Board Members

Jessica Bixler

Jessica Bixler has lived in Santa Barbara for 40 years.  She has taught K-12 in a variety of roles for most of that time.  Experiencing both the public and private schools, she felt a calling to help those less fortunate students.  About 5 years ago she became involved with forming a local chapter of Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) that works with these disadvantaged students, SBAVP.  She has served as Secretary, Board President and is now Treasurer.  Additionally she serves on the board of Children’s Creative Project locally. Jessica and husband Pat are both now retired from education and spend their free time with two daughters, five grandchildren, friends, camping in their van and hiking the back-country of Santa Barbara.

Robert Thiel

Bob Thiel is a retired project manager with the State Coastal Conservancy, where he focused on wetland and stream restoration and adaptation strategies to address climate change. Previously, he managed a watershed restoration program at Community Environmental Council and earlier in his career practiced law for 20 years, serving as senior corporate counsel for an airline and several electronics companies. Over the years he has volunteered his time with a number of environmental and social justice programs, including service as a board member and community facilitator with Community Boards of San Francisco and a member of the grant making committee of the Fund for Santa Barbara. He and his partner, Peter, live in Goleta and have been part of the Santa Barbara community for over 20 years.

Catherine Brunner Alternatives to Violence Project
Catherine Brunner

Catherine grew up in California and is a passionate educator. When she was young she had difficulties at home and at school, and became a teacher because she didn’t want others to struggle the way she had. She and her German husband met in 1981 while camping in Big Sur and have two adult sons. Catherine originally taught young learners, later becoming an ESL specialist and teacher trainer while living for many years in Germany. She returned to California in 2017 to help care for aging parents, and retired from teaching in 2020. She believes in using students’ strengths to build confidence and overcome challenges, values which eventually drew her to SBAVP. In addition to serving on the Board she is also a workshop facilitator. She enjoys swimming, cooking and food-centered gatherings.

Joel Gonzales
Joel Gonzalez

Joel Gonzalez is 27 years old and a first generation Mexican-American.  The eldest of 3, he was born and raised in Santa Barbara and Goleta. His early years were rough, moving frequently to all sorts of different living environments.  From an early age, Joel has loved working with youth; he particularly enjoys working with high-risk kids.   Joel wishes Santa Barbara Alternatives to Violence Project had been around when he was in high school; the students he meets in the workshops remind him a lot of how he and his friends once where. Joel has worked his way up in local restaurants to a server, while attending Santa Barbara City College where he is studying real estate and accounting. His skills include analyzing data, book keeping and excellent interpersonal skills are all an asset to SBAVP.  When not in school or at work, Joel spends his free time with his 6 year old daughter.

Nancy Avoce
Nancy Avoce

I was born in Montreal, Quebec. I am a first generation Russian-African American who moved to the states when I was 10 years old. I have always been involved in community activism and love kids. I recently graduated from UCSB and studied political science and sociology. My goal in working with the SBAVP is to help people understand that no kid is a “trouble kid”.

Pat Hardy ~ Co-Founder of Santa Barbara AVP (retired)

Pat Hardy served as the Executive Director of the Riverside Volunteer Center expanding from one employee to six, reflecting the growth of the organization’s programs and facilitated the expansion of a county-wide hotline. After a move to Santa Barbara with partner Jo Ann Bell, they opened the second recognized Santa Barbara Bed and Breakfast (Glenborough Inn) followed by the establishment of the only national B&B trade organization: Professional Association of Innkeepers International. They co-wrote the first comprehensive text to opening a B&B, “So… You Want To Be An Innkeeper” with two other innkeepers, and taught classes for almost 17 years. After four book updates, 10 years of national conferences for innkeepers, as well as writing and producing a monthly 12-page newsletter they sold the association to the only other recognized “select” B&B association.
Pat took her training and began to facilitate Alternatives to Violence Project workshops (already nationwide), introducing them to California Prisons as well as the Federal prison in Lompoc. After more than 20 years of facilitating and director of two central valley CDCR contracts, she co-founded SBAVP. Now happily retired at Valle Verde Retirement Community, Pat continues to gather people together with her multiple volunteer on-campus activities.