Ask CA: What is CA?
Welcome to our brand new Ask CA series!
If you didn’t know, CA is made up of all sorts of experts in everything from sustainability to wellness, finance to technology and more. We want to know questions YOU have about our community, our organization and anything our team can help answer.
To kick things off, we’re answering one of the most basic questions of all… What is CA?
Speaking broadly, the mission of our nonprofit community services organization is to enhance the quality of life in Columbia. We’re committed to the founding goals of this unique and diverse community: stewardship, wellness and inclusion. To achieve this, CA owns and manages a wide array of spaces, facilities and programs.
Origins of CA
To better understand CA, it’s helpful to first zoom out to the planned community of Columbia. James Rouse, the founder of Columbia, envisioned it as “a garden for growing people.” He was passionate about respecting the land, being intentional about diversity and providing opportunities for people to thrive and made those goals guiding principles of this “new city.”
CA was founded two years prior to Columbia’s 1967 inception to keep the community moving forward for generations to come. At Columbia MD Archives (the primary resource on the history of Columbia), anyone is welcome to come in and learn more about the community’s origins. Archivist & Manager Erin Berry is incredibly passionate about sharing these collections.
“The Rouse Company, the planners of Columbia, wanted something that would provide for the needs of the community that the local government entities could not,” she explained. “They saw CA as a means for the land to be taken care of as a permanent asset to the community, as well as to offer programs, services, and amenities that contribute to the growth of the people.”
As a nonprofit organization, it was decided that any revenue generated through CA’s programs, memberships and services get reinvested back into the community (whether for greater accessibility, free activities or to broaden the services we deliver). That is still the case today.
Stewards of the land
One of Columbia’s most unique (and cherished) features is its open space. CA is proud to be the “keeper” of that asset — we own and maintain 3,600 acres of open space, our three lakes, over 95 miles of pathways and much more. More likely than not, you’ve seen CA open space team members in yellow vests working diligently to take care of the pathways, lakes and parks, or setting up for community events.
CA was created as and continues to be the steward of all of that open space. That also means dedicating resources to protecting the environment and being a leader in sustainability. We continue to work toward all sorts of efforts, including advancing clean energy in the community and taking action to address climate change. Our team is constantly working on developing plans to improve the connectivity of the pathway system, protect and restore Columbia’s watershed and ensure proper land use.
At the helm of this mission is Vice President of Community Operations Dennis Mattey, who has been with CA for nearly 50 years.
“CA is a nationally recognized leader in environmental sustainability, and we’ve always been committed to intentional work to invest in our open space,” he said. “Part of that effort involves partnering with like-minded organizations across the country, such as the U.S. Department of Energy and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, as well as local volunteers who are passionate about sustainability.”
This screenshot from the CA FY2024 Budget Information session gives a comprehensive overview of all the spaces and facilities CA owns and maintains.
Community service provider
CA’s mission is to foster a unique sense of place and enhance the quality of life — and we couldn’t do that without all of the community programs and services we provide.
These take place in the dozens of facilities that we operate throughout the Columbia community, which see almost 2.5 million visitors each year. You might know us from our 23 outdoor pools or three fitness clubs, but we also provide tennis and pickleball courts, golf courses, an ice rink, art center and more.
Vice President of Community Programs & Services Dan Burns has been with CA for eight years, and his 30+ year career has consistently aligned with community impact.
“Our diverse programs and services all contribute to a better Columbia. This includes wellness, the arts, recreation, multicultural programs, serving kids and families in before and after school care and summer camps and beyond,” he said. “Every day, our team is discovering new ways to collaborate and evolve to meet the growing needs of our community.”
Looking to the future
CA’s unique history, responsibility of stewardship and commitment to the community all lend themselves to one central idea: connection. By making meaningful connections and convening people in a wide variety of ways, we get to be where community happens.
Now 55 years old, we’re thinking ahead about how to remain a relevant organization for multiple generations. Through feedback, inclusion and engagement, we are working every day to improve how we reflect, understand and value who we serve across Columbia, and to make sure our ability to connect and serve stays at the heart of all we do.
At the end of the day, CA is all about enriching the lives of the community. If you want to learn more about this mission and where we’re headed, check out this short video on CA and the Columbia community.