“It was one of those great stories / That you can’t put down at night / The hero knew what he had to do / And he wasn’t afraid to fight.”

Those are the lyrics that musical legend — and Santa Barbara County resident — David Crosby penned for his song “Hero,” and they’re a perfect introduction to the 20 men, women, and organizations chosen in 2011 as Local Heroes by The Santa Barbara Independent.

Everyone selected has a heartening tale: the mother who fought to get dyslexia-assistance programs into the schools; the retired couple who raise money to buy goats and cows for Rwandan genocide survivors; and the cycling enthusiast who puts about 1,300 new bikes into the hands of young riders every year. And with tenacity, each of the following heroes has fought tirelessly to bring their visions of helping others to fruition.

Read on for the inspiring work being done by your neighbors and friends.

There is no doubt that art and music are fundamental touchstones of our culture, but, after nearly a decade straight of wicked budget cuts, these timeless pursuits have been rendered all but extinct in many of Santa Barbara’s public schools. However, thanks to Jim Kearns and the art-minded philanthropy of the Incredible Children’s Art Network (ICAN), extinction of the arts during the school day won’t be coming anytime soon.

Nearly seven years ago, Kearns, working with a “little funding group,” started giving anonymous grants to certain Santa Barbara elementary schools, earmarked specifically for art programs. Drawing inspiration from the celebrated art offerings at Montecito Union School and the volunteer work there by parent/teacher Kathi Scarminach, the idea, explained ICAN Director Amy Schneider, was pretty simple — to offer the same level of instruction and enrichment enjoyed by kids in Montecito for the kids attending some of Santa Barbara’s most economically disadvantaged elementary schools. “Basically, we want to provide for the kids that would be least likely to have access to these opportunities anywhere else,” said Kearns.

The giving, which pays annually for every aspect of an art program, save for the actual classroom space, began at Adelante Charter School (then known as César Chávez) and, in the years since, has grown to include Franklin, Adams, McKinley, and Harding elementary schools. Further, by officially forming ICAN last year, Kearns and company finally stepped out of their role as “anonymous” donors in order to further grow their philanthropic efforts. In addition to plans to expand their visual arts offerings to other area schools, ICAN launched a new after-school ensemble music program at Franklin Elementary School last winter that is already drawing rave reviews. “We like to think about it as a gateway drug,” joked Kearns about ICAN’s programs, “a gateway to success and feeling good.”

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