Group Assessing How to Improve the Community

Group Assessing How to Improve the Community

P4C and New Life Christian Church is doing a community-needs assessment.

Perhaps the local area needs more playgrounds. Or how about a venue for indoor track, an auditorium for community theater or a place for teens to gather?

Whatever it is, Passion 4 Community (P4C) wants to know. And don't be surprised if, while you're out doing errands, someone offers you a survey to complete.

"WE'RE INTERVIEWING community leaders for their informed opinions about the needs and strengths of the community," said P4C Director Sarah Laudermilch. "Then we're going directly to the residents and asking them the same thing to see if the answers match up."

P4C is an offshoot of New Life Christian Church, headquartered in Chantilly and meeting locally at Westfield High. And together, the church and P4C are doing a community-needs assessment.

The survey will also take into account facts about the community gleaned from demographics, government studies, statistics, local newspapers and already completed needs-analysis reports done by other organizations.

"We're hoping it'll be a collaborative effort among many different organizations," said Laudermilch. Her group is also footing the bill for the survey.

Founded by, but separate from New Life, P4C is a faith-based, community-impact organization interested in promoting volunteerism and developing community relationships. However, the survey results will help both groups see where, specifically, they may be the most help to local residents.

For example, New Life hopes to break ground in a year or so on a new church along Route 29 in Centreville. But Todd Wilson, director of the nonprofit Passion4Planting, which helps start new churches, said New Life delayed finalizing the facility's design "until we get the results of the needs assessment."

Rick Ruble, the Centreville Campus pastor, said New Life is "all about meeting the needs of individual people in a holistic kind of way. If we see that, for instance, a grief-share class is needed, or a parenting class, it allows us to meet people at their point of need — not on our terms, but theirs. And that will have practical implications on the kind of facility we'll build."

Taking it a step further, he said, "Meeting people's physical needs opens the door to helping them spiritually." Furthermore, added Wilson, "The needs assessment could also be used as a tool for starting new churches across the country. Out of these relationships, a church may begin."

The immediate goal, however, is to take the pulse of the local community and see what its residents and businesses perceive are its assets, as well as its shortfalls.

Ruble said churches should exist to serve their community, not just themselves. That way, he said, "They can be effective dealing with real issues and real people."

AND THAT'S why New Life is involved in this project. Said Wilson: "We wanted to take the things we were doing to fill needs within our church and go outside into the community."

"We kicked this off in December with planning," said Laudermilch. "And Feb. 4 was the first big meeting of about 60 volunteers. We'll have about 100 volunteers total to help us implement the survey."

Afterward, said Wilson, "All the data — facts and opinions — will be analyzed and turned into an independent, published report by David Mills of Lansdowne, Va. He's vice president of grants and program development for We Care America, which helps faith-based nonprofits."

Then, said Ruble, "As a church, we'll use it to implement [particular] ministries." Wilson said other organizations will also be able to act on the information and see where they could lend a hand in the community.

Resident surveys began last week and will run through the end of March. "We're setting up tables at places where people gather, such as grocery stores, coffee shops, libraries, gyms, shopping centers —

even the DMV," said Laudermilch. "We also want to go into different demographics to get a cross section of the community, and that's where those 100 volunteers will come in handy."

The survey's designed to take no more than five or 10 minutes to do. The first questions ask about people's favorite schools, restaurants, etc., followed by queries about what people believe are the community's most pressing needs.

"We're also asking for their ideas," said Laudermilch. "If they could change something about their community, what would it be? Then we can shape Passion 4 Community's role in serving them and see where we can best apply our volunteer resource base."

Those who don't want to fill out the survey in person will receive cards with the Web address, People filling out their contact information will be eligible for random drawings of prizes such as an iPod and tickets to see Toby Keith at Nissan Pavilion. Local merchants will also offer prizes.

The Web site was planned to be operational by this Wednesday, March 1, with the first on-the-street surveys beginning Saturday, March 4. And, said Laudermilch, "We'll ask people to send the online survey to 10 friends, and those to send it to 10 more, etc."

Her group's trying to find out what critical needs aren't being addressed so it can determine how best to support the particular organizations trying to fill the gaps. Wilson also hopes as many organizations and businesses as possible will encourage their employees to take the survey.

"The broader the participation, the more accurate the information we receive," said Ruble. And, said Laudermilch, "Anyone who participates in the survey will be invited to come to a special presentation where we'll announce the results to the community, give out awards and recognize sponsors."