Community Engagement: Connecting with Partners, Spreading the Word
As we all know, knowledge is power. After the Community Foundation published its 2015 Regional Needs Assessment, the logical next step was to share that report as widely as possible. The more people who learn about the crucial challenges we face in our five-county region, the greater our collective power to create solutions.
In 2016 we took the Needs Assessment on the road. After a debut event in Binghamton, Diane Brown, the Foundation’s executive director, and program officer Tina Barber held meetings in Tioga, Delaware and Otsego counties to share the results of the assessment. They also explained how the Foundation will use those findings to guide its grantmaking, and they discussed opportunities to apply for grants that focus on needs the assessment describes.
One community leader who took that message to heart was Ed Snow, mayor of Walton. After the presentation in Delhi to Delaware County residents, Snow suggested that village police chief Paul Olsen apply for a grant to replace the obsolete computers and software in Walton’s patrol cars.
“He said, ‘This is an opportunity we can’t pass up,’” says Olsen, whose proposal garnered $11,800 from the Foundation.
The grant solved a serious problem for Walton’s police, who had been using the same software since 2008 to process traffic violations and prepare reports. New York State, which developed the system, no longer provides technical support for that early version of the software. So when the system didn’t work, officers were on their own.
“We were either going to have to go back to writing paper tickets, which is much more time-consuming, or upgrade,” Olsen says. But a tight budget left no room for technology purchases.
Now, Walton’s police can once again rely on technical support from the state. And thanks to the grant, the department has replaced its old laptops with tablet computers, which provide much greater flexibility, Olsen says.
Grant writers at many other organizations also used what they learned at the presentations to develop successful proposals to the Community Foundation.
The Reporter, a weekly newspaper in Delaware County, ran four stories on the Needs Assessment. “I saw the report, and I felt it was important that the information be more widely disseminated,” says Abby Butler, the journalist who wrote the four pieces. The first article described the presentation at SUNY Delhi. The follow-up pieces focused on three areas of needs highlighted in the findings: women and children at risk, health, and law enforcement.
Delaware County residents don’t necessarily know about the county’s most serious issues, Butler says. In particular, she points to lack of child care, the number of women at risk of losing their homes, and job and wage disparities between men and women, especially among non-high school graduates. “I thought the report did a great job of showing certain populations who are at risk,” she says.
To spread the message of the Needs Assessment even further, the Community Foundation and United Way of Broome County teamed up in 2016 on an advertising campaign that included billboards, social media and web advertising. Based on the theme “I Can’t Stand By,” the campaign featured board members from the two organizations and cited data from the Needs Assessment on four issues—childhood poverty, transportation for seniors, lack of child care options and hunger. It urged people who also refuse to “stand by” to read the Needs Assessment, and donate to the Community Foundation and United Way to help fund solutions.
Community needs stood at the center of a meeting in July with William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, during his visit to the Southern Tier. The Community Foundation’s Diane Brown plus Judith Peckham, executive director of the Klee Foundation, and Patricia Ingraham, chair of the Klee board, talked with Dudley about the findings of the Needs Assessment and also discussed the large number of local organizations that are willing and able to tackle those issues.
We have also been engaging with public officials, including State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo and State Senator Fred Akshar. We’re talking with the private sector, too. We have discussed the close ties between human services and economic development with Kevin McLaughlin, executive director, and Stacey Duncan, deputy director of community and economic development, at The Agency, Broome County’s economic development organization. And Diane Brown has made presentations to the Binghamton Rotary and the Greater Binghamton Chamber.
This is only the start. Plans are underway to bring the Needs Assessment road show to Chenango County in 2017. And we’ll keep carrying the message everywhere we go, always eager to connect with more allies in the effort to build stronger, healthier, more prosperous communities.