Nonprofits are critical to the well-being of Howard County. Their programs and services fill the gap between what government can provide and what is profitable for the business community to provide.

A vast continuum of needs must be maintained to keep individuals, families and our community strong. Howard County has well over 1,000 nonprofit organizations created to meet transportation, employment, health and mental health, education, housing, financial management, and arts and recreational needs. This number and diversity is a testament to the dedication of our community to create an environment in which all our residents can thrive.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Some might say we have too many nonprofits, but just as clothing stores and physicians specialize, nonprofits also tailor their services and programs to meet distinct needs. While there may appear to be an overabundance of family support services, for instance, some specialize in families experiencing separation or divorce, while others tailor their programs to those dealing with chronic illness or disability.

In fact, the abundance of nonprofits signifies the passion and experience of county residents and the diversity of needs that they are inspired to address.

Connecting is key. The Association of Community Services of Howard County (ACS) was created by nonprofit leaders more than 50 years ago to help connect and elevate the capacity of the Howard County nonprofit community.

Collaborations continue to develop out of topical ACS meetings that bring together nonprofit, business and community leaders who share common goals. Our elected officials participate in our Annual Conversations so that they can discuss issues of common concern with service providers.

Twenty thousand copies of ACS’s Directory of Community Services are distributed throughout the county each year to help residents and service providers connect. Now, ACS is working to connect service providers and their clients in an even more direct and meaningful way.

A Central Hub

Co-location of services would take nonprofit connections and provider service to the next level. Working with government and community leaders, ACS currently is facilitating an effort to develop a nonprofit center. This center would enable residents to access needed services from multiple providers in one facility and enable providers to coordinate client services, maximize their operational effectiveness and reduce program inefficiencies.

A single family emergency, such as an illness or layoff, can create a cascade of related problems — financial, emotional, marital, educational, health. Connecting the family to the programs that will help them to prevent these problems or respond to them quickly is critical to keeping them stable.

This takes a coordinated response from providers who are familiar with available programs and the people/organizations that provide them and have established a system for collaborating with them, and ideally, a one-stop shop where people in crisis can access these services quickly and conveniently.

Based upon the experience of several hundred nonprofit centers already established across the country, these community resources set the stage for ongoing interaction among staff from different organizations. These relationships naturally develop into collaborations that improve and streamline service provision. Moreover, if there is overlap between existing programs, partnership opportunities are created that maximize the use of limited resources.

The 125 organizations and community advocates that comprise ACS — nonprofit, faith-based, government and business — are working to ensure that our community is supported with the services and programs it needs to stay strong and healthy. ACS member participation and input enable ACS to develop new opportunities, such as a nonprofit center, to improve the services that keep Howard County residents moving forward.

Joan Driessen is executive director of the Association of Community Services of Howard County. She can be reached at [email protected].