Smart Investment: Collecting Community Knowledge

Ongoing data collection about quality of life issues will culminate in the Valley Community Index in 2016 , the most comprehensive wellbeing study yet to be published for the Valley

Community development and data collection: the two may not seem to have much in common, but leaders from across the Valley are coming together to collect neighborhood-level data over the next several years to better understand the changing needs, opportunities and demographics. This data collection process will culminate in a 2016 Valley Community Index report, which will be updated with new information every three years in a collective effort to maintain an accurate pulse on the region.

In mid-2014, the Valley Community Foundation (VCF) began organizing community conversations to discuss the need for a single-source index that would expand the scope of the Valley CARES Quality of Life Report (2010) and assess changes in trends identified through the Mt. Auburn Associates' Addressing Needs & Opportunities in the Lower Naugatuck Valley: A Funding Strategy (2001), which was created for the Valley Advisory Committee of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven (TCF).

Released in April, The Valley Now: A 2015 Snapshot spotlights trends in the Valley using existing data as a baseline indicators report. The Snapshot reveals changing demographics, a shifting employment landscape and regional health trends among the Valley's population.

VCF enlisted the support of DataHaven, a nonprofit with a 25-year history of compiling and interpreting public data, along with several dozen community leaders from the five Valley towns, as well as representatives from Beacon Falls and Naugatuck. The addition of these two towns, which were included in the region as part of the All-American City Award in 2000, is meant to provide continuity and a historical comparison to the study of trends within the region.

"These cross-sector working groups reviewed existing data and decided what information would be most meaningful to include in the report," says DataHaven Executive Director Mark Abraham. "We continue to be impressed by the turnout at these convenings, and by how excited these organizations are about collecting and using localized information."

"This is an impressive committee, representing important community groups interested in utilizing the survey results and the upcoming data report," says Will Ginsberg, VCF Board member and President & CEO of TCF. "Strong philanthropy in any region starts with strong leadership. The Valley has always had strong, passionate leaders who are dedicated to the success of their community."

DataHaven and the Siena College Research Institute are conducting a statewide phone survey through October, to collect wellbeing data on a variety of topics. As part of the multi-year data collection process, more than 1,000 Valley residents will be surveyed and are encouraged to "answer the call" from a 518 area code. The results will be featured in the Valley Community Index.

"Up to date demographic information is crucial to effective decision-making and helps us build and update our long-term strategic planning initiatives," says Seymour First Selectman and Advisory Committee member Kurt Miller.

Griffin Hospital is a major partner in moving this project forward and will provide critical support with health-related data. The Valley Community Index will also be produced to fulfill the hospital's Community Health Needs Assessment requirements. This information is expected to help Valley nonprofits leverage grant dollars and funding at both state and federal levels. Groups such as the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce also recognize the value of this endeavor.

"It sensitizes us, as a business community, to what some of the challenges are in the region," says Chamber President and Advisory Committee member Bill Purcell. "The data provides a solid foundation for the Chamber to chart its course. I hope other organizations will also recognize the value, as we all have our part to play."

"My hope is that it will drive new philanthropy to the Valley," explains VCF Board member and Program Committee Chair Lynne Bassett Perry. "We want new donors to see the value in our community and create a measurable impact."