The following post was originally published on February 28, 2015 in Outlook, a special section of the Chico Enterprise-Record.
The human response is one of the most unexpected consequences of the changes in our social sector’s economic landscape. I’ve learned more in the last seven years about the human capacity to love, give, and offer compassion than I could have ever imagined.
In many ways, it reminds me of my early years working in the humanitarian sector in Asia and Latin America. During these years, I realized that the people I’d so sincerely hoped to help were actually helping me. It works that way sometimes: when something else is happening right alongside the thing that has your attention.
You see, right as things were really starting to hurt in 2008—when the economic contraction at the top began to make its way down to the little pieces of earth we call home—right then, people started calling and emailing and walking into our community foundation’s doors.
In record numbers, we heard from people eager to engage. They saw things getting worse and wanted to do something about it. They heard about deep financial cuts to programs for the arts, education, and the environment. They started to see with their own eyes the number of people using cardboard boxes as beds.
Just as we braced for some of the most difficult times in recent history, something beautiful was happening, too.
Don’t get me wrong: this human response didn’t alter what was already in motion for the social sector. It didn’t stop, for example, the grants and contracts from drying up. This incredible human response didn’t stop non-profits that people depended on from closing their doors. And it certainly didn’t stop things we’d grown to love about both our culture and our quality of life begin to slip away. That all happened then. And it’s still happening today.
Yet, so is this other thing—this thing that I’m writing about now. I’m convinced that this other thing—this highly local and personal response—is the way forward. The profound human capacity to care for one another—for our families, friends, strangers, animals, trees, streams, and more—is reason to feel hopeful. And, even more than hopeful: it’s a reason to be inspired to act. I see the difference it makes. Let me restate that: I see the difference many of you are already making.
Perhaps all of this sounds sentimental. But, from my vantage point at our community foundation, the numbers support my claim. Since 2008, we’ve raised $22 million from individuals, families, and businesses for public good. Of that $22 million raised, we’ve granted (or re-granted) more than $15 million to organizations engaged in this work. We’ve established more than 200 charitable funds dedicated to supporting nearly every facet of the social sector.
Here’s an example. Since the recession hit, dozens of community members have joined our community foundation to address the growing challenges around transitional housing, emergency shelters, and food supply. These efforts include the establishment of the North Valley Housing Trust, the Chico Housing Action Team (CHAT), Clean and Safe Chico, Chico Food for All, and the Downtown Chico Business Association Foundation.
These are just a few examples of how community members took action in response to expanding needs in one area. I could share similar stories about how community members have mobilized to address growing needs for seniors, as well as support for local education, the arts, and more.
As funding cuts continued, public-private partnerships started to emerge. With community members engaged on both sides, we established funds with the City of Chico, Orland Police Department, Chico Police Department, Chico Fire Department, local unified school districts, Butte County Office of Education, and many others. This new model is already proving to offer significant and lasting support.
We also launched an initiative to establish and support for-profit business charitable foundations, believing a key component in adjusting to the new economic reality would be the engagement of local companies. Again, those companies responded.
There are also many efforts outside our community foundation’s reach, further proving that we, as a people, are willing and capable of pivoting as a society to support the health of individuals and communities.
Of course, there’s much more to do. The challenges facing our region, our nation, and our world are increasing and resources historically used to address them are changing. But, I’ve never been more convinced that we can do this. My belief comes from spending days and nights witnessing the profound capacity in each of us: to care and act from the heart.