Local Governments and Non-Profits: Building Community Through Partnership

About the Author

Rick Morse

Rick Morse is an associate professor of public administration and government at the UNC School of Government.

Photo by Crissy Pascual, Argus-Courier (Oct. 20, 2016)

NBC News recently aired a short feel-good story during its Nightly News broadcast about a code enforcement officer working for the City of Petaluma, California. Joe Garcia had received multiple complaints about a dilapidated home surrounded by overgrown weeds. Clearly the home was out of compliance, and so the natural course of action would be a warning and fine. But that’s not what happened. What happened instead is an example not only of decency and caring, but of the power within communities to build community and improve quality of life through partnerships. In this case, Joe learned about the homeowner, WWII vet Albert Pericou. He found out that Mr. Pericou lacked the resources and physical ability to keep up with his property. Joe realized that something could be done about it. He knew about a non-profit organization called Rebuilding Together and made a connection between Mr. Pericou and the organization. Before long, community volunteers, including Joe Garcia, with the help of a $10,000 donation by Home Depot, were giving Mr. Pericou’s home and yard a makeover.

The result of course goes well beyond a nicer-looking (and compliant) property in Petaluma. Mr. Pericou had new friends and improved quality of life. The neighborhood was improved. And the social fabric of the community became just a little bit stronger. This is a great story about building community. You can read about it here and also watch the short NBC News feature here.

This is a great story of community partnership. You have a national non-profit organization with a fantastic mission and nationwide reach in Rebuilding Together. You have an active local chapter that engages community volunteers in helping people in their community. You have a local government with employees that think beyond the narrow confines of their job description and understand that they are public servants and ultimately their role is to help make the community a better place to live. I love this quote by interim police chief Ken Savano, commenting on the initiative of Joe Garcia in sparking the effort to help Mr. Pericou:

“We are in the service of public service….When we can take a few minutes and stop and help someone in need, that’s what we’re about. It doesn’t just have to be when things have gone sideways – we can create a better quality of life, one house at a time, one person at a time.”

And finally, you had a private business, The Home Depot that enabled the volunteers to really make a significant difference through a $10,000 donation of materials and supplies. The newspaper article noted that the Petaluma Rebuilding Together, in 2016, “will have put 639 volunteers to work on 62 home repair and civic improvement projects, with the skilled volunteer labor and in-kind contributions totaling up to $517,000 in home improvements for homeowners in need” throughout the community.

So, yes, this is a feel-good story. But I’d like to suggest that it is a story that happens over-and-over again in communities large and small. It highlights the value of community non-profit organizations. It highlights the value of local government playing an active role in community development. It highlights the importance of community volunteerism. It points to the importance of for-profit businesses contributing to community-building efforts. And more than anything, it highlights the synergy that occurs when these efforts are in-sync with each other. Building stronger communities, in many respects, happens bit-by-bit through efforts like the renovation of Mr. Pericou’s property. And isolated efforts are made all the time and add value. But when the different sectors of the community (businesses, non-profits, government) come together to build community, their efforts can yield results greater than the sum of their individual parts. This is a simple story, and not a terribly complex partnership. In fact, the connections were by-and-large informal. There are countless other examples of formal partnerships between the sectors at the local level too. But I like the simple, straightforward way this story illustrates how all the sectors play a role, and how a spirit of public service and community building is at the heart of these efforts.

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