Smart Investment: Using Local Data to Create Impact
Since the release of the 2016 Valley Community Index a year ago, Valley organizations are using its data to stay informed about the region's overall wellbeing.
As the Index shows, many factors determine personal wellbeing and happiness: community life and social support, health outcomes, employment, and basic needs. These factors can be further impacted by access to education, high-quality healthcare, public places, and the conditions related to a place of residence.
"Local data informs the public about the needs in the community," says Karen Spargo, former Director of Health at the Naugatuck Valley Health District (NVHD). "The 2016 Valley Community Index provides comparative data so we can benchmark our strengths, identify where we are compared to other communities and highlight areas where we can improve. Just because the Valley is comparable to national, state, or other local communities does not necessarily mean that there is not room to do more."
Spargo believes that the NVHD will be able to address the needs of the community more efficiently thanks, in part, to the 2016 Valley Community Index.
"Communities are always evolving," Spargo says. "The Valley is currently undergoing substantial changes demographically, which is shifting many of our indicators. The report identifies what is significant now. As the systematic collection of data over time continues, trends can be noted and addressed as necessary."
The report was instrumental in creating a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), jointly led by Griffin Hospital and NVHD. The plan consists of fostering initiatives that improve the health of the community, which can be measured and reflected on in future reports.
The CHIP's Primary Focus Areas include:
- Creation of Behavioral Health/Substance Abuse Community Action Team
- Chronic Disease Management
- Opiate/Addiction Prevention & Treatment
- Childhood Obesity Prevention
- Early Detection of Lung Cancer & Smoking Cessation
- Asthma Prevention & Self Management
Another group working with the Community Index is the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments (NVCOG). While the staff found the Community Index useful, especially from an economic development perspective, they found that serving on the Advisory Council was much more rewarding.
"Though the report itself is well-written and informative, serving on the Advisory Council was a great way to learn about the needs of the Valley region's residents and the ambitions of the organizations that closely serve them," says Joanna Rogalski, NVCOG Regional Planner. "Statistical data is important, but the personal anecdotes and experiences shared by members of the Advisory Council helped our staff better understand the past and current challenges of the residents we all serve."
According to Rogalski, the Community Index helped NVCOG staff who have not previously worked with the lower Valley municipalities better understand the strengths and challenges of Valley residents. The organization plans to reference data points featured in the Index in its 2018 Regional Plan of Conservation and Development Update.
"Understanding a person's experience of place is a building block of good planning practice, which is ultimately about improving peoples' quality of life through decisions on land use and transportation," Rogalski says. "This report, which focuses on Valley residents' day-to-day needs, preferences and values, has helped our staff better understand residents' experiences in the seven-town Valley region. We hope to build upon this report's call to improve the quality of life of Valley residents through more locally-grounded decision making."
In the report's introduction, Sharon Closius, VCF President and CEO, initially stated that the Index would be used to convene community conversations, foster engagement, align current efforts and investments and collaborate on strategic endeavors to build, sustain and enhance the quality of life in the Valley." As Closius proudly adds, "One year later and the Index is doing just that."
Overall, the report has made those serving the Valley community much more aware of the changing needs and opportunities, and what steps can be taken to work collaboratively in making a lasting impact. Closius says it is VCF's commitment moving forward to update the Community Index every three years with new local data.