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Assessment of human services needs progressing

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County survey of community needs is progressing as expected. Community residents will have an opportunity to contribute by responding if they receive a survey in February.

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County survey of community needs is progressing as expected. Community residents will have an opportunity to contribute by responding if they receive a survey in February.

The 18-month project is a community-wide effort to understand the human services needs, assets and gaps within the county. The work is expected to be complete by July. The United Way of Kandiyohi County is the sponsoring organization. Partner agencies include Kandiyohi County and the county Family Services Department, the city of Willmar and the United Way.

"The goal is to identify the needs that are out there and provide the data to service providers," said Ron Erpelding, chairman of the steering committee for the needs assessment. "It is critical that we do this right the first time."

Already completed is a survey of service providers, the agencies and organizations providing human services programs within the county.

In February, the household survey will go out to 1,200 randomly selected homes within the county. The sample will include a larger number of Latino households to ensure that group is appropriately represented. The expectation is for a 75 percent return rate on the surveys. Recipients will get multiple reminders, as mailings and phone calls, to encourage them to complete and return their survey.

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The committee is working with Wilder Research, based in St. Paul, to refine the survey to truly reflect community issues, according to United Way Executive Director Stacey Roberts. For example, because of the railroad's significant presence in Willmar, there will be a question about noise pollution from trains. Surveys will ask respondents to identify needs and challenges both within their neighborhood and within their own household.

The survey is simple, requiring respondents to check their answer, and it should take only 20 minutes to complete, according to Ann Stehn, director of Kandiyohi County Public Health and a steering committee member.

The data collection will also include focus group sessions in April to gather information from key community leaders and hard-to-reach sectors of the population, including members of the Somali community. Those sessions will also be conducted by Wilder Research.

The data that will be generated by the surveys will be compiled by Wilder into a report that is needed by many organizations within the county, according to Pat Berg, steering committee member.

"This will help the community prioritize the needs," she added.

The data may also help county agencies capture state and federal grant monies for human services programs, Stehn said.

"We can be competitive on a number of levels for statewide grants," she said.

The data is critical for agencies like the United Way, Roberts said. The agency sees community needs, funds programs and then needs to see results, based on data, in order to know that funding is making a positive impact on the community.

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The project cost is more than $79,000, funded by $37,000 in cash and $42,000 in in-kind donations from agencies and volunteers. The city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County have each committed $10,000. The committee is asking other cities in the county to contribute 50 cents per capita and is also seeking additional funding from service clubs and other organizations in the county.

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