‘Report card’ judges Juneau’s well-being

Posted: Monday, May 03, 2010

The United Way of Southeast Alaska has completed a report intended to help measure and start discussion about the health, education and income stability of Juneau’s residents.

The report, which uses data from a variety of sources to show trends in a number of categories, is “just to show what’s happening,” said Tyler Browne, an Americorps volunteer working for the United Way as community research and volunteer development coordinator.

He said the report wasn’t intended to fix deficiencies, but instead “to get the ball rolling as far as dialogue and discussion is concerned. Hopefully, it stimulates challenging conversation.”

Each broad category has “themes” identified within it, and each theme has data, or indicators, used to evaluate how Juneau’s doing.

United Way of Southeast Alaska President Brenda Hewitt said at least two issues currently showing negative trends can be turned around quickly through community awareness: kids’ perceptions of whether their parents or guardians ask them almost daily what’s happening at school, and a teenager feeling like there’s at least one adult in his or her life, other than a parent, that he or she can talk to.

“Those are zero-cost changes,” Hewitt said. “No one has to develop a new program.”

Hewitt said similar past data, affordable housing for example, has led to the affordable housing commission and several million dollars in grant money.

A 2005 study done for the United Way by the McDowell Group, who also helped with this report, figures in the discussion as well, though this year is the first that the data has been analyzed in this way.

This year, the McDowell Group helped the United Way set a group of indicators reflecting “broad public priorities.”

Hewitt said the United Way would like to take a few issues and focus on them with partner agencies. Some of those issues are a lack of activities available to middle school students, improving third grade literacy, and connectivity between adults and children.

The $30,000 report was paid for by $20,000 from the city, $5,000 from BP, and $5,000 from the Rasmuson foundation.

Hewitt said they’ll need about $11,000 to complete the report in future years, now that groundwork has been laid. Browne said the future uses for the report are “endless.”

Another side to the organization’s data collection is a web survey documenting residents’ priorities and perceptions. This information is available in the McDowell report.

Browne said anyone with feedback or questions is welcome to call the United Way office at 463-5530.

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