Much need in county of plenty
Nevada County is a great place to live, with beautiful river canyons and lakes, pleasant downtowns and quiet rural areas, healthy arts and wonderful people. You can add your own favorite feature.
Like others, I moved here to pursue a particular lifestyle and, more important, to find a “sense of community,” a neighborhood where people watch out for one another, especially when someone falls on hard times.
But increasingly, having worked in our county’s schools and now in nonprofit human services, I see county families, children and individuals for whom our community is not working. These people are likely not known or even visible to you, but they live here and are experiencing something very different from those who have plenty in their day. To make this growing, often-hidden set of human problems more challenging, the local governmental and nonprofit agencies that exist to provide human services are grossly underfunded – and overwhelmed. Clearly, these are circumstances which call for local, community action.
Every county and town has its disenfranchised, its isolated, its needy people. But Nevada County need not be “every county.” Ask our local banks about deposit levels, and you’ll hear numbers far above average. Study real estate values, levels of education or other indicators of available local resources, and Nevada County appears blessed with plenty.
Our county has attracted substantial resources in the last 20 years. Anybody who has organized people locally knows that the county usually responds with skilled people, substantial wealth, and a willingness to get involved. The time for involvement is now.
Sometimes, public tragedies uncover hidden suffering. Our county has been shocked several times recently by needless deaths, which revealed unaddressed human needs. Our local support and prevention system needs help.
Ironically, as the county has attracted more wealth and higher levels of plenty, human services needs have increased. We reflect the greater society, where a sharpening division between those with plenty and those without enough causes a growing strain.
Local human service nonprofits see and hear the strain: underfunded substance abuse programs, reduced transportation service, waiting lists for drug-addicted mothers seeking respite, reductions in funding for battered spouses, insufficient affordable housing, and illiteracy. As luxury homes go up, so have the needs for basic shelter, substance abuse intervention, and advocacy for the abused. It’s a telling divergence.
Last month, an elder in a leading national church asked that church members “… take a step back from their daily demands, from their daily tasks, look around and find a greater need to address.” He was asking for his church to re-discover a “sense of community.” He was suggesting that people put something substantial back into the greater society to make things better for everyone. Donations, yes, but also commitment.
This does happen in Nevada County. People support over 300 nonprofits with their time and money. For our children in particular, we sometimes function like a neighborhood. The multiagency education outreach into Grass Valley apartment complexes, the Day of the Young Child and Grass Valley’s Safe Trick or Treat prove that. But compared to like-sized communities – almost all with far less wealth – Nevada County does not support human services like it could. Nonprofits are serving more with less.
In 1999 and again in 2001, a professionally conducted countywide phone survey – the Community Assessment Project – found eight problem areas needing organized, focused attention. Transportation needs, substance abuse, family violence, health service access – these are the top four community issues. Established, well-organized nonprofit agencies are poised to address each of these issues. Each has a strategic plan and a set of realistic local objectives. They lack only time and money.
As an umbrella agency stretching across Nevada County, your local United Way understands the power of collaboration and donations working locally. Finding solutions to drug abuse and public transportation cutbacks need not involve the political bickering that has been so distracting recently. But it does require thoughtful leadership.
Start with a small group of knowledgeable people, use an intelligent problem-solving process and find solutions. Our county is rich in material and human resources far beyond the “standard” community.
On behalf of its 24 partner agencies and their thousands of clients, United Way of Nevada County urges local leaders, businesses and individuals to “step back” and put some of your resources – money, time and expertise – into community issues.
Nevada County is a great place to live – it can be a true community as well.
George M. Olive III is executive director of the United Way of Nevada County.
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