Some of the private organizations that provide vital services and programs to the people of Long Beach rely on an invisible means of support. That assistance comes from a group of volunteers calling themselves Long Beach Cares. “We exist primarily to support and promote the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services,” said Long Beach Cares President Nancy Lewis. “We also spend a substantial amount of our time helping private organizations that do a lot of good in their communities but do not have nonprofit status.”
Founded in 1993, Long Beach Cares has worked quietly behind the scenes to educate the public on the importance of the health department and to enable small organizations to meet myriad needs in various communities. “We act as the fiscal agent for groups that have emergency funding for women, children, seniors, and homeless people,” Lewis said. “Some of the things those small organizations do are related to the programs of the health department, and some are not.”
Theresa Marino, Long Beach Cares vice president, described one of the groups the organization helps. She explained that the health department’s nursing division has a program called Senior Links. “Through this program, a health department nurse and a social worker go out and find frail, vulnerable seniors who have no resources and no health insurance,” she said. “Then the nurse and social worker arrange for the resources to be provided to the seniors.”
Those resources, according to Marino, could be anything from healthcare services to payment of utility bills to money for the purchase of a new refrigerator. Until a few years ago, Senior Links was well funded by the health department. Then came the economic recession. Revenues decreased, and the health department had to make budget cuts– including a significant reduction of funding for Senior Links. “That’s when Long Beach Cares stepped in,” Marino said. “We were able to take a donation from Soroptimist International of Long Beach and channel it to Senior Links, enabling that vital program to continue operating.”
The Central Neighborhood Action Committee (CNAC) also uses Long Beach Cares as its fiscal agent. CNAC, which does not have nonprofit status, operates in the vicinity of Martin Luther King Jr. Park. It supports the local branch library and holds multicultural, educational, and recreational events for the children who live in that area. “Donations to CNAC go to Long Beach Cares, because we are a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit group,” Marino explained. “We then place the money into a subaccount that can only be used for CNAC expenditures.”
Lori Brault, past president of Long Beach Cares, noted that the organization currently has 24 subaccounts for various community groups, specific health department programs, and programs run by hospitals and other organizations that partner with the health department. “We act as fiscal agent for groups that ask us to do that as long as the services they provide to the community meet the mission of Long Beach Cares,” she said. “That means they have to somehow be related to the health of the people they serve.”
According to Brault, while Long Beach Cares channels donations to some of the health department’s programs, the organization does not provide major funding for the health department. She added that Long Beach Cares has an annual budget of $35,000 to $50,000 per year. Most of that goes to private organizations. Some helps pay for the coordinating of events run by healthcare agencies that partner with the health department, and some directly helps support underfunded health department programs.
“We partner with about 30 different local organizations,” Marino said. “We don’t run the programs; we just help facilitate their programs and events like health education and health fairs and things done to benefit local communities.”
In addition, according to Marino, Long Beach Cares offers one scholarship per year to a Long Beach City College student that is in a nursing or health-related course of study. “We also have small scholarship opportunities for public-health nurses, health educators, and public-health professionals to attend public-health conferences, seminars, trainings or workshops,” she added
Lewis, Marino and Brault have been associated with the health department for many years. Lewis worked for the health department for approximately 30 years, starting as a public-health nurse, retiring as director of nursing in 2001, and then working as a consultant for the department until 2008. Marino sat on the Long Beach Board of Health and Human Services from 1988 to 1994, and she was one of the founding members of Long Beach Cares. She also worked for the health department as an administrator for about 20 years, retiring in 2011. Brault, who is a nurse practitioner, worked as a healthcare professional for various organizations for 30 years including a stint as director of health services at California State University Fullerton. She sat on the Long Beach Board of Health and Human Services from 1995 to 2006, joined Long Beach Cares in 2006, and was president of that organization from 2009 to 2011.
Including Lewis, Marino and Brault, Long Beach Cares currently has only nine members. They are all on the board, and they are all volunteers. The organization conducts its meetings free of charge in the health department headquarters at 2525 Grand Avenue in Long Beach.
This is the first of a two-part series. Next week, Lewis, Marino and Brault discuss how the health department benefits Long Beach residents and the local economy.