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'amuyich: Spirit of Generosity

Niki Sandoval with student artist

By: Niki Sandoval, Trustee, Santa Barbara Foundation

I introduce you to Irene. An intellectually curious person, she was genuinely interested in others and the world we live in. She possessed a refined sensitivity about people - their suffering, their joy, their unrealized potential. She was a cook throughout her life, in café’s, diners, restaurants, school cafeterias. I don’t doubt that her calling to feed people in the literal sense poised her to influence people in ways unexpected and profound.

I called her Lita. She was my grandmother and my teacher, telling me stories in the classroom of a small kitchen. She spoke of her childhood in the Central Valley during the Great Depression. Her lessons taught me not to be wasteful and to be grateful for every good thing. I learned to consider the needs of others in our family and beyond. Lita modeled ‘amuyich, a Chumash word that conveys the spirit of generosity. It was not uncommon for me to visit her home and meet strangers she had welcomed there. She was a powerful and influential philanthropist.

Lita was my biggest fan. My champion. Her confidence convinced me that I was smart and talented. Lita noticed the things I was good at, big and small. She expected me to share those gifts with others. I learned through her example that every person has something to offer. I am fortunate to work with youth and adults at every stage in the continuum of life. I remind them that they have extraordinary gifts to offer. Our young people have accepted this encouragement, becoming enterprising philanthropists and selling art work they have created to advance problem solving in areas that affect our health, safety, and quality of life. Daily, I witness the power of ‘amuyich.

Niki Sandoval is on the Board of Trustees for the Santa Barbara Foundation and is the Education Director for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

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