United Way survey identifies community needs

A recent United Way study shows there are working families in the Northern Shenandoah Valley that are struggling to just make ends meet.

Nadine Pottinga, president and CEO of United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley, spoke recently about the organization’s 2017-2020 Community Needs Assessment, which is conducted every three years to help guide the organization as it invests donor dollars through its impact grant program.

“It’s not just those in poverty that are financially unstable,” Pottinga said. “Rising housing costs, employment opportunities, and barriers to financial stability like childcare costs and transportation are keeping families from moving from financial insecurity to financial stability. I was surprised by the statistics around the cost of quality early childhood education as well as the increasing and prohibitive costs of housing, especially the number of renters that are considered cost burdened.”

The study evaluates the overall health, education, demographics and financial stability status of Shenandoah Valley residents and identifies the needs of the community to prioritize program funding.

“The process of how we evaluate the grant proposals won’t change, but we have created an investment strategy for 2017-2020 that will guide how that money is invested,” she said.

Pottinga added that the results confirmed what the United Way has been hearing from community members and partner agencies.

She said the study will help United Way develop an understanding of the current human care condition and trends in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and their place compared to state and national results.

“It is a resource that we hope nonprofit organizations, foundations, businesses and others will use for program planning, grant writing, strategic planning, training, and other activities,” she said. “The study helps us gauge where the community feels that needs are being met, where gaps in service may exist and where United Way Northern Shenandoah Valley and surrounding United Ways should consider investing donor dollars.”

The assessment findings were compiled through forums with industry experts, partner nonprofits data contributions, analysis from government agency data, community partnerships studies by Valley Health Systems and from national entities such as the U.S. Census Bureau.

Among demographic findings:

• The region has seen a population increase. Frederick County reported a 7.3 percent increase from 2016-2017.

• The valley is expected to continue its population growth, growing an additional 9.8 percent by 2020.

• Those 65 and older will be the largest population in the region, followed by 25 to 39 year olds.

• The percentage of people in the region with disabilities increased from 2013-2015, with Page County having the highest at 18.2 percent of the overall population.

• Race and ethnicity projections show races other than Caucasian will grow to 22 percent of the overall population by 2040.

Education findings:

• There is an increased need for access to quality and affordable pre-school education. Childcare costs, the study notes, account for 13.7 percent of income, and that a minimum wage family’s costs for childcare could be 69.4 percent of their income.

• Over 6,800 children in the region are considered in poverty. In Winchester, 5 percent, or 229 schoolchildren are homeless.

• All jurisdictions saw an increase in on-time high school graduation rates from 2009-2016.

Financial stability findings:

• Winchester and Page County have the highest poverty percentages in the region. Both exceed state and national averages. Shenandoah County’s rates are slightly above state average.

• More than a quarter of families in the region are earning less than $25,000 a year.

• There has been an 81 percent increase in housing costs from 2010-2014.

• The rate of unsheltered homeless rose 260 percent from 2016-2017.

Health findings:

• Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties rank at the bottom half of all counties within the 2016 county health rankings for access to care.

• Opiod-related deaths have increased.

• The assessment found 20.6 percent of middle schoolers in the Lord Fairfax Health District have thought about suicide.