Uncovering the Best Nonprofits in Santa Cruz County

Uncovering the Best Nonprofits in Santa Cruz County

By Teresa Ruiz Decker

The first time I volunteered in Santa Cruz was four years ago with the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter on their development and fundraising committee. The bright, beautifully maintained shelter on 7th street perennially keeps its doors open to cats, dogs, rabbits, horses and almost any animal that needs a temporary home. I loved attending those fundraising meetings because you could see, hear and feel how important the shelter’s mission is just by standing in the building. I’m happy to say I was part of a team that helped put on the shelter’s first high end fundraising dinner to help animals in our county find forever homes. I didn’t know it then, but volunteering has been one of the single best things I could have done for myself. It set me on a path of wholeheartedly joining the vibrant, altruistic and dedicated nonprofit community we have here in Santa Cruz County.

Diving in to the local nonprofit scene

Over the years I continued connecting with nonprofit organizations like Save Our Shores, Shared Adventures, The Homeless Garden Project, Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County, Marcom for Nonprofits, Young NonProfit Professionals Network Central Coast and more. During this time I also moved from being a nonprofit supporter to being a non profit employee. As the communications and marketing manager at Society for Advancing Native Americans and Chicanos in Sciences I run marketing campaigns, work on websites, create publications and write stories — all around our work of diversifying the STEM fields.

Teresa Ruiz Decker

Teresa and her daughter Selena at a Save Our Shores clean up for Rodeo Gulch in Santa Cruz.

Through my volunteer and professional work I meet nonprofit professionals all across our county from Watsonville to Scotts Valley, and of course here in Santa Cruz. These are people who wake up ready to do good daily. Advocates of peace and prosperity I consider every day super heroes. They spend hours upon hours running food banks, helping abused women, removing graffiti and trash, running arts programs, advocating for education and opening their home to abandoned animals. When I hear about their work of social justice, economic equality, environmental conservation, education, and the arts I am always inspired. Yet as good as the work is, our nonprofit community still has a lot of work to do — and it’s not just about helping others. We also need to help ourselves.

Teaching each other how to evolve

Anyone who’s familiar with the nonprofit world knows our organizations need to evolve the way we work in order to stay relevant, attract and retain the best talent and ultimately reach our goals of seeing lasting change in the world. There’s a lot of talk about the need to become sustainable beyond donations, but no roadmap on how to do this because we’re all learning as we go along. That’s what interests me the most. Telling the stories of our nonprofits that make Santa Cruz so amazing, with a focus on how we can empower our local changemakers to be even more successful in furthering their causes. I want this column to be a place for sharing ideas, advice, how-tos and resources that will improve the way our local for-good organizations work.

I heart my nonprofit

First up? A “Why I love my nonprofit job” series where I’ll find out why some nonprofits really are the best places to work in Santa Cruz County. My hope is by asking questions and opening up the conversation about what works well at our for-good organizations, we can spread ideas, exchange tips and spark innovation to make our nonprofit community stronger and the work we do even more impactful. You can look for my latest post in the TIE newsletter twice a month. See you in a few weeks!

Teresa Ruiz Decker has spent the last 10+ years working in marketing and communications within the private, public and nonprofit sectors. Her love of storytelling started with a book writing exercise in third grade. “The Reindeer’s Secret” was never published widely, but it did lead her down the road to a degree in journalism, a master’s in communication management and sparked a lifelong love for singing Christmas carols all year long. She volunteers and sings carols regularly in their Pleasure Point home in Santa Cruz, CA.

Written by Teresa Ruiz Decker

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