Smart Investment: Using Data to Create Community Impact
The 2019 Valley Community Index is a single-source data document that examines the Valley community across a variety of different sectors: community life, health and well-being, education, economics, and transportation. These factors are part of people’s daily lives and the Index helps organizations like the Valley Community Foundation (VCF) to examine how the factors intersect from different data points. The information describes not just individuals or families but the community as a whole.
In 2014, Valley leaders recognized the need for reliable and accessible data in one report instead of being spread throughout multiple sources. The first step toward creating a comprehensive data view was the 2015 Valley Snapshot, an 8-page, high-level indicators report. It formed the basis of the first Community Index in 2016, created in partnership with Data Haven, a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve quality of life by collecting, sharing, and interpreting public data for effective decision making.
Valerie Knight-Di Gangi, VCF’s program officer, explained that the report has been a great opportunity to bring together key stakeholders and identify needs and issues. “The data is very clear, demonstrating both positive aspects of as well as disparities in the Valley.”
She added, “It has been professionally rewarding to see how we are looking at the whole picture and finding a way to weave in systems change. There is a good mix of things happening both in the short and long term. As such, we are committed to finding solutions and not just placing a band-aide over something systemic.”
The 2019 Valley Community Index picks up where the 2016 report left off and also serves as the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) for Griffin Hospital and the Naugatuck Valley Health District. The CHNA is a legal requirement for the hospital, based on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and also part of Naugatuck Valley Health District’s national accreditation responsibilities. The data is additionally a significant step forward in the Valley Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), which Griffin develops in an effort to make the community a healthier place overall.
Based on the findings of the most recent Index, Griffin Hospital and health district will be focusing on three areas: heart disease, maternal and infant health, and mental health issues, especially as they exist around situations like the opioid crisis.
The data captures trends that change and evolve over time. For example, the 2016 Index showed that 26% of Valley children live in low-income households but that number has risen to 28% in 2019.
Lynne Bassett Perry serves as Chair on the VCF Board of Directors and has a very personal connection with the Community Index.
“I grew up with VCF. My father was one of the founding members and, when he left the Board, I decided it was time for me to take on that kind of responsibility within the community.” She described how the W. E. Bassett Co., which produced personal care products in Shelton, influenced how she and her family approach philanthropy.
“We ran the business with a strategic plan and the model of continuous improvement, knowing that you can’t change what you don’t measure.” The ability to accurately and definitively address community impact is why Perry and her father, Bill Bassett, through the Bassett Family Fund, are so supportive of the Community Index and are proud to be one of the primary funders.
Considering the information gleaned from the 2016, and now 2019 reports, Perry feels that the effort is definitely a marathon rather than a sprint, and she is excited about how the information is being put to use in that long-term effort. “This is significant work, and not just data sitting on a shelf. As we align with Griffin Hospital and the CHIP work, we’re seeing community action in real time.”
The 2019 Valley Community Index was formally presented to the community on October 22nd by VCF President & CEO Sharon Closius along with a panel of community leaders who were able to illustrate not only the value of the data but how the community can move forward with it. Videos from the event are available on www.valleyfoundation.org.
Perry explained, “With the Index and the focus areas that are evolving from making this information available, we can strategically invest dollars behind specific programs and services to make an impact as opposed to a more generalized grantmaking methodology. We’ve gained momentum with this second index and now there are even more people at the table working together to achieve similar outcomes.”
She added, “While both the positive and negative trend data is interesting, the Index isn’t released with the intent of shocking anyone. Instead it helps to paint a reality of many individuals and families throughout the region. It also creates a call to action. The report doesn’t go into the why behind the data, but instead serves as a resource so people can figure out how to address challenges in the community. I like that it’s very user-friendly and think VCF did a great job of presenting the material so a lay person can understand it without being overwhelmed. To me, that’s critical.”
On a personal note, Knight-Di Gangi said that the Index has reminded her of one of the best reasons to admire the Valley. “I am truly grateful for the support I’ve had while working on this community-driven report. Everyone sees this endeavor as a collaborative effort and I believe there is a strong sense that our community partners can find solutions if we all work together.”