A Santa Barbara-based group honored community activists Thursday afternoon for their dedication to improving the environment and local neighborhoods.

The Santa Barbara Foundation awarded approximately $237,000 in grants to representatives from 13 Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organizations, who met for the ceremony at the foundation’s headquarters downtown on Carrillo Street. Dinah Van Wingerden, chair of SB Foundation Distribution Committee, said the foundation supports groups that work toward the preservation and restoration of the natural environment, land acquisition and protection organizations, animal welfare agencies and groups that enhance neighborhoods and citizen participation.

“I’m very pleased that the foundation has made a commitment to this field of interest,” she said. “Each quarter, we grant awards to organizations specializing in many different fields of community improvement, and this quarter we’re proud to award those working for the environment and community enhancement. This is a great opportunity for the Santa Barbara Foundation to celebrate and honor all the hard work these people do.”

The largest sums of money were awarded to La Casa de Maria Retreat and Conference Center, the Community Environmental Council, Los Padres Search and Rescue, Faith Initiative of South Santa Barbara County and United Way of the Central Coast. Other organizations honored were Catalyst For Cats, Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, the Santa Barbara Regional Economic Community Project, the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, the Wilderness Youth Project, Lompoc Valley United Way and Growing Solutions Restoration Education Institute.

Growing Solutions will use the grant to expand its Healthy Habitat Program, which works toward environmental improvement around the county, Director Stephanie Langsdorf said at the ceremony.

“I want to thank the Santa Barbara Foundation for helping us grow,” she said. “Growing Solutions restores watershed and creeks, as well as assisting in environmental improvement. We have classes at SBCC and Santa Barbara High School that get the students involved in this hands-on project. This grant will allow us to do even more.”

La Casa de Maria Executive Director Don Cedace said he was excited to receive the award from the foundation for the first time.

“My heart leaped with joy when I learned that we would receive the grant. We will use the money toward the purchase of additional property to expand the center, and the new site is such a gift to the community,” he said. “The center will be there for generations, so the grant isn’t really just for this one year, but many years to come.”