Survey of social needs complete

Monday, January 12, 2004

Poverty. Depression. Child abuse.

Perhaps not the most common characteristics associated with Cape Girardeau and the surrounding areas, but they're among the critical social issues identified in a recent community assessment.

The Cape Area Community Assessment Partnership recently completed its second round of community surveys aimed at analyzing unmet social needs in Cape Girardeau County and Scott City.

"We have real issues here," said Nancy Jernigan, director of the Area Wide United Way. "No, you don't see homeless people under the bridge in Cape Girardeau. But we have them."

The surveys, which went to households, businesses, service organizations and community leaders, are part of a multiyear assessment process initiated by the Area Wide United Way and the Community Caring Council.

In 2001, those two organizations brought together around 30 representatives from local school districts, health and social service providers, city and county government, religious alliances and other groups to discuss community needs and ways of meeting those needs.

That group -- known as the Cape Area Community Assessment Partnership -- distributed 2,000 surveys in 2002, and the results were reported last fall. Another 1,000 surveys were sent out in November to ensure that the process was random. An estimated 500 surveys total were returned and analyzed.

John Mehner, president of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce and a member of the partnership, said the assessment will significantly better the community.

"What we're hoping is that through this process we'll identify needs and line up partners and approaches to address those needs," Mehner said.

The final community assessment report will be presented to partnership members during a luncheon Thursday at the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce. At that time the top 11 issues will be narrowed down to between three and five focus issues that the partnership will concentrate on improving.

It's an undertaking that Jernigan refers to as eating an elephant one bite at a time.

"This is not about Band-Aiding symptoms of a bigger problem, it's about getting to the root cause," she said. "It's a huge process, but the outcome will be amazing."

The cost of the assessment, about $8,000, was raised by the partners and matched by the United Way. While it may take decades for the results of the partnership to show, the Rev. Paul Short, a partnership member who is pastor of St. Andrew Lutheran Church, said the process seems effective.

"It's apparent that we have a risk of many people falling through the cracks here," Short said. "We want to identify those people and situations and fill in the cracks so no one falls through."

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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