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City of La Mesa – Partners Provide Foundation for Successful Relationships with Philanthropy

Case Story

As a built-out city with an aging population, the City of La Mesa has pursued an ambitious agenda to improve community health. The city has made a number of program, policy, and infrastructure investments that support healthy environments for all members of the community. La Mesa’s efforts have been led by the Community Services Department and directed by the expressed needs and extensive involvement of the community. In the process, La Mesa has blazed a trail of community wellness efforts that are collaborative, innovative, and effective in protecting and improving the health of the diverse array of residents in La Mesa. Key to the city’s success has been their success in attracting philanthropic and government grants to fund their efforts.

Community: City of La Mesa (San Diego County)

Population: 54,749

Summary

As a built-out city with an aging population, the City of La Mesa has pursued an ambitious agenda to improve community health. The city has made a number of program, policy, and infrastructure investments that support healthy environments for all members of the community. La Mesa’s efforts have been led by the Community Services Department and directed by the expressed needs and extensive involvement of the community. In the process, La Mesa has blazed a trail of community wellness efforts that are collaborative, innovative, and effective in protecting and improving the health of the diverse array of residents in La Mesa. Key to the city’s success has been their success in attracting philanthropic and government grants to fund their efforts.

Health Connection

There are a number of philanthropies across the nation interested in funding organizations that work to improve health through environmental and policy change.

Funders look for strong ties to the community and are attracted to grantees that have the ability to leverage long-term solutions through short-term funding. Often, health agencies and organizations and schools have established relationships with funders and other community organizations and are willing to collaborate with cities or counties on grant applications.

Program Highlights

  • The city council supported the creation of a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in response to needs within the community services department. Separate from the city council, the nonprofit has a board of directors comprised solely of community members.
  • Long standing partnerships with the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District (LMSVSD) and the San Diego County Department of Health and Human Services increased La Mesa’s profile with funders and expanded grant opportunities.
  • The approval of the Childhood Obesity Master Plan by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors helped forge a partnership between city and county leaders, increasing leadership support at the policy level and providing a framework and direction for continuing policy efforts to improve community health.

Lessons Learned

  • Staff’s previous experience working in non-profits provided a foundation for understanding how to partner with funders and leverage small pots of money from many places to accomplish big goals.
  • Collaborating with traditional grantees – public health departments, community-based organizations, and current grantees – increased the city’s visibility and competitiveness as a grantee.
  • Philanthropic support can bolster local agency activities, but localities need to deliver on the promises laid out in the grant and be prepared for when funding ends.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

Background

The east region of San Diego County is host to the highest rates of diagnosed diabetes, heart disease, and obesity in the county – with 40% of the adult population overweight and 23% obese. Obesity can affect school performance and has profound impacts on health and healthcare costs, particularly for older adults. Following the decision by the Board of Supervisors to adopt the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative, the County of San Diego, the City of La Mesa, and the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District (LMSVSD) came together to support innovative policy and program efforts to make changes in the environment to support healthy choices for their residents.

The culture within the leadership of the City of La Mesa is to value 1) leveraging resources, 2) collaboration, and 3) engaging the community and honoring civic engagement – providing a foundation for successful efforts with real impact. Following the success of a grant from the National League of Cities, the city looked forward to engaging with new and past partners in grant opportunities presented by the county health department and the school district (ie: a grant from the federal Safe Routes to School program). The initial partnerships that developed through the technical assistance planning grants from the National League of Cities (NLC) led to more opportunities- including a grant from the American Association of School Administrators (AASA.

School district and county public health staff have been essential to La Mesa’s success in pursuing grant opportunities. The La Mesa-Spring Valley School District has been a long term partner with the City, providing land for recreational opportunities. Additionally, staff from the public health department have taken a leadership role in scouting out new opportunities and have been willing to provide in-kind support for many of La Mesa’s wellness efforts.

Applicability to Other Communities

Local agencies and philanthropic institutions can learn each other’s language and start the conversation! Localities interested in doing work around community wellness, need to be willing to search for partners and articulate why it makes sense for a particular partner or funder to be at the table in terms that each understands. Work within your agency and explain how partners and grant opportunities can help multiple departments achieve their objectives and lead in turn to more opportunities. As relationships with funders evolve, be prepared to share your expertise with the philanthropic community to increase their understanding of how local agencies work.

 

Compiled December 2009

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