A Great Montecito Neighbor is Making Stories Matter

By Sharon Byrne   |   December 31, 2020
Riding home to Montecito from the Unity Shoppe in style – a 1954 Cadillac El Dorado convertible festooned with pink flamingos (image courtesy of Dana Hansen)

Last Sunday, community godfather and Christmas Elf Dana Newquist organized the second Montecito-To-Unity toy and fundraising drive and caravan for delivery. A great group met up at the Upper Village in classic cars, ready to donate toys and funds for the second week in a row. Dana asked me to get up on the 1937 Fire Engine, masked up of course, and ding the bell as we made the route from Montecito to the Unity Shoppe. This was a dream gig for me, of course, and I eagerly applied myself. About halfway there, Dana asked whether I could tone the bell-ringing down from deafening, and showed me how to work the floor siren – even cooler!

Once we dropped the goodies to Unity, it was time to return to Montecito, but I needed a lift back, as Dana had to go on to Goleta to stow the engine. A really nice lady in the coolest classic red convertible offered to run me back. 

Community godfather and Christmas Elf Dana Newquist organized the second Montecito-To-Unity toy and fundraising drive and caravan for delivery

I eagerly got in the backseat, after noting that the license plate read “Tempsst.” I noticed the pink flamingoes tied on to the car. Anyone who brings a 1954 Cadillac El Dorado convertible festooned with pink flamingos has got to be fun, right? I felt certain I was riding with very good company here.

We stayed masked up as we made introductions and drove back. My driver was Leslie Zemeckis, a Montecito neighbor of 19 years, accompanied by her lovely daughter Zsa Zsa. Leslie has a great project starting up in January, one that spoke to my heart, as I used to produce youth theater here locally. She’s partnering with the Santa Barbara Independent Film Festival’s Roger Durling to create something brilliant: Stories Matter – a program of professional female writers nurturing and supporting the next generation of storytellers through mentorship. Writing and producing is a tough business. When writers first start out, rejection is the norm. Having a team of mentors could be a magic winning formula to launching that next generation of storytellers – a brilliant idea!

Leslie is particularly interested in mentoring young women aged 18-28. She originally wanted to convene a three-day retreat session during the 2021 SBIFF, but COVID killed that idea. So she’s taking it to Zoom, as an eight-week online course event. While the focus for this first Stories Matter session is local, she envisions it could well become national in scope. For this first run, they’re recruiting six young women to start in January. The focus will be on biography and memoir as forms. Some of the completed works would be featured in ENTITY Mag, which has a readership of more than 1 million. 

For Leslie, here’s why Stories Matter… matters: “Our goal is to advise, inspire, and help these young women find their voice, tell their story (or the story of someone around them), and show them their story matters. Mentees will be chosen on their ability and desire to learn how to tell a story, their commitment and a commitment to then give back to younger girls. The emphasis is on inspiration, empowerment of others, sharing and love of the written word.”

Leslie brings serious industry heft to this mission. She’s a best-selling author, writer, and award-winning documentarian. In 2021, Leslie will be awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, in part for “sharing and preserving stories of women who were once marginalized and stigmatized…” but due to her work “these women are now celebrated for their independence and personal agency.” The Medal is officially recognized by both Houses of Congress and is one of our nation’s most prestigious awards. Past recipients include Presidents Clinton and Reagan, Elie Wiesel, Sen. John McCain and HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco.

So the moral of this story:

1. You never know who you’re going to meet at the Montecito-to-Unity motorcade procession. Don’t miss it next year!

2. Someone who drives a classic red convertible named Tempsst and also loves pink flamingoes has simply got to have a very interesting story. Definitely get in the car with them! 

3. If our fabulous Editor-in-Chief Gwyn Lurie has her way, we’ll be reading some of the stories that come out of Stories Matter in these very pages! 

If you are interested in participating or sponsoring the inaugural launch of Stories Matter, or know someone who would be, please contact storiesmatter101@gmail.com.


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