Westmont Hosts ‘Raising Our Light’

Westmont President Gayle D. Beebe stands with candle holders who helped the community heal during the past two years

Westmont President Gayle D. Beebe stands with candle holders, who helped the community heal during the past two years

Westmont hosted Raising Our Light: An Evening of Remembrance, Connection and Hope on January 9, which marked the two-year anniversary of the debris flows in Montecito. About 500 members of the community attended the moving remembrance featuring a moment of silence, flameless candles and live music.

“As we gather tonight, we’re aware of suffering endured as a community two years ago,” Westmont President Gayle D. Beebe said. “This is an opportunity for us to find the meaning behind the tragedy and to gain inspiration for our life. As much as I wish I could avoid suffering, it always gives me an avenue of connection with people I’ve never known—and the depth and capacity to know and love one another in the midst of suffering.”

Sharon Byrne and John “Abe” Powell helped organize the event hosted by Westmont

Sharon Byrne and John “Abe” Powell helped organize the event hosted by Westmont

John “Abe” Powell, executive director of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, a group of volunteers who helped Montecito residents in the wake of the debris flows, thanked Westmont for opening its campus so residents could join together. “Westmont College has been incredibly gracious and welcoming to the community.”

Powell told the crowd that attending the memorial demonstrated their commitment to stand together as a community. “While we here, let’s remember how strong we are when we pull together like this in love and compassion,” he said. “Let’s weave our community safety net so tightly that no one could fall through because we are all holding on to each other with so much strength and so much love that it’s too much for any of us to let go.”

The students of Amy Alzina and Anthony Ranii speak about hope

The students of Amy Alzina and Anthony Ranii speak about hope

Sharon Byrne, executive director of the Montecito Association, said new projects and connections in the community have strengthened Montecito. “We have come together as a community in amazing ways,” she said. “You should be proud of your community.”

Westmont alumna Amy Alzina, superintendent of Cold Spring School District, and Anthony Ranii, superintendent of Montecito Union School District, shared remarks from their students about what gives them hope. “Sixth grader Jack said, ‘Hope gives you courage. Like when people are cheering you on in a race even though you’re in last place. Their encouragement gives you hope to keep doing your best,’” Alzina read. “Tonight is about continuing to lean on each other, but it’s also about hope. Our students give us hope each day.”

Community member gathered after the event for soup and conversation

Community member gathered after the event for soup and conversation

“If you look around tonight, it’s easy to see we have more than enough support to heal—we have each other,” said Suzanne Grimmesey, chief quality care and strategy officer for the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness. “This is a night of remembrance.”

A candle-lighting procession included local organizations and individuals who helped the community heal and responded with compassion during the past two years.

Following the event, attendees gathered in the lobby of Murchison Gym and outside offering hugs and sharing soup provided by the Organic Soup Kitchen.