Here's A Foundation That's Deep into Early Childhood Education in Santa Barbara

According to the Orfalea Foundation, established by Kinko's founder Paul Orfalea and his ex-wife Natalie, there are over 170 early childhood education centers in Santa Barbara County. In California, 62 percent of children under five spend at least part of their day in the care of someone other than their parents. With federal and state funding for early childhood education dwindling in recent years, philanthropy in this area has become even more important.

Orfalea and Natalie signed the Giving Pledge last year, but their philanthropy really started in 2000 when Orfalea left Kinko's (now FedEx Office) and the then couple started the Orfalea Foundation that very same year. The Orfalea Foundation consists of the Orfalea Fund and the Orfalea Family Foundation. 

Before going further, I should mention that the Orfalea Foundation is undergoing some changes. A major emphasis of the foundation so far has been its Orfalea Fund, through which a lot of its philanthropy has been channelled. However, by the end of the year, the fund will complete its planned spend down of assets. What this means for now is that Orfalea isn't looking for anyone new to partner with and isn't accepting unsolicited proposals.

Since the Orfalea Foundation was established, one of its three major focus areas has been early childhood education, with which it has been heavily involved on the local level in the ECE space. One major effort in this area has been the Orfalea Foundation's own Preschool Food Initiative (PFI), which has aimed to create "new norms for food and physical activity practices in Santa Barbara County ECE centers."  During the initial phase of the project, participating centers completed a 50+ item baseline measurement, and created goals for improvement in areas such as "food quality standards" and "feeding practices."

Orfalea has also supported the Outdoor Classroom Project, which was initially a project in Los Angeles County aimed at making outdoor programming a critical part of early education centers. The Outdoor Classroom Project has now shifted to Santa Barbara County, and has been supported through the Orfalea Fund.

The Orfalea Foudation also ran the Orfalea Children’s Center Director’s Retreat in Santa Barbara from 2001 to 2011, with the annual conference growing to nearly 200 attendees in its later years. Orfalea has also been committed to raising the standards of early childhood education centers. Orfalea has supported the Quality Counts Network in partnership with First 5 of Santa Barbara County to provide "technical assistance and financial support to selected center-based early care and education programs interested in working on quality improvement efforts."

Orfalea has also backed early childhood education through another one of its interestssupporting colleges and universities. The foundation has given millions to UCSB, a stone's throw away from where Orfalea founded his first Kinko's office all the way back in 1970. UCSB is home to the Orfalea Family Children’s Center, which supports "the children, families, students and early childhood education professionals of UCSB." There's also an Orfalea Family Center on City College of San Francisco's main campus. 

With the impending close of the Orfalea Fund, Orfalea's philanthropy remains uncertain. However, an announcement on its website about the fund's closing does look encouraging, saying that it looks forward to "devoting more of its resources to sharing what we have learned—providing the benefit of our experience to other nonprofits, funders, and policymakers working on early childhood education..."

As well, the Orfalea Family Foundation has given more than $4 million in grants recently, and has given to outfits such as the Storyteller's Children Center. This is likely just the beginning, and if history is any indication, supporting early childhood education in Santa Barbara will remain a high priority.