California’s Central Coast is replete with oceans and mountains that cut distinct worlds into the landscape. Santa Barbara and Lompoc are within 40 miles of each other in the same county but can seem worlds apart. In 2022, both flexibility and trust—and a Wear Orange Grant—brought together partners from Santa Barbara and Lompoc who proved that the divide between the two cities is more perception than reality.
Through their partnership and advocacy work, Moms Demand Action volunteers Emily Engel and Kendall Pata, founders of their Santa Barbara chapter, identified Explore Ecology, a non-profit based in Santa Barbara County, as a partner to address gun violence. Additionally, Wear Orange grant funding was awarded to support a project at an elementary school in one of Santa Barbara’s more impacted neighborhoods—but only weeks before the project launched, the partners learned that the location was no longer available for use.
With the tables turned, Kendall and Emily looked to Explore Ecology for help. As an environmental education and arts nonprofit, one of Explore Ecology’s flagship programs is the School Gardens Program, run by Lindsay Johnson, which establishes school garden programs and staffs them with Garden Educators in 30 schools throughout Santa Barbara County, providing deep connections to community leaders and different neighborhoods. Programs like these build healthier, more connected communities, which research shows are more protected against challenges like gun violence.
Because of their connections in Santa Barbara County, and Lompoc in particular, Explore Ecology proposed changing the project location. Thanks to ongoing violence prevention work at Lompoc Unified School District, and the connection to both Explore Ecology and Everytown for Gun Safety’s technical assistance partners at LISC, the project was moved to the La Honda STEAM Academy. La Honda was already part of the School Gardens Program and in need of program upgrades, making it the perfect venue for a Wear Orange grant project.
Working with Assistant Superintendent Brian Jaramillo, Explore Ecology and Moms Demand Action volunteers received quick permission for the event and connected with local leaders and volunteers to carry out a joint day of action. With the strong partnership between the local Moms Demand Action chapter and Explore Ecology, the teams adapted and relied on one another.
This project is helping to strengthen the connection between the two communities and creates a safe and nourishing space for the students of La Honda STEAM Academy for years to come. All made possible by the partnership between the local Moms Demand Action chapter and Explore Ecology, showing that some mountains are not as tall as they seem.
All photos from Katie Abbott / Katie Abbott Photography
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), through its Safety & Justice national program, is an Everytown for Gun Safety partner and technical assistance provider for safer neighborhoods. LISC provides expertise on neighborhood-based responses to safety challenges, including place-based strategies, across the nation. Working with community-based organizations, local government, philanthropic organizations, and as a training and technical assistance provider to the U.S. Department of Justice, LISC promotes collaborative and equitable solutions to reduce safety challenges and address root causes of crime and victimization.
Matt Perkins is a Program Director with the LISC Safety & Justice national program supporting neighborhood-based efforts to reduce crime and victimization. Matt has worked for over 25 years to create safer neighborhoods through empowering residents and community based organizations to solve problems, including addressing how the physical environment impacts safety.