Gil Garcia

gil garcia

Board Chair, 2000

Gil Garcia was born in 1939, and with limited community resources due to the war effort, he credits the campesino interdependent working-class lifestyle – living with multiple generations in a tightknit Goleta neighborhood – for guiding his approach to life. His was a community filled with immigrant families from Mexico, working the fields and raising their families, with open doors and a focus on hard work and interdependent support. This ethos carried Gil from the fields to the founding of his architectural firm, Garcia Architect Inc., and development firm, Blankenship-Garcia Inc., to the City Council chambers, where he focused on community service and human development. Gil’s strong connection to his communal home upbringing would come to play a significant role years later in helping the Mental Wellness Center secure their own permanent home.

Gil served as board president of the Mental Wellness Center in DATE TBD when he brought his vision and expertise in land use and development to the board. His grand idea was to integrate, not isolate, those living with mental illness. During his decade as a city council member, Gil observed how other communities operated and he sought to replicate successful programs, including bringing seamless integrated services to Santa Barbara neighborhoods. The issues surrounding mental illness were particularly troubling to Gil as he witnessed society stigmatize and isolate those with mental health disabilities. Gil benefitted from therapy himself during a confusing emotional time in his young adulthood, and he appreciated firsthand the benefits of counseling. Gil always returned to the values instilled in him from his childhood – strong work ethic, honestly, integrity and helping others – and these guiding principles would define his life and greatly benefit the Mental Wellness Center.

When the Garden Street property became available Gil, with his real estate development background, guided the move to procure the site. He presented a proposal to the City Council to transform the space, making room for mental wellness offices, affordable housing, dedicated space for the drop-in Fellowship Club, an underground parking garage and City staff offices on the top floor. His compelling plan combined with Annmarie Cameron’s competence impressed the Council and they accepted the proposal.

“I think I overwhelmed our board at the time,” recalled Gil. “They were focused on small improvements and I encouraged them to think bigger and more strategically to grow the organization.”

The Mental Wellness Center was able to move from its small Chapala Street cottage to a sizeable downtown headquarters, dramatically increasing the organization’s capacity to serve Santa Barbara residents. The new Garden Street space expanded the MWC’s Fellowship Club and added 51 apartments to its housing program. The additional space eventually led to new programs, including Youth Services, the Community Wellness Program and Mental Health First Aid.

“In any type of project, each of us has the spiritual strength to do what needs to be done if we unite as one power,” said Gil. “We were able to do that with our board, the city, and the developer – we all came together and in turn gave the Mental Wellness Center a new home to better serve our community.”