Researchers, nonprofits assess community needs
by Anna Oakes
An assessment conducted by Appalachian State University researchers recently found that child care services, legal services and awareness and access to community resources are needs identified by low-income, Latino and single-headed families in Watauga County.
Representatives from multiple High Country charities and service agencies gathered earlier this month to discuss the results of the community needs assessment, developed by ASU social work professor Kellie Reed Ashcraft and two graduate students to ascertain the needs of three target groups in Watauga County: low-income families, Latino families and single-headed families.
The researchers facilitated a discussion April 3 at the Agricultural Conference Center about possible courses of action based on the assessment's findings.
As part of the assessment, the researchers held focus groups and one-on-one interviews with members of the three target groups as well as organizational staff of nonprofit and governmental agencies who work with the three groups. Responses from the methods were analyzed for common and unique themes.
"We really wanted it to be driven by what they wanted to share with us," said Ashcraft.
Basic necessities, such as housing or shelter, medical/health care, transportation, jobs or income and food, were identified across all participants as priority needs for all low-income families in Watauga, according to the assessment. For Latino families, these same needs were identified.
Assessment participants also identified legal issues, policy/program eligibility limitations and stigma and discrimination as unique issues confronting Latino families.
"That is a huge need in the community," said Charles Webster of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System's Latino health program, speaking at the presentation.
For single-headed families in Watauga, child care and afterschool care were cited as unique needs.
In addition, the respondent groups identified problems with resource availability, accessibility and flexibility, as well as a need for greater and more systematic communication and collaboration among nonprofit and governmental agencies, including community member involvement.
A number of community member participants voiced the desire for centralized and well-known resource and referral services, the assessment said.
Representatives from the High Country United Way, OASIS women's shelter and crisis agency, Hospitality House, Circles of the High Country, the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System Latino Health program, High Country Community Health, W.A.M.Y. Community Action, Western Youth Network, Appalachian District Health Department, Daymark Recovery Services, The Children's Council and the Watauga County Community Foundation attended the presentation and participated in the discussion.
Ashcraft later distributed a summary outlining several possible courses of action, including utilizing ongoing efforts such as the High Country United Way Vision Councils and Circles of the High Country to further community participation and collaboration.
The group also suggested discussing the assessment findings with Latino community participants to assess interest in moving forward on specific needs, and if so, to include a review of the successes and limitations of the now-defunct nonprofit High Country Amigos.
The report also outlined potential solutions, including the development of a structure for regular and systematic communication and collaboration among community agencies, the pursuit of grants for legal and advocacy services for Latinos and the increase of slots for child care and afterschool care, as well as an effort to increase affordability and quality of child care services.