Santa Barbara County nonprofit CommUnify celebrates its 55th anniversary in the community

The Community Action Coalition was founded to combat poverty rates in Santa Barbara County as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. The organization became a countywide task force in 1965 and received nonprofit status in 1987. 

Now, it’s known as CommUnify, but its mission remains the same: to help community members improve their economic security and become self-sufficient through rental assistance, early education and child care, youth development opportunities, and health care assistance, said Chief Executive Officer Patricia Keelean. 

click to enlarge Santa Barbara County nonprofit CommUnify celebrates its 55th anniversary in the community
MENTORSHIP : Along with financial assistance programs, CommUnify provides mentorship programs for teens and young adults to help meet academic or future goals.

“We serve nearly 10,000 individuals every year. ... We are so proud that we are celebrating our 55th year of service to the community. Through these 55 years, we’ve served over 50,000 and helped thousands of individuals stay in their homes with the resources they need to live a healthy life,” she said. 

The organization is celebrating this milestone on May 5 at the Los Niños Head Start Center, the location where it all started.  

“Particularly now—after the pandemic—it’s important that the community understands the important role CommUnify plays. ... It’s important to take a moment to reflect on where we were and where we are today to continue to support a healthy and thriving community,” Keelean said. 

Director of Community Services Kemba Lawrence said North County communities were the largest recipients for CommUnify’s programs—including rental assistance and utility payment assistance—and the pandemic only highlighted the need for the nonprofit’s programs to help families maintain self-sufficiency.

“The services we offer are essential to keeping families on the routes to their goals and establishing new goals, whether that be ownership, education, or increasing savings. A lot of programs we offer are helping people be stable and help them realize they can actually expand their goals and dreams with proper support,” Lawrence explained. 

Along with financial support, CommUnify’s financial literacy course also assisted many families with courses about budgeting, identifying needs versus wants, and having a healthy relationship with money. The program helps people create realistic goals that are supportive of larger, family goals, she added. 

“What we’re noticing: Whatever our relationship is with money affects how we look at budgeting, how we look at spending, and how we make decisions financially,” Lawrence said. “Understanding that relationship and educating ourselves on that by asking certain questions of ourselves when making financial decisions all come into play when establishing a healthy financial goal.” 

Although it seems the pandemic is in the past, Lawrence said there is some apprehension for what’s to come.

“This is something we’ve never seen before, so there’s a level of concern about what’s around the corner. But, what I have seen is a tremendous identification of the importance of working together and coming together to help those that are in need,” Lawrence said. 

She hopes the high level of community support will continue forward post-pandemic, she said, and the 55th anniversary is a way to celebrate that decades-long, strong community collaboration. 

“Our establishment was based off of the president recognizing that for us to move forward as a nation, we need to close the gaps between the haves and the have-nots, and provide those services that are allowing Americans to recognize and identify what is known as ‘the American dream,’” she said. “Being able to provide for your family and to have a decent quality of life is something we are all entitled to. For us to be contributing to that ideology is worth celebrating.” 

Although the May 5 celebration isn’t open to the public, people can RSVP to the June 9 Champions Dinner by visiting People who wish to contribute to CommUnify can visit


• The Lompoc Chamber of Commerce is seeking vendors who want to participate in the Old Town Market on Friday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. from July 8 through Aug. 12. The event will feature live music, food booths, a farmers’ market, vendors, free activities for kids, and a weekly theme. The chamber is looking for participants who would like to have a booth selling non-edible products or a booth to bring awareness to their business, organization, or nonprofit. Vendors can also sell cottage foods at the event, pre-packaged goodies made in a licensed kitchen, or set up a food booth (upon filling out a county Health Department Temporary Food Booth form and paying a county fee). A 10-by-10-foot space costs $25 per Friday for chamber members and $35 for others. Find applications at or contact the chamber office at (805) 736-4567. 

Taylor O’Connor wrote this week’s Spotlight. You can reach her at [email protected].


Comments (0)
Add a Comment