Photo Source: Optimal Solutions Consulting & Cole Communications

Several years ago, leaders at the City and County of Santa Cruz decided to change how they financially support nonprofits doing valuable work in this community. Change isn’t easy, and this shift involved money, adding to the challenge. Committed to wise use of tax dollars and most importantly, committed to positive impact for the residents of this county, leaders stuck with their plans for changing business as usual. The City and County did a full reset and invited proposals for different focus areas such as homelessness, youth violence prevention, senior care, early childhood development and others.

The effort eventually evolved into what is known as a Collective of Results and Evidence-based (CORE) Investments. CORE is a funding model, meaning it guides how the City and County of Santa Cruz contribute financially towards the outcomes their nonprofit partners work towards. Perhaps more importantly, CORE is a movement, with the vision of our county being an equitable, thriving, resilient community where everyone shares responsibility for ensuring the health and well-being of all people, at every stage of life. Sounds grand, right? This graphic shares more about CORE’s focus, which pretty much covers everything, including the focus of CWC’s work, the river and natural environment.

Nine different strategic plans were fused together as an initial guiding document for CORE’s work, with metrics for each element, here on DataShare. A steering committee was formed, on which I have served for the past two years. It has been an excellent opportunity to identify links between river health and issues other groups are working on, from meeting the needs of seniors, improving economic and social justice and helping kids under five years old prepare for a healthy and productive life. We were making progress in creating a learning hub for building shared knowledge in our community, plus a lab for exploring new ideas. Then…2020 happened: pandemic, recession, wildfire – a confluence of challenges not seen in generations. CORE adapted to meet the needs of nonprofits and the community, with an even stronger commitment to centering all of this work around equity.

This graphic shows how an agile and community-responsive approach helped CORE participants meet community needs, as we all sought ways to learn from one another, lend support and come together to face unprecedented challenges:

CORE eventsSource: Optimal Solutions Consulting & Cole Communications

Examples, mostly virtual, include peer learning circles, technical trainings, an equity retreat, virtual resource fair and a series of “coffee chats” where participants learned from experts and one another. Two lead consultants, Nicole Beck from Optimal Solutions Consulting and Nicole Lezin of Cole Communications, have facilitated these learning sessions, the CORE steering committee and all online and in-person convenings. CORE is now looking to build on all of these learning experiences by exploring the creation of a CORE Institute for Innovation and Impact that would make these learning and growth opportunities permanent. It’s one example of how the challenges we’ve all faced will indeed make us stronger moving forward.

The CORE Institute effort is currently in the exploration phase, including a business plan study lead by Javier Carrillo and Damian Maldonado of Maldonado & Associates. Elements of the study include how to start up such an institute, governance structure, funding model and operational considerations such as staffing, leadership, etc.

CWC participation in the CORE effort is part of our effort to bring the San Lorenzo River back into the community’s awareness as a natural asset that we rely upon and impact every day. Tying the health of the river and those who live nearest it to these seemingly separate issues is one more way CWC is working to realize Santa Cruz’s vision of a healthy, welcoming and fun San Lorenzo River that connects our diverse neighborhoods to nature, a river that is recognized as an attractive and desirable destination for outdoor recreation and reflection. We’ll keep sharing these connections so that we all recognize the linkages. The river is at the core of our history, it’s core to our future and we’ll continue to share how it factors into this other CORE moving forward.

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