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Paul Wellman (file)

Save the Schott Center

A Stronghold for All Generations


The Schott and Wake Centers were established by Alice Schott and Selmer Wake in 1945 to serve the people of Santa Barbara who wanted the opportunity to participate in an extensive and challenging adult education program. In his 1992 book A History of the Santa Barbara Community College District, Personal Experiences and Observations, Wake describes the acquisition of the centers, and speaks to the intent of his and the Schotts’ bequests.

In 1959 the Adult Education Program, and all the buildings and real estate comprising the Adult Center complex were transferred to the Junior College District. Wake’s intent for the bequest was clearly conveyed. He wrote that both centers were “acquired without taxpayer-bonded indebtedness. One center is the result of a gift, and the other was purchased by making a down payment from an adult education reserve fund. A public appeal to adult education students by the Foundation for SBCC helped pay off the remaining mortgage. So these Centers, not acquired at local taxpayer expense should continue in their intended use, a community center … All the hard work and dedicated interest of so many people over so many years have developed a program unmatched for its excellence almost anywhere in the country.”

That was then; this is now. Apparently, SBCC has been told that if it wants to continue getting state funds, the Schott Center’s programs must be geared toward “Career Readiness.” In a move to protect its status as a premier community college maintaining an adult education component, the president of SBCC and the administrative staff at the Schott Center have decided to privatize the “enrichment programs” and separate them from the career track programs.

Thus, in July, 2013, the Center for Lifelong Learning will be inaugurated. My concern and hence my plea is that without public support, that is, private sponsorship, the jewel that is the Schott Center will cease to be. More specifically, my fear is that the older Santa Barbarian is being thrown out with the bath water.

The GED programs (leading to a high school diploma), the English language programs, and the career path programs will still be held at the Schott Center, but they will be subsidized. It is the “enrichment programs” – the art, literature, and movement classes – which will be on their own. Offerings will be radically reduced and those classes that are offered will be, for many, prohibitively expensive.

We like to think of ourselves as a community in which people care for one another. And it is true, there are more non-profits registered in Santa Barbara than almost anywhere. But upon further inspection, a pattern emerges. Most of our community programs are youth-oriented. It is true, the youth of our society hold the promise for the future, but what about the older citizen? Do we just discard them?

As one gets older, the world becomes smaller. Children grow and leave, work diminishes, friends die. There is less reason to get up in the morning. I recall one student at the center, an elegant elderly woman with a masters degree in dance who had taught for over 30 years. She told me once that if it wasn’t for the Schott Center, she would have lost her marbles years ago. The Schott Center kept her mind vibrant, she said. “Heck, it gives me a reason to get up in the morning!”

The Schott Center is more than a place to take classes. It is a community center which addresses the needs of all in our community, young and old, empowering both with the tools they need to take on the future. Youth programs have many advocates. Mothers will fight to get their kids an education. They will sacrifice for their children; whatever it takes. But the elderly often don’t have anyone to fight for them. Sadly, they are often forgotten, discarded. Is that what we want for our community?

When I think of Santa Barbara, and those things that make it great, the Santa Barbara Bowl and the Sunken Gardens at the Courthouse come to mind. But so too does the Schott center. Although perhaps not as stunning to look at as those other Santa Barbara institutions, the Schott Center is a symbol of our community and of the hope, value, and importance we give to all our citizens.

I am hoping that together, as a community, we can save the Schott Center. Are there those among us who are capable of picking up the baton and finding the financial support the Schott Center needs to maintain its place in our community?

Please take action. Speak up for the elderly. They rarely speak up for themselves. Let’s maintain the Schott Center as the vital community center it has always been – a stronghold for all generations.

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