Charity begins at home — and for Southern California communities that was never more important than it is today, when government is cutting back sharply on providing services and funding for those in need, while poverty is soaring amid enduring affluence nearby.
That was my take-away from an extraordinary event last week at Valley Presbyterian Hospital where more than 100 nonprofit service providers met with major Los Angeles-area funders, including the Weingart Foundation and California Community Foundation and experts in managing and operating charities.
It was timed for Thanksgiving and the start of the season of giving, to be sure. But more importantly, it marked a critical step, long overdue, to place the San Fernando Valley’s philanthropic identity high on the civic agenda. It serves as a call to action for communities throughout the Los Angeles County region.
Most of all, it was a recognition of the dramatic demographic changes that have transformed the Valley from being America’s quintessential suburb – the nation’s largest overwhelmingly middle class (and white) enclave – into what is now America’s quintessential urban core where the divide between rich and poor is deepening and middle class opportunity shrinking.
The contrast between rich and poor is stark, according to data culled from a 2011 study called “A Portrait of California.”
Residents of communities like Panorama City and Arleta have shorter life expectancies, much lower incomes, and much higher rates of diabetes. One-third to half of adults lack high s chool diplomas, and a third as many have college degrees than communities like Woodland Hills.
On “average,” the Valley remains comparatively affluent, but as Bill Allen, head of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. and former head of the Valley Economic Alliance, noted:
“This valley is made of distinctly different communities. There is significant wealth along the foothills of this community. But there are significant challenges with poverty along the Valley floor, particularly in the Northeast Valley. … Participation in the labor force is critical for both physical and psychological health. Losing a job undermines well-being, erodes self-esteem and can chip away at our very identity.”
That was not news to participants in the conference Hiding in Plain Sight: Engaging Philanthropy With San Fernando Valley Nonprofits, an event organized by Valley Council of Governments head Robert Scott, Valley Economic Alliance leader Ron Wood, Valley Community Foundation head Peter McCarty, and Valley Nonprofit Resources Chairman Thomas Backer, among others.