Lower Naugatuck Valley 2000
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 also what your challenges are and how you are addressing them.
A. Citizen Participation
The best example is the HV2000 initiative. An original Steering Committee of 24 had charge to recruit a diverse cross-section of citizens representing every community sector. About 150 people were the first Stakeholders. Over 300 people attended the launch celebration. There are 175 Stakeholders and make-up is reviewed regularly to ensure diversity. Another 500 volunteers work on 37 projects to improve community life. In a 1996 referendum on a $50.5 million school construction and Master Plan in Ansonia, 45% of voters overwhelmingly approved the project. Volunteer-organized community fairs are held in each town, the largest drawing over 30,000 people.
B. Community Leadership
More than 55 organizations that provide most services to residents are members of 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, Police Chiefs, School Superintendents, Fire Chiefs and Ambulance Services. Community leadership retreats resulted in founding the Substance Abuse Action Council, Alliance for Economic Growth and VCHHSO.
C. Government Performance
Four towns have Mayor/aldermen forms of government and three have Selectmen/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 weekly newspapers 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, and Alliance for Economic Growth. Town rule and parochialism are constant threats to regionalism.
D. Volunteerism and Philanthropy
The Valley Volunteer Action Center recruits volunteers meeting the needs of non-profits and is a Connecticut model. It has referred over 2,000 volunteers. The Corporate Volunteer Council has more than 80 member companies. It has completed seven "Week of Caring" projects in the last five years equating to 7200 volunteer hours from 1700 volunteers and inkind total $233,000.These projects: the Battered Women’s Shelter, Parent Child Resource Center, Homeless Shelter, Nature Center, YMCA, Ansonia Community Action Center and Recreation Camp. The High School Volunteer Council develops programs involving students volunteering with non-profit agencies. United Way raises $1 million annually.
E. Intergroup and Intragroup Relations
HV2000 and VCHHSO are structured to be diverse organizations representing and involving all sectors of the community. VCHHSO has a Diversity Committee and provides diversity training. VCHHSO hosts a full-day annual conference for agency and government staff personnel covering a wide range of social and cultural subjects. The United Way hosts an annual government breakfast on topical subjects; VCHHSO has annual sessions with town officials and state legislators. The Volunteer Action Center hosts a community-wide reception and celebration during Volunteer Week. The Chamber of Commerce annually honors four individuals and one program for exemplary community service.
F. Civic Education
A component of HV2000 research was S.W.O.T. (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and use of the NCL Civic Index. HV2000 held Stakeholder meetings monthly for two years, including 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 by doing annual needs assessments and allocating funds to local programs. L.E.A.D. (Leadership Advocating Education Diversity) provides non-profits with a pool of diverse people to serve in board positions. Ansonia was one of two state towns piloting "Kids Voting USA."
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 public access Internet sites. Citizen groups are now establishing web sites to share information and provide discussion forums on community issues. Four daily newspapers and four weeklies provide abundant "Letters to the Editor" and Op-ed space for debate. 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, consensus-driven forum for broad community issues. The community has learned new ways of visioning, decision-making, meeting preparation, management, cooperation and respect. All meetings are open and information is highly publicized. 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 developing a regional vision and action initiatives that are continually revisited ensuring it remains current. Community surveys consistently show that location, suburban pastoral setting, spirit of community, people, and volunteerism make the community unique. 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 examples" 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 Recreation guide were created highlighting community assets and history.
J. Regional Cooperation
The seven towns function very effectively as a region. Examples include: town-funded Valley Street Crime Unit, that bridges the 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 and cooperates with all three on various initiatives including education, transportation and tourism.
2. NCL believes a strong civic infrastructure provides the skills and processes for a community to effectively address important local issues. Using the ten components of NCL’s Civic Index as a guide, discuss how your community’s civic infrastructure is helping the community address its key challenges.
Give examples of how your community has encouraged:
The Valley’s most basic challenge has been learning how to change. This community has undergone a transformation from blue-collar manufacturing to a mixed industrial base with increasing diversity in the population. The Valley communities are very small compared to the three cities that surround us. The Valley has learned to cooperate to address important issues and compete for resources.
Many mistakes and failures taught us the need to look for new models. Five years ago, a synergy and common sense of purpose emerged. Three new organizations were formed: VCHHSO, which addresses the broad spectrum of health issues; the Alliance for Economic Growth, which addresses economic development and planning; and Healthy Valley 2000, which has the widest citizen participation and addresses quality of life issues and identifies community needs. These groups integrated with existing agencies like the Chamber, United Way, Hospital and Council of Elected Officials and now help advance the community’s agenda.
The Community’s goal was to use research, quantitative data and a broad-based visioning process to gain consensus on priority community needs and identify resources. This resulted in agreement on five priority areas of Arts & Recreation, Community Involvement, Economic Development, Education and Health. Each area has a task force whose role is to continue to review needs and initiatives related to the area and implement projects. The project stakeholders hold themselves publicly accountable; meetings are open to all. A regular agenda item is to recruit others. New initiatives are identified and undertaken as needs are identified.