Let’s be honest about this. Despite our differences of opinion and the occasional natural disaster, folks living here in the Santa Ynez Valley have plenty for which to be thankful.

For starters, there is the incomparable beauty of this place. Walk out your door shortly after sunrise, look in any direction, and your gaze cannot escape beauty.

Another reason to be thankful is the spirit of the Valley, that intangible something that makes our communities so special.

Yet another cause for celebration on this Thanksgiving Day is the overall willingness to help one another in times of need. Time and time again volunteers come to the rescue. A family needs food, local organizations can provide that. A neighbor needs help with maintenance around the home, we provide it. A dispute arises about public policy, we may get rambunctious, but in the end, it all works out.

These facts were generally supported by conclusions in the 2017 Santa Barbara County Community Indicators report prepared by the UCSB Economic Forecast Project. The report was presented last week at a gathering at the Alisal Guest Ranch in Solvang.

The Community Indicators Project is designed to measure social, environmental and economic factors that constitute the quality of life in Santa Barbara County.

That same gathering also brought together a who’s-who list of folks representing nonprofit groups that contribute to the quality of life enjoyed by a vast majority of county residents. The group included Dean Palius, chief executive officer of Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People; Eddie Taylor, president and CEO of United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County; and Kathy Simas, director of the Santa Barbara Foundation in the North County office.

The rosy picture of life in Santa Barbara County includes the majority of residents, but not all. The report indicates about 10 percent of the county’s population earns less than $15,000 a year, and for whom housing is unaffordable. And while the number of homeless appears to be shrinking, there remains a core group of unfortunates who suffer the hardships of life without a roof over their heads.

Peter Rupert, executive director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, made some salient points in presenting the data, one of which is that “Community is not about a place or an organization, it’s about people.”

As for the 10 percent who aren’t living the Santa Barbara County dream, the situation grows worse. Rupert explains: “We’ve gotten richer every year — but not everyone. Equality is less than it was in the 1920s.”

A region’s social fabric is only as strong as its weakest segments, and it would seem from the data that life is getting worse for too many local residents.

Otherwise, the county is in pretty good shape. Even though South County residents in general have more material wealth than those of us living here in North County, we enjoy a different kind of life up here, and for most of us it is truly special.

We say “most of us,” because it is clear not everyone enjoys such an existence. The report shows more than 6,700 North County households live in poverty, and most of those are families with children.

These are things to think about on this Thanksgiving Day, and before the feast later today, you may want to say a prayer for those who don’t have as much as you have.

We can’t be a truly great nation when so many of us live in almost third-world conditions. Make this the day we promise to do what we can to help those in need.


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