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Results of needs survey will help ID gaps in services

WILLMAR -- During the last six months, Stacey Roberts has been speaking to numerous service groups in Kandiyohi County about the results of research that measured the strengths and weaknesses of the community's health and human services programs.

The United Community Assessment of Needs survey, known as UCAN, included extensive and scientific surveys in 2007 of residents, business and community leaders and service providers.

The research was designed to help Kandi-yohi County "prioritize health and human service" and find ways to "identify gaps in our services," Roberts said.

Roberts, who is director of the United Way of West Central Minnesota, presented a summary of the assessment to the Kandiyohi County Board this week. The county, along with the city of Willmar and other community partners, was a major financial contributor to the assessment.

Roberts will be presenting a similar update to the City Council in the near future, ending a string of public presentations that lay out the critical health and human services needs of residents and the challenges of meeting them.

The public presentations have helped improve community understanding of racial and ethnic disparities in accessing "community resources and overall quality of life," the complexity of providing safety net services for people in poverty and the need to provide living wage jobs with benefits.

But the information is not a report that will just sit on the shelf.

Agencies are now in the process of using the data to fine-tune planning to provide services and to seek grants to fund programs. The data available in the report will show the agency has "done their homework" when seeking grants, Roberts said.

The report provides local agencies with a wide array of economic information, such as housing costs, median salaries, crime rates and poverty levels. It also includes a wide scope of social issues such as caring for the elderly, the value of education and discrimination.

In the past, agencies from different public and private entities were conducting their own small-scale research and "spending lots of money" on duplicate surveys and reports to determine needs, said Larry Kleindl, Kandiyohi County Administrator.

The UCAN project "pulled that information all together" and provides a single source of information that government and nonprofit agencies can build on, Kleindl said.

The research and completed report will help service agencies, including the county's Family Services Department, "move toward efficiency" in providing services to meet the needs of the community, said Jay Kieft, director of Kandiyohi County Family Services.

The survey shows that Kandiyohi County is a "unique community" in its socioeconomic makeup, Roberts said. It's also unique because of the willingness of community partners, including schools, cities and the county, to work together to solve problems. "People really do come to the table," she said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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