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THE BOTTOM LINE
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A tale of two counties

A groundbreaking study shows a growing gap in social services that, if unchecked, threatens the future of Orange County.

By Steve ChurmPublished: December 01, 2012

Here’s what we know about Orange County: We have a world-class climate and more foreign luxury cars in a mile of roadway than most countries import annually. Our reputation far and wide is a community of “milk and money.”
   
Lights, camera, action: Welcome to the golden O.C. – or so the world believes.
   
Frankly, many of us who live here have bought into this persona as we cruise Coast Highway with the top down in December.
   
But there is another slice of our orange that is sour.
   
Right here, according to the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF), there is widespread want and growing need. This tale of two counties begins with the children; only 55 percent of third-graders read at a proficient level, and 14 percent drop out before graduating from high school. It continues with the working class. A worker earning minimum wage has to work 133 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment. Moreover, one in three O.C. residents lacks access to essential healthcare services.
   
This is not Hollywood’s Botox-infused view of Orange County. Far from it. This is a county with a mounting punch list of issues that, if unchecked, will erode the very foundation that has made this county the envy and aspiration of many.
   
The OCCF is not the first to sound the siren of distress about the county’s vast pool of underserved. It’s just the latest, and it has done so in compelling fashion. Last month, the Foundation issued the results of a six-month study that for the first time pulled together previously reported statistics from scores of public agencies and private organizations about the “other Orange County.” The mission was to shine one high-voltage spotlight on what many inside and out of the county would just as soon be ignored or at least forgotten.
   
“Some of these results were stunning, even to professionals like us who work in the nonprofit field,” Shelly Hoss, president of the OCCF, told OC METRO. “It just takes your breath away.”
   
Peeling back the covers on the three most critical needs – shelter, healthcare and education – this study should be a wake-up call that not all is sunny in our neighborhoods. Orange County may in fact be one of the success stories in America as our nation crawls out of a deep economic hole. Job creation locally is better than most urban centers, and home sales – and prices – are improving. However, there is trouble here in the land of 74-degree weather if we don’t put our collective arms around the growing need pinpointed by the Foundation’s report, prepared in partnership with the global consultant McKinsey & Co.
   
Hoss, United Way’s Max Gardner and OneOC’s Dan McQuaid, among others, are local philanthropic executives rallying dollars and volunteers to supply agencies and groups on the streets, in the shelters and in classrooms with resources to ease suffering and create real change. But they can’t do it alone. It requires those with influence, private and public, to believe that it’s in Orange County’s future interest to acknowledge the reality of a maturing community with critical social needs and then collaborate on ways to deliver tangible solutions.
   
To raise money and, equally important, awareness, the OCCF has launched a new website (ConnectOC.org) that’s loaded with a searchable database of some 600 fully staffed local nonprofits. It’s a start, a good start.
   
It is my holiday wish that we don’t let this effort, and the hard work of so many on behalf of those who have much less, go unreported and unsupported. Give of your time or money or both. Keep Orange County strong.