Reflections on 2023

Building the Future, Rooted in the Past

This guest commentary by our CEO Susan True was originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Sunday, December 31, 2023.

With Rowland Rebele’s recent passing, and at year’s end, I’ve been reflecting on how this community was built — and continues to be nurtured — by individuals taking action together. I lovingly believe that the best way to honor our elders’ legacies and prepare the ground for our future elders, is to strengthen our acts of service, purpose, responsibility, and generosity as we move into 2024.

Jack Baskin. Diane Porter Cooley. Georgia and Harry Brauer. Hal Hyde. And now Reb. In the past several years we’ve lost giants in our community who used their extraordinary circumstances as opportunities to serve. I feel fortunate beyond measure to have known a few of these giants, learned their stories, and felt their sense of responsibility for serving this place we all call home. I feel their love for us and our community every day as we rely on the trusted organizations and institutions which they helped build and sustain — including the Community Foundation.

Whether they had deep, generational roots in Santa Cruz County or chose it as their home, these philanthropists and community leaders rolled up their sleeves and got to work. They lived through the Depression, World War II, and the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras. They took a lifetime of experience and set about making the world a better place in their own backyard. As Diane once said to me, “Community is about living life together. It’s about getting through hard times, floods, and fire; camping with girl scouts; serving meals and building clinics; helping kids and planting trees.”

There are so many others who served our community — and shared in the creation of what is beloved today — who are due our boundless gratitude. And I thank all of YOU who are stepping up now to meet our community’s needs while also ensuring a future where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

We’re building on the foundation laid for us by those who have gone before. Our responsibility to take action together pays respect to the people who built Cabrillo College, opened shelters, launched health clinics, preserved working agricultural lands, conserved wetlands and forests, invested in artists, pushed for social reforms, and cared for one another.

Today, we’re building the foundation for those who come after us and solving problems that are too big to solve alone. We turn to historians to uncover and uplift the stories of early Chinese, Black, and Filipino county residents and to learn about the Awaswas and Mutsun speaking people. We support a new generation of leaders meeting the needs of belonging, identity, and purpose for our youth. We see promise in strong coalitions addressing the impact of climate change and strategies for resilience. We acknowledge the movement-building work of intercultural, inter-generational, and inter-racial leaders working to heal from trauma and build a vibrant future. We hold close those who care for isolated and vulnerable seniors as well as teach our youngest learners. We honor those who build organizations to meet new challenges and those who nurture our steadfast and trusted nonprofits. We thank those who give timely, flexible, and enduring resources to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.

It takes all of us, working together, to set the course.

The elders that have passed on recently were some of our community’s old-growth redwoods. But as we know, when a redwood tree falls in the forest, it nurtures everything around it for generations and hosts a multitude of new life. And, when a giant redwood falls, a new window opens in the forest canopy, welcoming in nourishing sunlight for those that are left.

As the new year dawns, we’ll take strength from our elders, and turn to the sun together as we take on the challenges of today and build a more just, equitable, vibrant, and resilient tomorrow.