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MB&T Ventura County Branch Managers

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Montecito Bank & Trust: Behind Every Great Community is a Great Bank

Behind Every Great Community Is a Great Bank

Montecito Bank & Trust is the largest locally owned community bank on the Central Coast. The fact that it’s locally owned means that this bank has a loyal interest in the people it serves. A Ventura County Reporter Reader Recommended winner of the Best of Ventura County award and recognized as the Best Bank by The Institute for Extraordinary Banking, MB&T has a 47-year history of corporate philanthropy, donating millions of dollars to benefit the people of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Michael Towbes, a founder of MB&T, and owner from 1983 until his passing in 2017, acted on the belief that it was his responsibility to help make the communities he served a better place to work and live. His legacy continues today under the leadership of Janet Garufis, Chairman and CEO, and George Leis, President and COO, and their team of dedicated associates.

How the Giving Began

Supporting their communities since opening in 1975, the bank’s formal giving program began in 1993 with the annual Anniversary GrantsSM to nonprofit organizations, based on nominations by MB&T associates who then voted on the most deserving nonprofits that they wanted to support. Anniversary Grants remain a pillar of the bank’s philanthropy, and one of the many ways associates can participate in MB&T’s culture of giving. Fast forward 20 years, and building on the bank’s Anniversary Grant awards, Mr. Towbes decided to invest a portion of his bank’s profits into local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations whose missions serve low- and moderate-income individuals and families across Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The first Community Dividends® luncheon, honoring 100 nonprofits, was held, fittingly, during Thanksgiving week 2003. At that first ceremony, each organization received a $10,000 check to help continue and advance their missions. With long-lasting results that have benefitted hundreds of organizations serving thousands of people in need, both the Community Dividends and Anniversary Grant programs continue today, along with two awards highlighting specific philanthropic efforts, including the Michael Towbes Community Impact Dividend and the Jerry Parent Legacy Award (Jerry Parent was a founding board member).  

Ongoing Philanthropy

Approximately 200 awards are gifted every year through the Community Dividends program. Applications are submitted online by Santa Barbara County and Ventura County based nonprofits and reviewed weekly by the bank’s sponsorship and donation committee. Requests are evaluated against multiple criteria, including alignment with the bank’s pillars of giving, the needs of the community and the degree of programming support the funds would facilitate. Four primary community needs define the bank’s pillars of giving: 

  • arts and culture, 

  • youth and education, 

  • social services, or 

  • health and medical. 

Preference is given to organizations whose missions and/or specific support programs serve over 50% low- and moderate-income individuals and families as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to Ms. Garufis, the Community Dividends program donates a total of at least one million dollars annually, with the average amount awarded being $2,500, up to $10,000. In 2022, 35.7% of the dividend funds went toward youth and education, 29.1% toward social services, 13.5% toward arts and culture, 18% toward health and medical, and 3.7% toward various other causes, including animals, parks and human rights. The biggest surprise in 2022 was that instead of 1 million dollars, MB&T marked the 20-year anniversary of Community Dividends by increasing the annual giving to 2 million dollars! Notably, five organizations were awarded larger gifts of $100,000 each because they delivered “critical and sustainable services to a large number of the most vulnerable people in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.” 

Those five recipients are: 

  • CommUnify: to support its Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program that focuses on long-term family stabilization. 

  • Pacific Pride Foundation: to support its goal of becoming a bilingual organization by 2024. 

  • Peoples' Self-Help Housing Corporation: to support its Camino Scholars Education Program, which provides education services, including school tutoring and college advising. 

  • Santa Barbara Street Medicine/Doctors Without Walls: to support its Wrap Around Care Program for medical and behavioral health services.

  • The Arc Foundation of Ventura County (and Santa Barbara County): to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in job readiness training and placement.

When money is awarded to universities, such as Cal State Channel Islands or Cal Lutheran, it goes toward scholarships for underserved students or to support mentorships. Funding programs like “Women United” helps single women go to college. In some instances, when there are capital campaigns for big projects, such as the Santa Barbara Children’s Library Plaza or the Food Bank Warehouse, MB&T will lend funds against pledges. 

“We also encourage and honor those (at MB&T) who volunteer,” says Garufis. While 5,404 hours were logged in 2021, 2022 had a dramatic increase at 6,269 hours. 

Organizations that MB&T volunteers assisted include the following:

  • Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce

  • Hospice of the Conejo

  • Community Conscience/Under One Roof

  • Rotary Club of Thousand Oaks

  • Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara

  • Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere

  • California Lutheran University

  • Greater Conejo Valley Community Foundation

  • Conejo Valley Senior Concerns, Inc.

  • Conejo Valley Foundation

  • Many Mansions

  • James Storehouse.

“These boots-on-the-ground volunteers are invited to a reception to recognize their work at various places in the community. It should be noted that there are employees who volunteer at organizations that have helped them when they needed it in the past. It’s really quite moving,” says Garufis.

Jill Haney, VP and the manager of the Westlake branch of MB&T, sets a prime example of the type of volunteerism Garufis advocates. In fact, Haney was the 2020 winner of the Michael Towbes “Do the Right Thing” Outstanding Community Service Award and the Milton M. Teague Award for Outstanding Community Volunteerism during the organization’s 13th annual Spirit Awards Gala in 2017. 

When asked how she spends her time away from her desk, Haney talks about her work on the boards of a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Conejo Valley Community Foundation, the United Way and the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation. 

“As goodwill ambassadors, Board members know lots of people in the community, which brings visibility to the needs of the organizations we represent. We go to events, solicit funds and offer our organizational skills (as businessleaders),” says Haney. 

Every time MB&T finds a way to assist such organizations as The Conejo Valley Community Foundation, they can pay it forward into the community. For example, during the pandemic lockdown, local businesses stayed afloat with micro-grants from the Foundation’s fund of $110,000.

Haney recalls a personal favorite volunteer job at the Christmas Festival of Trees at the Oaks Mall benefiting Hospice of the Conejo. MB&T joined numerous local businesses to sponsor a tree to be auctioned. 

“A client bought and decorated a Mickey Mouse Tree, so we (at MB&T) did a Mini Mouse Tree that turned out really well and was sold at the auction. The time spent decorating also counts toward volunteer hours,” says Haney.

One component of MB&T’s Associate Matching Grant program is the opportunity to convert such volunteered time to financial donations. During 2022 this benefit allowed 36 associates to give over $4,300 to organizations they are connected to.  

No matter how you go about it, MB&T wants to help: whether it’s encouraging employees to go out and find causes that speak to their hearts, offering professional expertise on boards or giving financial support. It was Towbes’ hope that MB&T’s work in the community would inspire and motivate other businesses to contribute too, ensuring a bright future for all in this beautiful place that we call home.

  • MB&T's Bruce Stevens volunteering with Boys and Girls Club
  • 2022 Community Dividends: Michael Towbes Community Impact Dividend recipient; Janet Garufis, Joseph Paul (The Arc Foundation of Ventura County)
  • MB&T Ventura County Branch Managers
  • Andrew Peake (Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme) & Armando Casillas (MB&T)
  • Jill Haney (MB&T), Robin Britt (Community Conscience), Sal Sandoval (MB&T) & Susan Murata (Hospice of the Conejo)
  • 2022 Community Dividends; Dean Noble (Elings Park Foundation), Janet Garufis, Richard Block (Santa Barbara Zoo)
  • 2022 Westlake Team Decorating a Tree for Auction for Hospice of the Conejo