The Santa Maria Valley Youth and Family Center celebrates 50 years of providing services to students, families, and the community

Photo courtesy of the Santa Maria Valley Youth and Family Center
SERVING STUDENTS: Santa Maria Valley Youth and Family Center outreach mentors work with students at Rice Elementary School and its fellow Santa Maria-Bonita School District schools. On Oct. 1, the nonprofit is celebrating 50 years in the community.

The Santa Maria Valley Youth and Family Center started in 1972 as Social Advocates for Youth in Santa Barbara, former Executive Director Judi Nishimori told the Sun

“It’s been such a long-standing program; it’s evolved into different areas and it’s changed over the years. … I began in 1978; this would be my 45th year with the agency,” Nishimori said. “I’m a native of Santa Maria, this is very close to my heart, and it’s amazing to see that all these institutions in the Santa Maria area cared so much about their students and their children that they supported these programs through some really hard times.” 

The center branched off from Santa Barbara by 1980 to start doing more intentional work catered to the Santa Maria and Guadalupe communities, contracting with the Santa Maria-Bonita and Guadalupe school districts to provide drug and alcohol presentations. Eventually, it expanded to provide counseling and mental health services as it received more grant funding, Nishimori said. 

“Providing counseling services in the schools, that was something pretty rare during that time. The 1980s and 1990s—they funded a small amount of counseling time for students,” she said.

Over time, the Santa Maria Valley Youth and Family Center’s partnerships grew with the schools, and they now provide mental health counselors to Santa Maria-Bonita’s 21 schools and are a permanent part of Guadalupe Union’s budget. In 2017, the center merged with Santa Barbara County’s Family Service Agency to better meet the needs of the “whole student,” and expanded to serve adults in the community, Family Services Agency and Santa Maria Valley Youth and Family Center CEO Lisa Brabo told the Sun. 

“The needs of the community across the county are just really clear: We’ve got inflation, pandemic impacts, people that are not making a living wage and working really hard,” Brabo said. “As needs have continued to increase, our services have increased so we can do an even better job of helping people in the community so they can stabilize, they can grow, and they can have a better future.” 

To celebrate 50 years of providing services in the community, Family Service Agency is hosting a Family Festival on Oct. 1 at the new Machado Plaza in Santa Maria where families can enjoy live music and grab food from food trucks, and kids can enjoy activities like face painting, get a balloon animal, and play games and win prizes. 

“It’s such an amazing thing that this agency has been around for 50 years and the impact has been tremendous,” Brabo said. “I think the secret sauce, if there were a secret sauce for being around for 50 years, is this agency is so in touch with what’s happening at a community level and so the agency has pivoted as people’s needs have changed.” 

The agency saw a massive change in needs during the pandemic, and the nonprofit worked to serve seniors isolated in their homes and kids at home during the school days, she said.

“Moving forward, that’s what we will do. We have staff in the community and they know what’s going on and they will direct us,” Brabo said. 

As the state insurance provider Medi-Cal launches Whole Person Care—an insurance reimbursement program that covers mental health and medical services and adds case management, basic needs help, and school counseling services—Brabo said she expects the agency’s services to continue growing. 

“The benefits people can receive has expanded greatly, and agencies are just starting to understand and work with their own health plans and that’s a big change we are adapting to,” Brabo said. “We are going to implement these expanded benefits, which will provide more access to our communities to the continuum of care services.” 

Family Service Agency has been trying to create that, and with the state and federal government supporting a whole person continuum of care, Brabo said she sees a stronger program and greater sustainability. 

“It’s very exciting. I think people are hoping for significant changes with whole person care across the board,” Brabo said. 

The Oct. 1 celebration at Machado Park—105 N. Lincoln St.—is from 1 to 4 p.m. and is free to the public. Visit to learn more.


• The Santa Maria Public Library will hold a free presentation on child car seat safety, Sept. 9 at 2 p.m. in Shepard Hall—421 South McClelland St. Nationally certified car seat technicians will offer a presentation on safety features, California laws pertaining to car seats, when to move the child up to the next level, and correct installation. Parents, grandparents, and caretakers are encouraged to attend. Parents are encouraged to come without children if possible. This class will be presented in English and Spanish. Direct questions to (805) 925-0994, Ext. 8562.

Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].

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