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‘They’re good for business and good for the community’ and deserve our ongoing supportAt the recent 2011 North Bay Economic Outlook breakfast event hosted by Bank of Marin, I was joined by Robert Eyler, economics department chair at Sonoma State University and interim CEO of Marin Economic Forum and Jared Huffman, 6th District Assembly Member representing Marin and Southern Sonoma counties.

We spoke about what is working and what isn’t for business and job growth in the North Bay, including the challenges facing non-profit organizations that employ more than 10 percent of workers in Marin County.

While it may seem unrealistic to ask businesses and all of us personally to support non-profits and charitable organizations at this time, our economic infrastructure is reliant on a healthy non-profit system.

With more than 1,700 non-profit organizations in Marin alone, we cannot afford to lose these organizations that provide so much support to our families, our schools and to our communities.  In addition to providing valuable services, these organizations also supply many jobs throughout the North Bay.

At Bank of Marin we support many organizations across a variety of needs, from education and the arts, to affordable housing and youth services. In 2010, we donated $370,000 to local non-profits. In addition our employees donated more than 7,000 hours in volunteer time. Our employees also sit on more than 70 non-profit boards. Many of the organizations we support are also our customers who are doing great things for communities both here and abroad. The opportunity to work with non-profits as businesses also helps our own business, creating a positive cycle of support and opportunity for all parties.

As an example, we’ve had the rewarding experience of working with Buckelew Programs, based in San Rafael for the past 20 years. They are a valuable customer and an important organization providing homes and jobs to people with a mental illness in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties so they can live healthy and productive lives. Buckelew also operates two social enterprise businesses, creating employment opportunities for people who have been disconnected from the workforce due to behavioral health disorders.

We have also had the unique experience to work with Roots of Peace, a San Rafael-based organization that is currently leading an ambitious $2.5 million campaign to demine and replant in Israel and the West Bank. This three-year commitment will literally help turn “mines to vines” and the timing couldn’t be better, or more challenging, particularly with the current unrest in the Middle East.

With offices and 10 employees in downtown San Rafael, Roots of Peace is run by Marin-resident, Heidi Kuhn, and has more than 500 employees globally.  The financial and business support that we give to Roots of Peace is a unique opportunity for a local community bank to support a non-profit that is global in its reach.

Heidi’s daughter, Kyleigh, started the Roots of Peace Penny Campaign program here in Marin, which has now become a successful local and global fundraising campaign. Bill Murray, the founder of Bank of Marin, contributed the first pennies to the Penny Campaign eight years ago. Bill donated $1,000 worth of pennies that he had saved for generations, which marked the beginning of a long-term and mutually rewarding partnership between Bank of Marin and Roots of Peace.

Closer to home, Bank of Marin also works with the Marin Literacy Program (MLP), a non-profit organization that provides Marin County adults, youth and families with free student-centered instruction in reading, writing and speaking to help them reach their full potential in all areas of their lives.  Founded in 1985 and based in San Rafael, the program serves more than 1,000 adults each year.

In addition to being an important customer of Bank of Marin, we’ve had the great experience of watching one of our employees excel as a result of participating in the program.  Jaime Ortiz, who arrived in the United States speaking little English, was tutored by MLP, proceeded to get a college education, and is now an assistant vice president and assistant manager with Bank of Marin at our San Rafael branch.  Marin Literacy is facing significant budget cuts for this year. Our business has benefited greatly from this program and it will be a big loss to Marin County if this program has to deny services to promising students like Jaime.

We are grateful for our relationship with organizations like Buckelew Programs, Roots of Peace and Marin Literacy who are making a profound socioeconomic impact on communities in our backyard and around the world. While we are continually faced with hardship here at home and beyond our borders, it is inspiring to see non-profit organizations and local companies rise to the challenge.

These relationships are mutually beneficial, inspiring and rewarding.  They’re good for business and good for the community.

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Russell A. Colombo is the chief executive officer of Bank of Marin. He can be reached at president@bankofmarin.com.