Here’s What We Think…

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Many of the key non profits and volunteers in Delray Beach are not feeling great these days.

What has them concerned is their relationship with City Hall.

What has them worried is the fear that they will lose funding, assistance and moral support from their local government; support that has helped keep them alive in a tough philanthropic environment.

Admittedly, not many cities have done what Delray Beach has done which is partner with key local non-profits to build a community that –despite its share of issues –has become a very desirable place.

Over the past three decades, Delray has partnered with Old School Square, the Delray Public Library, Achievement Center for Children and Families, Sandoway House Nature Center, S.D. Spady Museum, Chamber of Commerce, local schools, events such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and other organizations to achieve critical community missions.

Partnerships between the city, CRA and chamber have enabled the Delray Marketing Cooperative to produce events and programs that have put Delray on the map while providing experiences for residents and visitors that have made Delray the special place it has become.

That special place not only provides a quality of life for residents and business owners but it also creates economic value while serving residents who need early childhood education (Achievement Center), culture (Arts Garage, Old School Square) and places to celebrate and learn about our history (Spady and Historic Society).

Not every city partners with their non profits like this. And it’s controversial, because taxpayer dollars are used to further these missions.

But we believe it has worked. And that these partnerships have created the town that many love yielding a return on investment that is immeasurable.

The Achievement Center is one of many local non profits that has stepped up to provide critical services to our most at risk children and families. They have decades of success they can point too and have relied on private funds and some city funds to serve thousands of children in our community.

Last week, they sent a letter to City Commissioners concerned about their funding and noted correctly that the costs they incurred was driven by requests made by past city leaders to step up and help fill a needed gap in our city.

While it is controversial to spend public money on some items that may not be traditional city responsibilities one could also argue that if left unmet, these needs would soon overwhelm city services.

In other words, a dollar spent on breaking the cycle of poverty and despair in our city may save us hundreds of dollars in law enforcement costs and other burdens in the future.

That was the bet made in Delray many years ago and it has paid off.

It’s part of our secret sauce.

Admittedly, not everything is perfect. Some non profits have thrived in their missions and others have had uneven performances. But just about all of them fill an important need in our community.

Working together is what creates a village feel. Solving problems collaboratively is what makes for an All America City.

While the CRA has been a stellar partner investing tens of millions in our neediest neighborhoods, they are not a social service agency. That investment needs to be coupled with effective services provided by the likes of our Community Land Trust, Milagro Center, Library etc.

Also important is for non profits, private donors, business partners and volunteers to feel valued by the city and viewed as partners not antagonists or financial drains.

City Hall in a thriving village needs to be seen as a supporter and friend. That doesn’t mean blind support or a lack of accountability. Years ago, non profits were provided training to build board capacity through a program facilitated by the city. The CRA’s A-Guide is also a good template providing standards and accountability for those receiving funds.

But the issue goes deeper to one of culture and appreciation for volunteers.

Many volunteers feel they are ignored and unappreciated. That feeling is a threat to the magic of Delray. It undercuts community.

City leadership –both elected and upper management –need to be cognizant of their relations with non profit and business partners. If the relationship slides, so does the city as a whole.

And that would cost more than any one can calculate. It will cost us what makes Delray special.