE JOY OF GIVING: From left to right: Barrett O’Gorman; Janet Garufis; Candace Winkler and her husband, Matt Kropke; and Erik Frost went to a May 28 awards reception at Santa Maria Country Club. O’Gorman is incoming president of Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation Board. Garufis is outgoing president. Candace Winkler is incoming executive director of the foundation. Frost is point man for north county outreach.

Nearby, Lompoc’s Nannie Wilkins shared a table with her fellow NAACP members. Lyons-Pruitt is president of the Santa Maria-Lompoc chapter.

I had a brief and fun conversation with Guadalupe’s Father Masseo Gonzalez (whose unusual ministry was the subject of a recent Sun article). Ditto (the conversation) with Ken Hough, SB CAN executive director, and Jeanne Sparks, SB CAN communications manager.

Dr. Robert and Louise Hammond, Hilda Zacharias, Barbara Steveson, Virginia Perry Souza, and city librarian Mary Housel were among the guests.

Founded in 2001, SB CAN (from its website) “works to promote social and economic justice, to preserve our environmental and agricultural resources, and to create sustainable communities.” 

Supervisor Carbajal and Santa Barbara Mayor Schneider were among the founding members. SBCAN is tough to explain in a column. Visit its webpage to get a better handle on its purpose and accomplishments.

After the event, I raced home to watch the Tony’s—always a must-do.

All in all, this was a very satisfying evening.

If you want to hobnob with Helen, you may contact her at [email protected].

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