West End canvass names education key issue

  • Friday, August 1, 2014

Provided Initial results from the West End canvass name education as the largest area for improvement.

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Community members in the West End are searching for improved education and recreation activities for youth, the results of a summer study revealed.

The Mitney Project and students from the Duke University Scholars program spent eight weeks canvassing households in the West End, asking community members what they love about their neighborhood, what programs or services they want to see and what issues they think area nonprofits should target.

A need for education emerged as the centerpiece of the community issues.

According to Tanner Lockhead, one of the Duke Scholars who led the West End canvass, two of the most telling questions were, “Which program or service is the most important to improve or introduce in your community?” and, “Which issues should be most targeted in your community?”

Participants were asked to select three answers out of 10 options.

When asked what can be improved, “education” ranked the highest with 82 percent. Second was “recreational activities for youth” with 60 percent, and “social activities for adults” was third at 28 percent.

When asked what issues should be targeted, “lack of activities for youth” ranked first with 75 percent, followed by “high school dropout rate” at 45 percent and “unemployment” at 38 percent.

While demographic information and street names were recorded, the survey was anonymous.

The surveyors spoke with 163 individuals, a total of 60 households.

Lockhead said it was important to retain the street name as an identifier to make sure the survey was an accurate sample of the entire community.

“If you extrapolate those results to the entire community, you can see education was the biggest area for growth,” he said.

All of the data was compiled into a spreadsheet. The final analysis has not been completed yet, Lockhead explained, but preliminary results show education and youth activities at the forefront of community issues.

“They are both very much youth-focused,” he said.

Leslie Di Mitri, executive director of The Mitney Project, said the preliminary results were “not at all” surprising, “especially in the West End.”

“People understand how education has an impact, and they see that as a direct indicator of low wage earnings. I also think… from conversations with people during the canvass … people don’t always associate education with a college degree.

There’s also an interest in specialized learning and high skills learning. People want their children to have that skillset that will enable them to make their living.”

She said an indicated need for youth activities can also be linked to the desire for improved education.

“Especially the older people, when they say ‘recreation’ they’re talking about constructive activities for these kids, some activities that will keep them engaged.”

The Mitney Project already provides recreation for youth, such as dance and computer classes, but the results of the canvass will help further tailor the organization’s services, which Lockhead said was the point of the Scholars’ work there.

“The idea was to help The Mitney Project refine their mission,” said Lockhead. “These results will help them with grant writing and keeping in touch with the West End and their community needs.”

Di Mitri said the canvass was conducted to benefit the whole community, including The Mitney Project and also other nonprofit organizations that serve the West End community.

The Village Group, and its Plantersville Summer Academy, is one of those groups, said Executive Director Ray Funnye.

“I think the data that was collected is a microcosm of our community. The mindset of this community is that education is one of the most important things we need to focus on at this time.

“Our young people need to be educated so they can sustain our workforce,” he said.

“You don’t have to be a doctor or a lawyer, you can be a plumber or an electrician and make tons of money and take care of your loved ones, but you have to have some skillsets.

“The desire to want to be a part of that process, to have some type of need to grow, our summer program is about that. [The Plantersville Summer Academy] helps our kids transition during the summer months, we want to keep them involved with their education.”

He said the results of the survey are encouraging for programs like the Plantersville Summer Academy and groups like The Village Group that are already working to address educational needs in the Georgetown community.

“The survey says education is key and I’m 100 percent in support of that, hands down, no discussion,” Funnye said. “I support the survey that was done and whatever I can do with The Mitney Project or any other organization to help further education in our community, I will gladly do it.”

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