By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
United Way of Greater Cleveland is working to bring community voices into the allocation and aid process through its Community Conversations initiative. This program invites community leaders in the Mount Pleasant, Hough and Glenville neighborhoods to engage other residents and provide feedback on services and basic needs in their area.
An’Tuan Williams, community conversations associate at United Way of Greater Cleveland, worked with the Engagement Center from November 2015 to August 2016 to gather preliminary, thematic and feedback data from these communities, which is then turned into qualitative, testimonial information and quantitative statistics for basic needs services.
“The whole purpose is to aid in the allocations process with the Community Impact team,” Williams said. “Once [Community Impact] sees there are common themes from agencies and residents, they’re able to mesh those together to create a sweet spot of information to be filtered out into the community for ongoing relationships and also internal communications.”
Data is collected through Mind Fest, — scheduled conversations throughout service areas — and phone conversations, as well as Williams meeting with active members of the community, who relay his message to other residents.
Williams’ work is in conjunction with similar discussions Andrew Katusin, program manager, Community Impact is having with agencies to find out what they feel needs to be improved and how United Way can help accomplish those goals.
Finding a disconnect
Thematic findings include a lot of quality of life issues, Williams said, as well as a lack of program awareness.
“The residents feel like there’s not enough awareness marketed, whether it’s with calls, emails or flyers in the mail and then the agencies that provide the services feel like nobody shows up,” he said. “So, somewhere there’s a disconnect, a miscommunication and hopefully community conversations working with the entire team here can bridge that gap to create awareness and lead people to resources.”
Citizens have also expressed an interest in vocational guidance at an earlier age. Rather than start in sophomore year of high school, residents want guidance to start in middle school to give the students more time to develop the skill set. They also want educational programs at recreation centers and libraries, he said.
Bridging the gap
This initiative is hoping to bridge the gap between a community’s needs and the agencies serving it, he said. It has seen success on a small scale, with three grassroots programs bringing community leaders together to engage neighbors about their concerns. These programs are Coalition for a Better Life, Pride Among Daughters and Sisters, and several area barbershops.
Raphael Taylor, a Cleveland Heights resident and barbershop owner in the Hough neighborhood said he is interested in Community Conversations’ concern with the problems in his community.
“I was intrigued by the Community Conversation because it addressed concerns of what is happening in my community,” Taylor said. “It’s great to hear the views and opinions of others and how things can actually get better. Community Conversations are all about people coming together to share our views and opinions and discuss how things can actually get done.”
Working in the community, he has made connections with youth who often come to the older generation for advice.
“There is something being done with Community Conversations, it is a way to have a relevant voice and engage those who want to do something in the community,” he said. “There are even teenagers in the community who were excited to participate in Community Conversations. They have ideas, but no one is asking them or engaging them in the work.”
A report, combining Williams work with residents and Katusin’s conversations with service agencies, will be released to United Way of Greater Cleveland’s board of directors this fall describing trends in each community, similarities between residents and agencies concerns and gaps in the services provided.
A town hall is planned for spring 2017 to engage other neighborhoods and discuss whether their basic needs are being met.