2023 Annual Report- Santa Cruz

The Power of Partnership: Community & Collaboration in Santa Cruz County

The Power of Partnership

Community & Collaboration in Santa Cruz County


Rising above the intersection of Grand Avenue and Crawford Street in Nogales, Arizona, the seat of Santa Cruz County, the restored clock tower of the Historic Nogales City Hall and Fire Station has watched over the borderlands for more than a century, a brick-and-mortar monument clad in stucco the color of desert sand and capped with a dome the creamy white of saguaro blossoms.

Today, the building is home to the Pimeria Alta Historical Society (PAHS), a nonprofit that, since 1948, has been dedicated to preserving and sharing the region’s history and heritage, home to a research library, rotating exhibits, newspaper archive, photography collection, and more.

Last year, PAHS was one of 15 nonprofits to benefit from funds that Santa Cruz County received through the 2021 Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), passed by Congress to help rebuild communities hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. While local governments had broad latitude in how they could spend ARPA funding, the County Board of Supervisors prioritized direct investment in their communities, directing $1.5 million of $9 million received to businesses and other organizations. The Santa Cruz Community Foundation (SCCF, a geographic affiliate of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona) helped market the program and select awardees.

In partnership with neighboring La Linea Art Studio, a cooperative art and event space with the mission of enriching Ambos Nogales (both cities of Nogales) through studio spaces, galleries, classes, and workshops, the organization channeled its grant funding in ongoing work to revitalize downtown Nogales and the Morley Avenue Arts District with investments to support exhibitions, classes, history tours, and public art projects, including “Nogales,” a mural by local artist Carlos Ibarra.

The 36’ by 18’ painting represents the sister cities of Nogales on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border: two babies, gigantic and diaphanous, embody the sun and moon, floating over a townscape, facing one another across a towering tree that bears a massive heart with echoes of the classic “córazon” image from traditional Lotería cards but suggesting a melding of humanity, industry, and nature.

“With COVID, the closing down of the border, and the devaluation of the peso, a lot of the business and tourism that used to come up from Mexico has decreased,” said Christine Courtland, president of PAHS. “Downtown Nogales [Arizona] has suffered, and a lot of places have shuttered.”

As part of the effort to unshutter those buildings, historical societies across the region have formed a coalition, representing Rio Rico, Patagonia, and Tubac. Organizers hope to soon recruit communities on the Mexico side of the border.

“It’s really exciting to have gotten this started and be working together to revitalize our communities,” Courtland said. “We’re all small nonprofits and working together is the only way to make this happen.”

That strategy resonates with Christopher Young, chair of the advisory board of SCCF.

At the same time, Young points out that working in rural communities brings some distinct advantages, which make those collaborations even more feasible. “We’re very family-centered here, and very close­knit,” he said, “We all know one another, so we can just pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, can you meet this afternoon?’ whereas that might not happen in a larger city. In rural communities, things can get done a lot more quickly.”

Both ideas — the importance of collaboration and the ability to streamline processes to make things happen — were on full display this past year in two grant programs administered by Santa Cruz County working together with consultant Angie Donelson, SCCF, and CFSA.

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Collaboration by Design

In the wake of C0VID-19, Santa Cruz County received $1.5 million through the American Rescue Plan Act, earmarked to help strengthen local communities and accelerate pandemic recovery for local businesses, nonprofits, and working artists. To strategize the best way to leverage those funds, County officials tapped the expertise of Angie Donelson, PhD, a longtime city planner turned consultant working as an economic geographer and a social scientist focused on the impact of place-­based investments.

Donelson developed two programs — one for forgivable loans, one for grants — then teamed up with the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and its geographic affiliate, the Santa Cruz County Community Foundation, to implement the programs in the spring of 2022.

The forgivable loans program, which distributed $1 million among 77 businesses, working artists, and not-for­profit organizations, was designed to infuse essential capital into the County’s communities. There was an innovative twist: for the loan to be forgiven, recipients were tasked with allocating 10% of the loans toward either building operational capacity or strengthening other organizations in the community. The latter was done by making donations, volunteering in schools, or providing otherwise paid services free-of-charge.

“The intent was twofold,” Donelson explained. “Not just stabilizing businesses and organizations directly, but also fostering broader impact within the community.”

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In parallel, the grants program focused specifically on nonprofits with proposals that would not only mitigate specific damages from the pandemic but also strengthen the community overall. CFSA managed the application process, with proposals evaluated by SCCF based on their deep expertise with regard to local organizations and community needs. The process resulted in $480,000 distributed among 15 recipients, and as with the forgivable loans program, the initiative incorporated an unusual requirement to leverage the power of collaboration: no organization was eligible for a grant on its own. In fact, all proposals had to be built on a partnership with at least one other group.

“Partnerships are critical to success,” Donelson said. “While an organization might do many things well, no organization does everything well. So, when we join forces, that collective effort produces more than the sum of the parts.”

Also key to the grants program was ensuring that applicants were qualified for federal funding. Many applicants had never received federal funds before, including 9 of the 15 organizations that were ultimately awarded grants, and the process of making an organization compliant — meeting criteria that encompasses accounting, record-keeping, reporting, and more — can be a steep climb, especially for nonprofits already strapped for resources. But it’s a climb with a great view at its crest.

“If you’re a small nonprofit and you haven’t gone through that process before, once you’re federally compliant, it’s a huge leap forward, allowing you to apply for other federal money in the future,” Donelson said, noting that many of the groups who took on that challenge later shared their appreciation. “Several talked about how just through that process they’d already grown as an organization, integrated new best practices, learned
so much,” she said. “It was hard work, but it was also wonderful to see that and hear that.”

In the end, the nearly 100 awards between both programs fueled recovery in communities across Santa Cruz County: Amado, Carmen, Nogales, Patagonia, Rio Rico, Tubac, and Tumacacori. Funding supported an incredible range of initiatives: a youth agribusiness incubator, a community kitchen, professional development for artists, home rehabilitation, environmental restoration, local journalism, tourism, regional economic development, and dozens of independent small businesses. What all had in common was people and organizations coming together to build back their communities.

“We’re all interdependent,” Donelson said, architect of that unique dimension to the Santa Cruz County ARPA programs. “We can do programs on our own and do great work. But when people collaborate, there’s magic. I don’t know how else to say that.”

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South32 Hermosa Community Fund

While many of the organizations working to empower communities in Santa Cruz County have been around for decades, a relative newcomer is the global mining and minerals company South32. Since it acquired the Hermosa project in 2018, South32 has worked with CFSA to catalyze community development and provide vital support for nonprofits. Through the South32 Hermosa Community Fund, a donor advised fund with CFSA, the company has invested nearly a million dollars in the county via grants since the fund’s inception in 2019.

One notable beneficiary of the South32 Hermosa Community Fund’s support is a job training program through the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Cruz County. Geared towards high school students entering the workforce, the initiative offers hands-on experience and essential skill training. Ongoing support from the South32 Hermosa Community Fund helps the program prepare youth for meaningful employment, benefiting students as well as the broader community.

“The program highlights a key element of South32’s philanthropy, which has emphasized capacity-building and sustainability from the outset,” said Judy Brown, Head of South32’s External Affairs. “It’s the same idea as the old adage, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,”’ she continued, noting that historically, mining operations have often been part of a boom-and-bust cycle in surrounding communities.

“To prevent something like that from occurring, what can we do is, from the beginning, work toward capacity-building in communities,” Brown said. “Whether that’s transferable skills for high school students or infrastructure project for nonprofits, so that they can grow in a sustainable way that’s not dependent on any particular company or industry.”

While much of that work is done through South32 Hermosa Community Fund grants, South32 also collaborates directly with nonprofit organizations in local communities, by supporting grant-writing workshops and committing in-kind resources, like a transformative investment in the East Santa Cruz County Food Bank.

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Delivering on the Promise of Community

The East Santa Cruz County Food Bank evolved from humble beginnings into a critical resource for food-insecure people and households across the region. Established in 1984 by volunteers (and still run entirely by volunteers to this day), the organization initially operated from the trunk of a car, then expanded to take over a rented garage, before graduating to a multipurpose room of about 400 square feet in a Catholic church — still a small space from which to provide a lifeline to thousands experiencing food insecurity across 700 square miles.

Over those years, the Food Bank has grown its reach with indispensable support from the South32 Hermosa Community Fund.

“They help a lot in terms of finding the people that need our help and letting them know that we’re here,” said James Staudacher, President of the East Santa Cruz Food Bank. “They also support us with funding, and we try to make that really simple. Because we’re all volunteers, it’s not a complex budget. If you give us money, we’re going to spend it on food, and we’re going to give that food to people away.”

That simplicity doesn’t erase the fact that for food banks, more really is more, and last year South32 delivered more — much more. The company turned an empty building it had acquired in Patagonia into the new headquarters for the East Santa Cruz County Food Bank — an act that has dramatically increased the nonprofit’s ability to serve county residents in need, Staudacher said.

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South32 remodeled the facility to create an industrial­scale warehouse, complete with a loading dock and large commercial refrigerator, enabling the Food Bank to now also procure and distribute perishables like milk and eggs, a capability they previously lacked. The South32 grant also equipped the new facility with essential shelving, tables, and pallet jacks, further boosting the group’s operational capacity and efficiency.

The benefit of all that support not only directly helps the Food Bank and its clientele, but the benefits also ripple out through the organization’s collaborators, including the Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center, Senior Citizens of Patagonia, schools, and church groups. These alliances pool efforts for food drives, outreach programs, and educational initiative that help provide food and inclusive, holistic development, and self-sufficiency across the County.

“It’s always a challenge to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks. We have 700 square miles in Eastern Santa Cruz County, but when we find people who need a delivery, we make that delivery,” Staudacher said.

He continued, “The strength of working in a rural county lies in the relationships between people and a real dedication to taking care of your neighbors. That’s what we do, with help from partners like South32 and the Community Foundation, who have just been so incredibly competent and thoughtful. We try to foster a real sense of community for the whole community, and partners like that make it so much more possible.”

Read CFSA’s full 2023 Annual Report here.

“In rural communities, where you may not have the same resources as a metropolitan area, you need to leverage collaboration. One entity might be strong in one area, another entity strong in another area, so working together, they bring that combined strength to the table. There are less than 48,000 people across this entire county, so collaboration is a must.”

— Christopher Young

“The strength of working in a rural county lies in the relationships between people and a real dedication to taking care of your neighbors. That’s what we do, with help from partners like South32 and the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona.”

— James Staudacher