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Transforming Disparate Communities: Promising Solutions for Orange County

Transforming Disparate Communities: Promising Solutions for Orange County

A report just released by the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) pairs eye-opening information about a deep divide in the well-being of local residents with promising approaches to our county’s greatest challenges. Many of our residents are hanging by a thread. It’s time to act.

Failure to Thrive
Startling disparities exist when it comes to health and wellness in Orange County. In fact, out of all U.S. Congressional Districts, two adjoining districts in Orange County rank on opposite ends of the spectrum. The 48th District, mostly South Orange County, is ranked among the best in the nation – the top 3 percent – in terms of access to food, shelter and medical care, and top 2 percent in well-being. But the 47th District, located just north, is in the bottom one percent in the nation for basic access and bottom 30 percent for well-being. In our backyard?

Community-based clinics and sliding scale payment options can fill critical gaps. Places like the Lestonnac Free Clinic provide free medical care for the uninsured – nearly 9,000 patients received care in 2011. Healthy Smiles provides dental screenings and preventative care to nearly 10,000 students at underserved schools. We need to bolster these existing efforts and create others.

Hunger Pains
OCCF’s ConnectOC Community Report also reveals that one in five children in Orange County has no idea if they will get their next meal or where it will come from. Imagine trying to tackle challenging subjects in school when you’re hungry, not to mention the significant health implications for these growing children. We can ensure children have enough to eat by sustaining organizations that increase access to nutritious foods. For instance, Second Harvest Food Bank provides food to 240,000 individuals each month. The Community Action Partnership Farm 2 Kids program provides fresh produce to tens of thousands of low-income children, in addition to teaching nutrition lessons.

Bridging the Gap
And perhaps most important of all is addressing the education gap in our county. The fact is that we’re falling behind. Average per pupil spending in Orange County is consistently lower than state and national averages. So while some of our children attend excellent schools, many more are in stressed and under-resourced schools. This means class sizes are larger, students get less interaction with teachers and risk falling further behind, and fewer young adults will go on to college. We can make a difference by supporting programs that help children enter school ready to learn, and overcome barriers to academic success. THINK Together has helped the Santa Ana School District significantly increase student achievement scores through its literacy and learning programs for at-risk students. We need more programs like this.

We must act now. Without shelter or food to eat, students can’t focus on learning and fall further behind. Without an educated workforce, companies will take jobs elsewhere. And rising unemployment will lead to more families who are hungry, hurting and without hope for the future. The gap between the thriving and surviving will widen, and we’ll all be affected by diminished quality of life in Orange County.

What We Can Do
There’s no simple solution to fix these problems, but working together – with the public and private sectors each doing their part– we can make progress. Private philanthropy plays a critical role, and will continue to be instrumental as our cities, county, state and nation work to balance budgets, decrease the deficit and grow the economy. But we as individuals are essential too – one person taking action can make a difference.

What can you do to help Orange County move toward a healthier, safer, more prosperous future where our children get top notch education, businesses thrive and adequate food and housing are no longer luxuries too many can’t afford? Volunteer to tutor a child. Get involved on the board of a local nonprofit. Offer pro bono services from your company or small business to defray expenses for a worthy cause. Open your eyes to the realities in our community and explore how you can lend a hand to create a better Orange County. The future of Orange County depends on it. It depends on all of us.

Julie Hill is the former CEO of Costain Homes, serves as a director for WellPoint and Lord Abbett Mutual Funds, and is on the advisory board for the Orange County Community Foundation.She is a Newport Coast resident.
Wallace Walrod, Ph.D. is chief economic advisor for the Orange County Business Council.
Both were part of the community leadership team that advised OCCF throughout the development of ConnectOC.

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