El Encanto 101st Anniversary Celebration Benefits Youth Interactive

Proceeds Support YI’s Arts/Entrepreneurship Program

Belmond El Encanto General Manager Colleen Huther and Youth Interactive founder and CEO Nathalie Gensac

Gail Arnold

Belmond El Encanto General Manager Colleen Huther and Youth Interactive founder and CEO Nathalie Gensac

On the afternoon of March 10, about 250 guests gathered at the historic Belmond El Encanto Hotel to celebrate its 101st anniversary and support Youth Interactive, a nonprofit providing at-risk Santa Barbara youth with art and business training through its novel program of youth-led businesses. The event netted more than $28,000 for Youth Interactive.

Guests mingled in the lobby, bar, and verandah and got to view hotel memorabilia, such as old photos and advertisements. Some shared their El Encanto experiences in years past on postcards and through videos, which were placed in a time capsule to be opened in another 101 years. Beautiful products made by Youth Interactive students were on display for purchase with students on hand to discuss their work. Guests enjoyed gourmet food and beverages and perused silent auction items.

During the program, newly-hired hotel General Manager Colleen Huther welcomed the guests and explained how the hotel became established as a premier retreat in the first decades of the 20th century by catering to plein air artists, celebrities, and the East Coast carriage trade. Celebrities such as Clark Gable, Hedy Lamar, Carole Lombard motored up the 101 from LA to escape the rigors of the big city and stardom and 101 years later, Huther proclaimed, the hotel continues its legacy as a luxurious escape.

The El Encanto was founded in 1918, closed for renovations in 2006, and reopened in 2013.

Huther recognized many in attendance, including Platinum Sponsor Kim and Andrew Busch of Folded Hills winery (and Anheuser-Busch), Kerin Friden, who owned and operated the hotel with her late husband Eric Friden from 1977 to 2004, and Peter Wood, who did his Cordon Bleu culinary school externship here 17 years ago.

Youth Interactive (YI) founder and CEO Nathalie Gensac expressed her sincere gratitude for being chosen as the event’s beneficiary. She shared how last year, thanks to Tom Parker of the Hutton Parker Foundation, Youth Interactive moved from its small space in the Funk Zone to a large space across from the Granada Theatre (1219 State Street), where it serves more than 150 low income, at-risk students per year through its youth-led businesses, which teach them real life skills.

El Encanto also supported Youth Interactive through the creation, with Sunstone Winery, of a red blend and a white blend wine, with $5 of each bottle sold at the El Encanto going to Youth Interactive. Gensac shared how YI decided to give the proceeds to the two students, Louisa Edwards and Jack Miles, who designed the wine labels. Each was presented with a giant symbolic check for $720, and an event sponsor, Leo Bunnin of Bunnin Chevrolet Cadillac, on the spot generously matched the amounts.

At Youth Interactive, teens attend the after-school program at least twice per week, once for business instruction, with small-group courses on budgeting, marketing, and other business skills, and once for vocational skills. Students choose from four programs: art, jewelry, T-shirt design, and sewing. A fifth program, carpentry, is run on-site at Los Prietos Boys Camp, a facility for juvenile males on probation, where students turn donated wine barrels and pallets into products.

A vital component of Youth Interactive is the volunteer-driven Get It Done program, which provides a wide range of assistance, including homework help and assistance with practical matters like applying for college or opening a bank account. Volunteers connect students with people in their desired occupation, others take them on cultural excursions.

The results of the program have been astounding. Last year, all students in the semester program graduated from high school and went on to college. Given that the students come primarily from low-income families and struggle academically, this is truly remarkable.

Youth Interactive welcomes the public seven days a week to its retail space, where the students’ work is attractively displayed and sold alongside the work of other community members and nonprofits. The area is managed by an alumnus, staffed by students, and all of the proceeds go back to the students and the program. In a large, adjacent space, also open to the public, the students make the products.

The facility also houses the Youth Interactive Co-Lab, a collaborative office space for nonprofits serving youth and/or the arts. Four nonprofits have individual offices and memberships still are available for use of a common workspace, which comes with myriad benefits.

1st Thursdays are an especially good time to visit. Work by the Artist of the Month is on display, students demonstrate how they make their products, and through a grant from the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation, area youth musicians perform.

For more info about Youth Interactive, go to youthinteractive.us

Send invites to gail@independent.com.

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