LOWER NAUGATUCK VALLEY NAMED A FINALIST IN ALL AMERICA CITY COMPETITION
1. On the next two pages, assess how well your community is doing, based on each of NCL’s ten Civic Index components (review carefully the Civic Index included with application). Support you claims with examples. Please be candid and include not only positive assessments, but what your challenges are and how you are addressing them.
A. Citizen Participation
The best example of citizen participation is the HV2000 initiative. An original Steering Committee of 24 had a charge to identify and recruit a diverse cross section of citizens representing every community sector. About 150 people were selected as the first Stakeholder group. More than 300 people attended the launch celebration in October 1994. There are 175 Stakeholders and the make-up is reviewed to ensure diversity. Another 500 volunteers work on thirty-seven projects to improve life in the community. In a 1996 referendum on a $50.5 million school construction and Master Plan in Ansonia, 45% of eligible voters turned out overwhelmingly approving the project. Volunteer organized community fairs are held in each town with the largest drawing over 15,000 people. A community foundation has provided $210,000 funding 80 small neighborhood improvement projects.
B. Community Leadership
More than 55 organizations that provide most services to residents are members of the Valley Council of Health and Human Service Organizations (VCHHSO). By-laws require participation by a senior, decision-making executive. Average monthly attendance is 35. The Greater Valley Alliance for Economic Growth includes the Economic Development Directors of all towns, business and social service representatives. Valley municipal executives meet as a Council of Elected Officials. Other Valley regional groups include the United Way, Chamber of Commerce, Substance Abuse Action Council, Police Chiefs, School Superintendents, Fire Chiefs and Ambulance Services. Community leadership retreats resulted in founding the Substance Abuse Action Council, Greater Valley Alliance for Economic Growth and the VCHHSO.
C. Government Performance
Three towns have Mayor/alderman forms of government and three have Selectman/town meeting forms. The competency of government and cooperation of chief elected officials has increased as the community has transformed. Turnover of top officials either by personal or voter choice has been regular, including a change of political parties. Intense media coverage by three dailies and four weeklies keeps office holders publicly accountable. Citizen watchdog groups exist in most towns. Municipal elected officials are active in the Council of Elected Officials, Valley Regional Planning Agency, Greater Valley Alliance for Economic Growth and in recruiting new companies. Cooperation with other sectors varies by town but is generally positive. Town rule and parochialism are constant threats to regionalism.
D. Volunteerism and Philanthropy
The Valley Volunteer Action Center recruits and matches volunteers to meet the needs of non-profits and is a Connecticut model. It has referred over 2,000 volunteers and has over 200 volunteer openings. The Corporate Volunteer Council has more than 60 member companies. It has completed six special "Week of Caring" projects in three years; 300 volunteers transformed the Battered Women’s Shelter from disrepair to a newly renovated facility; similarly the Parent Child Resource Center, Homeless Shelter, Nature Center, and Recreation Camp were renovated. Another Council project provided new outfits and school supplies for opening day to 250 needy children. The High School Volunteer Council develops programs to involve students in volunteering in non-profit agencies. Two local philanthropic foundations provide about $1.2 million annually to non-profits. United Way raises $1 million annually and has a foundation.
E. Intergroup and Intragroup Relations
HV2000 and the VCHHSO are structured to be diverse organizations including, representing and involving all sectors of the community. The VCHHSO has a Diversity Committee and has provided diversity training. The VCHHSO hosts a full day annual conference for agency and government staffpersonnel covering a wide range of social, topical and cultural subjects such as cultural diversity, the Disabilities Act and welfare reform. The United Way hosts an annual government breakfast on a topical subject; the VCHHSO has annual sessions with town officials and state legislators. The Volunteer Action Center hosts a community-wide reception and celebration during Volunteer Week honoring an outstanding individual, corporation and agency. The Chamber of Commerce annually honors four individuals and one program for exemplary community service.
F. Civic Education
A component of HV2000 research was a S.W.O.T. (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and use of the NCL Civic Index. HV2000 held Stakeholder meetings monthly for two years which included citizenship and civic responsibility components. A focus of a federal, $1 million, 3 year Community Partnership grant was youth empowerment and involvement. The Youth Leadership Program is designed to develop future community leaders. Youth do an annual needs assessment and allocate funds to local programs. L.E.A.D. (Leadership Advocating Education Diversity) is a VCHHSO program aimed at providing non-profits with a talented pool of culturally diverse people to serve in leadership/board positions. Ansonia was one of two state towns piloting-Kids Voting USA which teaches youth about the rights, privileges and responsibilities of voting.
G. Community Information Sharing
The Electronic Valley is a volunteer created communication and information system using the Internet that links all community sectors. It has more than 100 home pages and 1,000 pages of content. There are 16 Internet public access sites. Citizen groups are now establishing web sites to share information and provide discussion forums on community issues. Supported by a local utility "Taking Care of Business" vision, planning and problem solving programs were started in three towns. Three daily newspapers and four weeklies provide abundant Letters To The Editor and Op-ed space for debate. Connecticut has a Freedom of Information law requiring open public meetings. Government and town meetings are well attended particularly on controversial issues. The local cable company and citizens tape public meetings and broadcast them on a public access channel.
H. Capacity for Cooperation and Consensus Building
HV2000 is a neutral forum for broad community issues. The decision making process relies on consensus. As a result the community has learned new ways of visioning, decision-making, consensus-building, meeting preparation, management and evaluation and of cooperation and respect for other views. All meetings are open and information is publicized through news releases, a newsletter and annual report. This has set an example and standard for civic and government organizations. Historically there has been difficulty in building partnerships and a regional agenda on education. In 1998, supported by a grant, "A Community Conversation on Education" brought citizens and leadership together with positive and continuing results. The community was selected to receive one of ten Americorps/America’s Promise Fellows to advance youth goals regionally.
I. Community Vision and Pride
All sectors worked together to develop a regional vision and action initiatives. The vision is revisited to ensure it remains current. Community surveys have consistently shown that location, a suburban pastoral setting, a spirit of community, people, and volunteerism make the community unique. The first Valley Pride Week was held with individuals, government, agencies and civic organizations undertaking 10 clean-up, fix-up projects. The community was selected as one of sixteen "teaching example" presenters at the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future and one of the first hundred America’s Promise Communities of Promise. A Valley Heritage driving tour and arts and recreationguide were created to highlight the history and assets of the community. Surveys have repeatedly shown that community pride is one of the Valley’s characteristics and attributes.
J. Regional Cooperation
The six towns function very effectively as a region. Examples are a Valley Street Crime Unit, funded by all towns, that bridges the town police departments for "undercover" operations, and a Family Violence Task Force involving all sectors. However, state mandated regions for education, tourism, social services, labor districts and transportation are inconsistent and place towns in different groupings for each category. This diminishes the region’s influence and effectiveness. Community leadership has learned to manage the condition. The Valley is also located between three of the State’s largest cities, New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury and cooperates with all three on various initiatives including education, transportation and tourism.