The Valley's Application

Take a few minutes and get acquainted with the Valley's application for the All America City Award. The committee worked very hard to present the Valley's story. These pages contain the full document as required.

COMMUNITY BACKGROUND: Set the background for your community’s story. Summarize your general community situation (not the three specific projects described in subsequent application questions) and the community environment which contributed to your community’s history.

Ensure that the following points are covered:

- Context of your community within the region;

- Extent and nature of citizen participation in community improvement efforts;

- Degree of success in realizing community goals; and

- Success in including diverse populations in all phases of community improvement.

The 1980’s was a decade of change for the six town, Southern Connecticut community as it was transformed from a manufacturing to a more affluent corporate and bedroom community with a more diverse population and employment base. The Valley community is 60 miles from New York City and between three of the state’s largest cities, New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury. The catalyst for change was a new highway through the community which connected two interstates. Prior to 1980, the community had seen little change for more than 50 years. Residents were immigrants who migrated to the community in the early 1900’s. Wage earners worked in manufacturing and shopped and used health and human services in the community.

The economic crisis began in the 1970’s as manufacturing firms downsized. By 1990, many would be out of business and the remaining would be one quarter their former size. In 1975, the largest arson fire in U.S. history put over 1,000 people out of work. The unemployment rate towered at 18%. Fueled by the new highway, the community began a period of unprecedented change, development and growth. The new highway had exposed the region’s advantages to developers. Available and inexpensive land coupled with suburban living in a pastoral setting and a close commute to commercial centers acted as a magnet for young professionals seeking homes and a suburban lifestyle.

Today, 4 of 10 residents have lived in the community ten years or less. Population growth exceeded the state average by 50% in the last census reaching 95,781. Home values and retail sales doubled in seven years. The median per capita income in 1998 was $24,266; 11% of households have income levels below $15,000 and 5% of families had incomes below the poverty level. The unemployment rate remains above the state rate. Three of the six towns have been designated as medically underserved by the federal government.

Community leadership recognized the need to respond to the changing community demographics and the different socioeconomic and health needs and expectations of the more diverse population. Three major new structures were created. In 1993, the Valley Council of Health and Human Service Organizations (VCHHSO) was founded. More than 55 organizations that provide most of the health and human services are members. VCHHSO’s vision is a provider network that works collaboratively to create an integrated human services delivery system that meets the needs of all residents. Now six years old, VCHHSO is a major community force. "Healthy Valley 2000", the state’s first healthy community effort, was launched in 1994. With foundation grant support, the National Civic League was engaged to guide Stakeholders through the process. The vision of the broad-based, volunteer inspired and managed effort is to improve the health and quality of life of the community and its residents by making the community a better place in which to live, work, shop, raise a family and enjoy life. Based on research, including use of the Civic Index, 175 Stakeholders identified Arts & Recreation, Community Involvement, Economic Development, Education and Health as priorities. Youth and America’s Promise goals and Regional Capacity were added. Thirty-seven projects were selected. Seventeen have been completed and others are underway with more than 675 volunteers involved. Each has success indicators and a community report card has been developed.

On the economic development front, the Greater Valley Alliance for Economic Growth was formed in 1993 as a result of a recommendation at a community retreat. The mission is to develop, recommend and implement regional economic development programs. The three new organizations have contributed to changing the way the community faces challenges, goes about its business and cooperates regionally. In October 1998, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) awarded a $2.9 million grant to Yale University and Griffin Hospital to fund a Prevention Research Center at Griffin Hospital, the Valley’s acute care, community hospital and largest employer. The Center is the only hospital based center of the 19 funded. The program will merge the resources of the Yale School of Medicine and Griffin Hospital to focus on improving individual and population health and meeting the needs of the medically underserved population. The Center will advance the work of the community initiatives to the next stage of achieving the goals envisioned by community leaders and laid out in Healthy People 2000. Priorities will be established by a Community Advisory Committee. Every initiative will be guided by a Community Action Team and work collaboratively across diverse community constituencies.

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