According to Michelle Gregory, Division Director from the Countywide Service Integration and Planning Management department, it’s probably been more than a decade since Fairfax County conducted a human services needs assessment for the residents of the region. In the summer of 2015, the County decided it was more than time to take a detailed look at how things have changed since the last official recording and to see who most needed what in our area.
“The Path Toward Tomorrow: The 2016 Fairfax County Human Services Needs Assessment” was completed in May of 2016 after almost a year of exhaustive public outreach, meetings with public and private groups and nonprofits, boards, authorities, commissions and faith-based organization, focus groups and meetings in several languages, and even an on-line survey that gathered about 1,300 responses asking residents to identify the human services needs and populations most affected by the issues being raised. Quantitative measurements from a variety of sources like the U.S. Census Bureau and the county’s economic and demographic statistics were added to the qualitative data to produce the most comprehensive analysis possible.
After internal review and discussion, it was time to disseminate the information to a wider pool and look for collaborative solutions and the best use of resources to address the needs uncovered.
That’s where non-profit Giving Circle of Hope (GCoH) stepped in, organizing a series of open forums where the report could be summarized for the education of local service organizations and members of the public. Originally started to financially aid a local family affected by tragedy in 2003, GCoH formed a permanent philanthropic society in 2004. With more than 100 members, Giving Circle of Hope uses its membership dues and other fundraising efforts to provide grants to mostly small local “organizations that create positive change in Northern Virginia by improving the lives of people in need.”
THE FIRST OF THE MEETINGS took place on Sept. 20, at the Volunteer Fire Department’s conference room in Vienna, with Vienna Mayor Laurie DiRocco offering opening remarks and introducing the speakers.
Fairfax County’s Gregory and her colleague Linda Hoffman tag-teamed to cover the highlights of the report for an audience that included other members of the Giving Circle of Hope, representatives from other charitable organizations, and concerned county residents.
“As involved as we are with helping those in need in our community,” said one attendee, “this [report] is still really eye-opening.”
The published report is 57 pages in length – no way to detail it in this format, but some of the highlights that seemed to make the most impact concerned the increasing number of area citizens who just can’t make ends meet, or get ahead while trying to provide for basic necessities.
With the county rapidly changing from a slower-paced Washington bedroom community to a semi-urban environment, the population has dramatically increased and become more dense, evolving from primarily single-family dwellings to a heavier presence of multi-family complexes. Fairfax County did not suffer as deeply as other parts of the country during the worst of the economic downturn, but by all indicators, local economic recovery has not kept pace with other parts of the country.
Gregory noted that the findings show “an increase in higher paying jobs and in the lower paying wage sectors,” but that the workforce in the middle has not benefited from either more employment opportunities or from adequate wage increases. This gap puts pressure on the majority of county residents and on the agencies and organizations that seek to assist them. “And it’s not healthy for the county in general.”
The “Key Human Services Needs” that are highlighted in the report fall into four categories:
- Housing – Affordable Housing in general, Accessible Housing for the Disabled and Older Adults, Services to support independent living for both groups
- Financial Assistance – Particularly child care and early education opportunities
- Affordable Health Care – Insurance, Behavioral and Mental Health Services for all age groups, and assistance for victims of domestic violence
- Transportation – Affordable and accessible public transportation, with particular emphasis on the “first and last miles” that often make public transportation difficult to use.
IN THE PAST it seemed most individuals or families needed assistance in only one area of need, or less assistance in order to meet basic standards of living. The findings of the study indicate that needs are now overlapping, and that more persons are further behind and in greater need to rise to that level.
After the presentation, the attendees had an opportunity to ask questions and to network, agreeing that it would “take a village” to make the most significant and positive impact. The Needs Assessment was seen as an important tool to focus limited resources and energy to where it is most needed.
Before the meeting ended, Cyndi Shanahan, Governance co-chair for Giving Circle of Hope, took a few minutes to explain more about the organization. “We are really proud to say that we are about to go over the $1million mark with our grants programs.” In addition to providing these grants, GCoH also performs service projects like their “Empty Bowls” dinners, where to date they have raised $182,000 and 10,000 pounds of food donated directly to Food for Others. Members also visit the Embry Rucker Shelter in Reston twice a month to engage the children there in creative activities.
To view the report go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov and type in “Path Toward Tomorrow.” Click on the link for “Human Services Needs Assessment.” The full report, a summary and an on-line version of their presentation are available. The members of the Giving Circle of Hope invite you to learn more about their organization and consider becoming a member by visiting their website at www.givingcircleofhope.org.
Another “Path to Tomorrow” meeting was planned for Sept. 26 in Herndon, and again in Reston, on Oct. 5, from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne. Virginia Del. Ken Plum is scheduled to be the introductory speaker at the Reston event.