AHA! Attitude. Harmony. Achievement. (Santa Barbara, CA)


  • Name:Melissa Lowenstein
  • Title:Grant Writer

Organization Address

  • Organization Name:AHA! Attitude. Harmony. Achievement.
  • Address:1209 De la Vina St.
    Suite A
    Santa Barbara, CA 93101
    United States

Organization Phone

  • Main phone:805-770-7200

Organization Web

User Email


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  • Mission:
  • AHA! is dedicated to preventing bullying and to the development of character, imagination, social-emotional intelligence and social conscience in teenagers. Through an innovative social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum, AHA! helps teens set goals, surmount challenges, communicate effectively, manage their emotions, support their peers, and improve campus climates. More succinctly: AHA! seeks to support youth in creating peace within, peace between individuals, and peace in community ⎯ to ensure that all youth in Santa Barbara feel safe, seen, and celebrated.

  • Overview:
  • AHA! seeks to give a diverse set of Santa Barbara youth leaders the 21st century skills required to positively influence school and community climates, lead with empathy, disagree respectfully, and resolve conflicts peacefully. In the current climate – where these qualities’ opposites are all being normalized in the highest echelons of American culture and where schools nationwide are reporting increased incidences of hate speech and cruel/bullying behavior – we seek funding to assist us in directly empowering youth as peer mediators trained to interrupt bullying and hatred, help mediate conflict, and champion kindness and compassion in their communities.

    In app programs, we teach competencies that enhance empathy, resiliency, gratitude, and acceptance/celebration of difference; awareness of the damaging impacts of "-isms" and how to interrupt and prevent bullying. We help connect youth that might otherwise not reach out to one another across lines of clique, color or socioeconomic status, and we help youth navigate healthier relationships with teachers and other adults in their lives.

    Our method for working with teens is not didactic, but is based in core principles of mutuality, reciprocity, joy, and collective responsibility. In a ratio of no fewer than one adult per 8 youth, adults and youth partner in exploring social and emotional skills as a diverse, highly participatory learning community. AHA! after-school and summer programs are offered by donation, and provide a safe and welcoming space for learning and connection during high-risk after-school and summer hours where youth might otherwise be without adult support or supervision.

    In 2017-18, in schools, we will work with the freshman classes of Carpinteria, San Marcos, and Santa Barbara High Schools through our Freshman Ally program, 10th-12th graders and 8th graders at seven area middle and high schools through the AHA! Peace Builders program, and at 10 after-school groups and our 4-week summer program. We also offer twice-yearly Parent Groups, once-weekly drop-in groups during school breaks, and twice-yearly Outdoor Days. A total of 125 youth are served in out-of-school programs each year, 2500 in Freshman Ally, and 300 in AHA! Peace Builders.

    Although our freshman and after-school/summer (out-of-school) groups continue to be of tremendous value, we are especially excited about the way our AHA! Peace Builders programs have taken off. Educational research shows unequivocally that positive, welcoming campus culture is paramount for student well-being, achievement, and safety from bullying and violence. We developed this program as a grassroots effort to empower youth to transform their own school campuses to make them safe and welcoming for all.

    Our AHA! Peace Builders program empowers youth to be peacemakers and social-emotional educators with their peers, families, and communities. With skilled AHA! facilitators, youth in the program develop actionable skills and strategies for creating peaceful schools, homes, and communities, starting with an intensive workshop where they learn to conduct Connection Circles, a forum for honest sharing and deep listening. Circles can involve anywhere from two people to 30 and can be held virtually anyplace. AHA! Peace Builder students also learn to use language in a culturally sensitive way, to interrupt bullying non-violently, and to approach conflict restoratively. They commit to holding a specific number of circles, which they log in our unique PeaceQ online application (www.peaceq.com) – along with Peace Points (pro-social behaviors), self-care points, and positive acknowledgements of others. Facilitator-led AHA! Peace Builder club meetings on their campuses continue learning and engagement throughout the year. A spring convening supports them in inter-school connection and celebration of their achievements.

    In 2016-17, AHA! Peace Builders served 200 youth from Santa Barbara, San Marcos, and Dos Pueblos High Schools, who by the end of the year will have outreached to over 3000 peers and community members via Connection Circles. A modified middle school version of AHA! Peace Builders and Leadership group ran throughout 2016-17, working with 30 at-risk youth for at Santa Barbara Junior High for a full year to prepare them to enter high school as AHA! Peace Builders and capable leaders. We began a new AHA! PB Initiative at La Colina Junior High in spring of 2017 for 17 wonderful students.

    In the coming year, through AHA! Peace Builders Initiatives, we intend to serve 300+ youth in grades 8 and 10-12 and (where funding allows) 70 total middle school students at 3-4 area middle schools. This is particularly important in middle schools, as research shows that bullying and violence are worse issues in grades 6-8 than in grades 9-12. We anticipate that each of these students will outreach to 30-40 additional people apiece through Connection Circles over the course of the year.

  • History:
  • Since its inception, AHA! has served over 20,000 youth in the Santa Barbara area. AHA! was created by Jennifer Freed, PhD, and Rendy Freedman, MFT as a response to the Columbine shootings in 1999. Under the umbrella of the non-profit Family Therapy Institute (FTI), AHA! began to deliver an innovative curriculum that develops character, emotional intelligence, imagination, and social conscience in teens ⎯ first, as an after-school group for teens that focused on exploring relationship, and then as a free summer program. Over the years following, in-school programs were added across the district.

    We operated as a program of FTI until January 1, 2011, when we began operating as our own 501(c) 3 under IRS tax ID # 20-4418873, with its own Board of Directors. AHA! began a period of rapid expansion, going from service to 500 or fewer youth per year to its current 3000+ in a five-year span. Administrative staff - first a Grant Writer, then a Development Director, and then an Admin Assistant - came on, and all staff expanded their responsibilities to sustain AHA!'s rapidly growing programs.

    Today, we have 15 part-time and five full-time staff members, including an Executive Director, a Clinical Director, a Development Director, a Program Director, an Enrollment Director, a Research Director, a Grant Writer, an Administrative Assistant, and 11 facilitators. Nearly every person on staff holds multiple roles, including direct youth facilitation. We also enjoy the support of a 14-member Board of Directors and a 20+-member Development Committee.

    Since 2012, AHA! has held two major fundraising events each year: the Fall Hike for AHA! and the spring Sing It Out concert event. Securing a dedicated space in 2013 helped enormously to sustain this growth and to provide additional space for groups and staff meetings. AHA! Peace Builders joined AHA!'s offerings in 2013.

    AHA!'s unique approach to cultivating SEL in teens has won national acclaim. We were one of 8 organizations chosen by the Susan Crown Exchange's nationwide initiative to create a best-practices model for integrating SEL into after-school programs; we have provided continuing education for therapists, youth providers, and educators in Santa Barbara, New York City, and Sacramento, as well as through webinars, articles (at goop.com, she knows.com, and other popular sites), and books (PeaceQ and The AHA! Method Book).

    In 2009, we were named a Local Hero by the Santa Barbara Independent. In 2010, the City of Santa Barbara named us Youth Agency of the Year; and in Fall of 2010, AHA! received the Be the Change award from the South Coast Teen Coalition. We moved into our own dedicated space in downtown Santa Barbara in 2013, where we maintain our administrative offices and hold some of our groups. (Other out-of-school groups are held in a space at the campus of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara.)

    In 2013, the Independent honored two of our facilitators, Martin Leyva and Paul Lewis, with Local Heroes awards. Past SB School Superintendent David Cash has called AHA! “disruptive innovators” and our Peace Builders program “not just a home run, but a grand slam.”

    Our ongoing use of third-party research instruments measuring the impact of AHA! Peace Builders, Freshman Ally, and our after-school and summer intensive programs has provided a rich and substantial evidence base for our work. Research summaries are available upon request. Carpinteria High School principal Gerard Cornejo, who invited AHA! to serve his freshmen in response to a major bullying and clique conflict problem, has attributed a 72% drop in suspensions to the AHA! program. SB High has reported a reduction of period truancies by half in classes served by AHA!. At San Marcos High, administrators report a significant drop in disciplinary referrals and suspensions, particularly those involving conflict between students.

    As AHA! has expanded and experienced ongoing success in Santa Barbara, some have voiced hopes that we might consider expanding to other cities with our program. Rather than creating satellite programs, we have chosen to dedicate our energies to continually refining and developing our methods here at home to serve our local community. We write and publish to help others use what we've learned, and we are conducting increasing numbers of trainings in the coming year to introduce our AHA! method to others who can then implement it in their own way on their own turf.

  • Year established:1999
  • Endowment:Unknown


  • Organization type:Grantseeker
  • Country of registration:United States
  • Tax Determination Letter:Received Determination Letter
  • IRS Section:501(c)(3)
  • IRS Subsection:None
  • Tax ID:20-4418873

IRS Business Master File Information

  • EIN:204418873
  • Sort (Secondary) Name:
  • Care Of Name:% JENNIFER FREED
  • Organization Address:1209 DE LA VINA ST STE A
  • Organization City:SANTA BARBARA
  • Organization State:CA
  • Organization Zip:93101-5172
  • Group Exemption Number:0000
  • Subsection Code:03
  • Classification Code(s):1, 2
  • Subsection/Classification Desc.:Charitable Organization, Educational Organization
  • Affiliation Code:3
  • Ruling Date:November, 2006
  • Deductibility Code:1
  • Foundation Code:15
  • Foundation Code Desc.:Organization which receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or the general public 170(b)(1)(A)(vi)
  • Activity Code(s):
  • Activity Code Desc.(s):
  • Organization Code:1 (Corporation)
  • Exempt Org. Status Code:01 (Unconditional Exemption)
  • Tax Period:June, 2016
  • Filing Requirement Category:01 (990 (all other) or 990EZ return)
  • Accounting Period:June
  • NTEE Code:F602
  • Asset Amount:$313,987
  • Asset Code:4 ($100,000 - $499,999)
  • Income Amount:$590,588
  • Income Code:5 ($500,000 - $999,999)
  • 990 Revenue Amount:$577,969
  • Last Updated:3/20/2018 10:36:25 am

This information is directly from the IRS Exempt Organization Business Master File at Exempt Organizations Business Master File Extract. This information is not under the control of the Common Grant Application and is collected and compiled and can only be changed by the IRS.