, 2014


Survey results offer direction to
address community needs;
employment issues are critical

by Shannon Rice

KILMARNOCK—While others may have just committed to making and keeping New Year’s resolutions for themselves, Visions executive director Joni Carter has been busy for a whole year prioritizing goals for Northumberland and Lancaster counties.

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With the reduction of poverty and the improvement of lives being the mission of Visions, Carter says it is important to get an accurate perception of the concerns of people in the community. The community-based program is funded by a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.

“We’re feeling growing pains as a community,” said Carter. “We need to be forward-thinking and proactive in what we’re doing.”

To get those forward-thinking gears turning, Carter took it upon herself to conduct a yearlong stakeholder survey designed to serve as a needs assessment to prioritize the community and economic development focus for Visions.

More than 100 business, nonprofit, faith-based and government leaders in Northumberland and Lancaster completed the survey between October 2011 and October 2012. Participants included the Lancaster and Northumberland Departments of Social Services, Macedonia CDC, Lancaster by the Bay Chamber of Commerce, Visions Economic Development Committee, the Lancaster and Northumberland NAACP chapters and members of the clergy.

“We tried to get a good, diverse cross-section of the community. These are the people who are involved in what’s going and have a finger on the pulse,” said Carter.

Some of the survey questions were based on a rating system and many were open-ended and allowed for individualized responses.

“The results are confirming what we already know based on what we’ve heard throughout the community,” said Carter.

Critical needs

According to the survey, the top four critical needs to address in the two counties are related to employment and poverty. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being a need and 10 being a critical need), availability of jobs, availability of living wage jobs, reducing unemployment and reducing poverty were the four most critical needs, with ratings from 8.32 to 9.04. Recurring concerns were the lack of jobs, especially for young people, and the lack of business development for economic growth, said Carter.

Rounding out the top five issues of concern is the quality of education in the area. One response suggests the poor quality of schools is causing families to leave the area while another posed that citizen apathy towards education is the catalyst for poor education quality. The schools also are cited as one of the community resources being stretched too thin.

While most people would accept the five highest rated concerns as the issues to prioritize, Carter insists the next five most critical needs should not go ignored.

“Affordable housing, single-parent households, technical training, teen pregnancy and substance abuse were rated from 7.70 to 7.96 as high areas of concern. That’s not too far off from the top five, so these issues are just as important to the community. We have to keep them in mind if we are to be forward-thinkers,” said Carter.

Strengths

While areas of concern may help prioritize the needs of the community, the survey also brings to light some of the area’s resources and strong features. When respondents were asked to rate the overall quality of life in Lancaster and Northumberland, results were divided with 39% of respondents rating it good or great, 36% rating it as good for some and bad for others, 21% rating it as fair and 4% rating it as poor, said Carter.

Quality of life issues such as the area’s natural beauty, the rural lifestyle and the quality of the people who live here were the three top strengths of Lancaster and Northumberland counties, according to the survey.

Carter says the information will give the group direction and help them prioritize for the next few years.

“It’s a start in the right direction. It will be helpful for the Visions economic development committee in developing priorities for the strategic plan. We don’t want to focus on things that aren’t important to the community,” said Carter.

Future action

As far as addressing these priorities goes, Carter wants everyone to start thinking about the local economy and job creation. She would also like to see more groups working together for the betterment of the area.

“We can’t stay the way we’ve always been. We want to be involved and we want to continue on a positive path. I think a lot of people want to help with that. We have a lot of folks here that know how to make things happen,” said Carter.

In the future, Carter would like to conduct a full-fledged community survey that includes all area residents, but she notes that the task would be an expensive undertaking. For now, the results of the stakeholder survey will serve as a starting place for conversation, and hopefully action, she says.

“At the very least, I hope these results get people talking to one another. Everything we do is grassroots, but it’s a start in the right direction,” said Carter.


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