Region's big needs targeted in group strategy

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Picture this: a unified public transportation system to ensure that residents of Cape Girardeau County and Scott City have accessible, affordable transportation.

Picture this: A special coalition of doctors to serve uninsured patients and a stepped-up substance abuse program that eliminates illegal drug use among area youth.

Picture this: Free parenting and family development programs that decrease child abuse cases and teen pregnancies and improve dropout rates.

After three years of planning, the Cape Area Community Assessment Partnership has developed a detailed strategy to turn those ideas and others from daydreams into a reality that could improve the lives of thousands of people.

Last spring, the community assessment partnership -- a collaboration of schools, health and social agencies, government officials and churches that was initiated by the United Way of Southeast Missouri and Community Caring Council -- set its focus on four social issues: transportation, medical care, substance abuse and family issues.

On Thursday, representatives of the partnership will unveil a community plan for addressing those issues, including long- and short-term goals and specific objectives for measuring the success of the partnership's efforts.

"The overriding issue is access and awareness for each of our four priority issues," said Kay Azuma, community coordinator at Community Caring Council. "This can't be done by one agency. It can't be done by 10 agencies. It has to be embraced by the community as a whole."

Nancy Jernigan, director of the United Way, said the plan focuses on improving systems that are already in place, such as letting families know what resources are available now.

"I feel confident the plan will make a difference, but when you're dealing with social services there's always the human element you can't control," Jernigan said. "We may never solve child abuse totally, but we've got to keep trying."

In 2002, the partnership sent thousands of surveys to local households, businesses, public and private agencies, clubs and community leaders to determine which social issues were of greatest concern in Cape Girardeau County and Scott City.

The surveys focused on 11 different social issues, which were eventually narrowed to the top four so that the partnership could have a bigger impact.

Jernigan said the next stage in implementing the plan is forming committees for each of the four social issues.

"What we're really hoping to do is get more people involved in the various committees," Jernigan said. "Hopefully, folks will find a niche to get involved in."

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