|COMM-ORG Papers 2004||
August 11th, 2003
Over the last three months I conducted research for Community Action Network, a local non-profit that provides programs and services to two low-income public housing communities, Hikone and Green Baxter Court (GBC). Hikone and Green Baxter Court are situated in the relatively affluent city of Ann Arbor, located in southeast Michigan. Though similar in size (Hikone having 29 single family units and Green Baxter Court comprising of 24 single family units), their different locations within the Ann Arbor city limits as well as their very different program histories have led the residents to view community based service providers differently and subsequently have led to different expectations in the role of such an organization within each community. Hikone has enjoyed an almost completely continuous set of programs offered by just a few organizations since it was built in 1970. For the last 15 years, Community Action Network (CAN) has provided these services at Hikone. This consistency has caused the residents to expect a high level of service. Green Baxter Court on the other hand, has faced decades of sporadic and inconsistent programs, provided by many different agencies. Subsequently the residents have not relied as heavily on such agencies. CAN is the newest of these organizations as it began providing services to GBC just over a year ago.
It is onto this bi-level expectation platform that CAN began to bridge the gap in programs between Green Baxter Court and Hikone. As CAN familiarized itself with GBC over the past year, it became aware of these differences and wanted to further investigate them to better address them.
This study sought to answer the question: “What expectations do different stakeholder groups (funders, board members, and residents) have for CAN?” After document analysis, a focus group, and a series of interviews this is what I found.
Even before one begins to evaluate stakeholder’s expectations, it is important to understand CAN’s vision of itself. By reading CAN’s mission statement, one gets a strong sense of the multi-faceted nature of CAN’s activities. CAN’s mission statement reads as follows:
It is the mission of Community Action Network (CAN) to provide a full array of programs and services for children and the families residing at the Hikone and Green Baxter Court communities in Ann Arbor. CAN advocates for and empowers residents to discover their strengths and their opportunities to make positive choices and offers them the tools to reduce or eliminate the personal, social, and institutional barriers of achieving success. CAN is committed to providing culturally diverse programs and services by a sensitive and diverse staff. Its’ ultimate goal is to enable the individuals and communities it serves to create drug- and crime-free growing environments.
To accomplish this extensive mission, CAN offers activities in four areas: Programs, Services, Community Building, and Advocacy.
The majority of CAN’s efforts go towards providing programs. CAN offers two types of programs: children’s and adults’ programs. Since children’s programs receive far more funding, CAN is able to provide the youth community with a greater variety of programs. To provide Hikone and GBC children with the most well rounded experience possible, CAN’s youth programs have five different components: Academic Programs, Personal Growth Activities, Recreational Activities, Cultural Programs, and Summer Enrichment. Academic Programs range from incorporating the Magic Tree House Book Series into the summer program to partnerships with America Reads and The Serendipity Reading and Science Club. Boy & Girl Scouts, as well teen groups like Boy & Girl Talk, are a few of the activities that comprise CAN’s personal growth activities. To promote an active lifestyle, CAN arranges trips to local pools as well as school gyms to meet the children’s recreational needs. CAN exposes the children to culture by arranging trips to art museums and collaborating with organizations such as Wild Swan Theater and the Ann Arbor Art Center to offer activities like weekly art classes. The final component to CAN’s children’s programs is a 6-week summer camp. The program divides the children by age, providing a camp for the older children at GBC and one for the younger kids at Hikone. CAN collaborates with other area organizations (Wild Swan Theater at GBC and Ann Arbor Art Center at Hikone) to provide the youth with a wide range of summer activities. All programs provided by CAN are free, but enrollment is restricted to Hikone and GBC residents.
CAN’s adult programs are far more limited in comparison to the children’s programs due to limited funding and lower participation rates. However, CAN does try to meet the adult communities’ needs by providing programs such as first aid classes, parenting classes, and support groups.
The next area of activity in which CAN engages is services. Due to residents’ financial situations, there are times when they need help meeting basic needs like acquiring food and clothing or paying utility bills. Rather than duplicating services, CAN helps residents meet these needs by providing them with referrals to organizations like Kiwanis, PTO Thrift Shop, Fairy Godparents and Food Gatherers. These services are usually confidential and dispensed on an as needed basis, so overall CAN’s services are less visible than its programs. However, since many of the organizations who offer this kind of support will not serve those in need directly but rather will only work through a referring agency, CAN’s involvement becomes necessary to connect residents to these services.
Hikone and GBC are extremely diverse communities comprised of residents with different cultures and abilities. Language and education barriers can make it difficult for these residents to advocate for themselves and their families. In these cases, CAN steps in and aids residents by getting involved in such activities as helping them fill out necessary FIA paper work and advocating for students in schools. At times CAN acts as a voice for these communities through the advocacy it provides on a policy level as well.
CAN’s community building activities are attempts to make Hikone and GBC positive places to live. Hikone and GBC are relatively small communities where residents live in extremely close proximity. These close quarters can cause conflict to escalate and through activities like potlucks, holiday festivities, and site cleanups, CAN tries to build a sense of community. CAN’s community building activities act as preventive measures to stop more overt problems. It also tries to diffuse the frequent tensions that plague both sites.
CAN offers activities in the four areas of programs, services, community building, and advocacy in hopes of best meeting the residents’ needs and expectations. At the same time, it tries to please funders and board members. However, CAN must be able to identify the needs and expectations of these major stakeholder groups before they can see if they are meeting them. Therefore, I conducted interviews to uncover these major stakeholders’ expectations, beginning with Hikone residents.
During my CAN experience, I spent more time at Hikone than at GBC and subsequently developed closer relationships with its residents. When I asked these individuals if they would allow me to interview them, they consented immediately. I conducted four interviews without difficulty and the responses I received were overall very positive.
Focus on children’s programs
Since Hikone is a family housing site, all the residents I interviewed are parents. Despite their different parenting styles, they all agreed that children are CAN’s primary focus. Within the board spectrum of children’s programs, the Hikone residents I interviewed felt that academic programs were the most important type of children’s programs offered. As one resident stated:
“these programs are important especially because of the low literacy in the neighborhood. Kids can’t get help from parents and don’t have the financial resources to pay for other academic programs. Also, it is really important that kids be able to read because it helps their self-esteem.”
Even one of the residents who dislikes CAN’s presence in the community, and refuses to participate in other CAN sponsored activities, allows her child to attend some of the academic programs like America Reads. Hikone residents, when asked, all rate the importance of academic programs as “very important” (Please see Comparison Section for rating scale). The residents I interviewed felt that the other children’s programs (the cultural, recreational, personal growth, and summer enrichment programs) were also pretty important, rating them between “important” and “very important.” Their comments also reflect their overall approval of these programs as they state:
“I love the summer programs, especially in comparison to the other option of kids just running around unsupervised. It is good to keep them busy because it helps them to avoid bad influences like drugs, violence, and alcohol. They are learning and it is fun. The trips to historical places are also really nice.”
“Plays and trips to museums are important because they instill culture.”
“Because of the high rate of diabetes and obesity in children, CAN needs to encourage kids to stay healthy by providing programs for them to participate in like swimming”
“Boy Scouts teaches values and bestows self worth which is very important to the kids of this community.”
The interviewed residents give academic programs slight priority, but all agree that the other programs are important as well to give children a well rounded experience.
CAN’s other activities
When I asked Hikone residents about their opinions and experiences with adult programs, services, advocacy, and community building there was a little more variance in responses. It was interesting to see how some residents could quickly name off a long list of adult programs, services, advocacy, and community building activities while others had difficulty even thinking of any. This differed from the children’s programs, where whether or not the residents’ children participated; they had a good sense of what was offered.
When it comes to adult programs, most adults think that services offered like:
“Parenting classes are a great idea. Kids misbehave because of bad parenting. They [Parents] don’t know how to take care of their children. It is important to discipline without violence. Hopefully people will take advantage of such a class-parents need to learn how to help their child.”
However, it is important to note that while quotes like these reinforce that adult programs are important, past attendance to such programs contrasts with these opinions. In fact, at the last few adult programs, no more than one or two individuals attended.
Most Hikone residents interviewed also feel that CAN’s involvement in services is critical because:
“there is a go between. Sometimes when residents try to go out and get services they run into a lot of opposition. CAN has a better relationship with the agencies and some organizations make residents beg.”
From my observation, services are one place where most of the residents participate. For example, every other Wednesday Food Gatherers comes and drops off groceries, giving the residents an opportunity to come and get what they need. It was while I was helping out with events like this that I met the greatest number of Hikone residents because for many it is only in the service arena that they are involved in CAN’s work.
Most of the interviewed Hikone residents hold the belief that “Advocacy is essential to a community center to get resources for community.” An average of all the interviewed residents’ ratings showed they felt advocacy was “important” and when the dissenting subgroup’s (see below) rating was eliminated from the equation, this rating jumped to “very important” (refer to Comparison Section).
Most Hikone residents feel “without CAN involvement, resident conflicts escalate [and] because CAN can act as the authority” these problems subside.
Overall the residents’ opinions reflect how involved they are with CAN’s activities. Those who attend activities have positive experiences and those who don’t attend think they are unnecessary. However, residents rate all of CAN’s children’s activities as more important than the others regardless of participation, reinforcing that residents agreed that CAN’s main responsibility is to provide children’s programs.
Though overall I conducted my Hikone interviews with ease, there was a small subgroup of three dissenters who I would like to explain more fully. During my time at CAN a strange episode took place within a small group of residents. One resident who battles mental health issues and has a turbulent on/off relationship with CAN began rousing other residents against CAN and the resident council. She even called local news stations and started petitions in the hopes of closing down CAN and dissolving the residents’ council, though it seemed that CAN had done nothing to provoke these actions. She called the Mayor’s office and threatened to kill the CAN director and burn down the community center. Though CAN staff members were upset about these events, they did not seem overly surprised. I was told that just in the past year the Ann Arbor Housing Commission and the Ann Arbor Public School system had been targeted with threats of lawsuits, and calls to Congress and the media had been made by the same woman. At first I was very reluctant to speak with her and her two friends because they intimidated me. However, I realized that though they were a very small population within Hikone, I needed to interview them to gain an overall view of the community. At first this resident and her friends were unwilling to talk to me but a few days later when I approached them again, they eagerly accepted my interview invitation. One of the residents ushered me into her kitchen and she and the second resident bombarded me with complaints against CAN before I could begin asking any of my questions. Their accusations ranged from staff prying into residents’ lives, to discrimination against disabled children. One woman repeatedly complained that her children had caught lice from another family that lived on site, and that CAN refused to check the other children for head lice every day. This tirade of complaints continued for about an hour and a half during which I only got a handful of my questions answered. Some of their responses differed greatly from my previous interviews (as I suspected that they would). These residents felt that CAN should not be involved in any adult programs, community building, advocacy, or services because as one of the residents stated “We don’t need CAN’s help, we are doing just fine by ourselves.” Interestingly, all three members of this group had utilized CAN’s services frequently, requesting (and receiving) assistance with utility bills, furniture, clothing shopping vouchers, holiday presents, etc.
However there was one similarity between these residents and the others. These residents felt that if the center was going to offer only one kind of support to the community it should be in the form of children’s programs. Presently, the unstable woman has calmed down due to a change in her medication and the alliance between the three friends has fallen apart. There have been accusations (and reports to authorities) of child abuse and cable fraud between two of the women. One of the women was recently arrested and as of this writing is housed in the Washtenaw County Jail. I feel pretty certain that if I interviewed these women again, it would be a very different experience. In fact all three families took advantage of a recent Back To School BBQ event where CAN distributed new back packs and school supplies to all school aged children. This episode showed me how volatile a public housing site like Hikone can be and some of the struggles CAN faces. However, Hikone is only one of the sites which CAN serves, and GBC has its own issues which CAN needs to understand and address.
As mentioned earlier, I am not as familiar with the Green Baxter Court community. For many reasons, including the nature of the site, I do not have the close contacts that I enjoy at Hikone. I found it harder to set up interviews but after many visits and phone calls I was able to interview six GBC residents. I feel like more of an outsider in their community than I do at Hikone. GBC’s residents’ views on CAN also revealed the differences between the Hikone and GBC communities.
A call for adult programs
Like at Hikone, the GBC residents interviewed felt that children’s programs were one of CAN’s primary responsibilities, making comments like:
“The programs are good because they really help the children, especially when it comes to learning.”
“Programs like Boy Talk/Girl Talk are important because kids needs to hear positive things from people besides their parents.”
They too feel that academic programs are the most important component of children’s programs but that the other children’s activities are important as well. In fact, though residents rated academic programs as very important, they rated the rest of the programs between important and very important, with these ratings leaning slightly more towards very important (see Comparison Section). Overall the interviewees would like to see children’s programs have a little more structure, which reflects the lack of structure in the past- an issue that CAN’s staff is currently working hard to improve.
However, residents also heavily weigh CAN’s involvement in adult programs. In comparison to Hikone, the adult programs are slightly more limited and from my observation, the adult community is less involved in onsite activities. Just by visiting the two sites, one can see the difference. At Hikone, there are almost always adults outside watching the children as they play. However, at GBC the children are left up to their own devices with no adult supervision. Subsequently, GBC faces far more vandalism problems than does Hikone. Thus, I was surprised to hear the interviewed GBC residents interest in adult programs, saying:
“Programs like anger management seminars are a good idea because a lot of people don’t know how to control their anger.”
“Parenting classes would be helpful because people need alternative approaches to parenting.”
Some residents did bring up the issue of low turn out, not because of lack of interest but rather because of residents’ work schedules and poor event publicity.
Services, Advocacy, and Community Building
There is also a definite difference between the Hikone residents interviewed and the GBC residents in how active CAN should be in services, advocacy, and community building.
Services. Overall, GBC is underserved compared to Hikone. Residents would like to see CAN provide more support. However, from my observation, GBC residents are more independent and this was reinforced when I asked them about services. When asked about the importance of CAN’s involvement in different service activities, many questioned if those actions were CAN’s duties at all. They would like to see CAN provide them with the contacts, but they want to obtain the services by themselves. They want to be responsible for many of their own needs. As one resident put it
“services are good but it would be good if there was more communication because then residents would better understand what all they could use if need be. It would be nice to have a counselor (resident or CAN staff member) per unit who had access to a list of contact people and residents could find out information from their assigned counselor.”
This more independent attitude is one that many of the residents I interviewed seemed to have. Follow up conversations with staff, however, paint a different picture. While CAN staff members acknowledged that GBC residents express a desire to be more self-reliant, requests for assistance with rent, utility bills, clothing, etc. are just as frequent (if not more) from GBC residents as from Hikone residents. Even the specific interviewed residents who so gamely spoke about independence, often relied on CAN for support in meeting their basic needs.
Advocacy. Advocacy was another area where GBC residents revealed their independent attitudes. When asked if CAN should be involved in activities like advocating for children in schools one parent said “Parents should take responsibility for their children’s needs, not CAN.” This was an opinion many of the residents the GBC residents I interviewed seemed to share. For the most part they didn’t expect CAN to be part of their lives when it came to issues like advocacy. However, after the interviews were completed, I discovered by coincidence that CAN had provided advocacy for almost all the GBC sample families. CAN provided educational advocacy for four GBC residents I interviewed and it provided support for a psychological evaluation of another child whose parent I included in my study. It was very interesting to find that these residents did not recognize that some of these quite extensive advocacy services were exactly that.
Community Building. Though many GBC residents interviewed believed that community building is important, some feel that this is more a responsibility of residents. One resident stated that the “resident council should be responsible for site cleanups.” Statements like this again revealed GBC’s residents desires for a more independent community.
Overall, the GBC residents I interviewed are looking for increased CAN involvement in order to make the community and its residents more self-sufficient.
The next stakeholder group I interviewed was board members. I interviewed four board members, who are all members of the Ann Arbor community, but not residents of the communities which CAN serves. The board members I contacted were more than willing to meet with me and here, too, I found a range of knowledge and expectations in regards to CAN’s work.
The board members interviewed agreed with residents that children’s programs were essential, making comments like:
“Personal growth activities are good because kids need balance, not just academics. It exposes them to things that they wouldn’t normally be exposed and gives them morals, community building and many other valuable lessons. The teens’ programs are good because anything that allows teens to vent/communicate is really good.”
“The summer program is a great program. There are a variety of different things to do. The direction is good and it gives the children something to share with parents and be excited about. The organization is important.”
“Recreational programs are good. They break up the time and even though parents have access to free pools and Rec. and Ed classes they don’t always use them because of the language barriers, work, or small children. Also these activities balance academics”
They too believe that academics is the most important component of these activities as all board members rated academic programs as “very important.” The rest of the programs came in a close second, with most receiving a rating of “important.” Despite the overall consensus that CAN is performing well, there are two concerns that arose during board member interviews. The first question was whether CAN uses the local community’s rich academic resources optimally. One board member explained, “CAN needs to more actively select volunteers and programs rather than react to offers.” The second was making sure programs are evaluated and assessed, and that the most effective academic programs are selected. This board member went on to explain that when children are involved in a particular program, it means that time slot is taken. It may be time better spent in a more effective program or activity. This board member feels that CAN should almost exclusively engage in academic programs.
Services, Advocacy, and Adult Programs
When the board members interviewed were asked about services, advocacy, community building, and adult programs, their responses were mixed. For the most part the CAN board members interviewed had a good sense of the services, programs, community building, and advocacy CAN provides. However a few CAN’s board members don’t know much about CAN’s role in such activities.
Services. Services are one area where the difference in knowledge about CAN’s activities was evident. As one board member put it, when CAN provides services it provides
“contacts to community college, medical referrals, household equipment, drug counseling, other on an ad hoc basis…. [CAN] gets the appropriate agency referrals to residents to get needed resources.”
This board member has a well-developed understanding of what CAN’s role within the service provider arena. However, other board members do not have such a clear picture of CAN’s involvement in the area of service providing/ referrals. One board member stated, “We shouldn’t use CAN money to provide these services, but rather get other organizations to do this because you don’t want to duplicate other organizations efforts.” From my observation, CAN does not duplicate services, it only acts as a liaison and referral source. Even if it were inclined to provide direct services, it does not have the budget to do so. The confusion is understandable because board members are not involved in the day-to-day operations. Subsequently, sometimes they do not have as strong a sense of what actually occurs.
Advocacy. The issue of advocacy revealed another area where board members have a limited understanding about CAN’s activities. One board member said the following about CAN’s advocacy, “I don’t know what advocacy CAN does. I know that Joan does some work with the schools, but I think that is just Joan’s independent efforts.” The efforts that this board member is referring to is Ms. Doughty’s involvement in advocating for residents in a number of different academic areas. Ms. Doughty works to get Hikone and GBC residents into all day kindergarten programs, creating Individualized Educational Plans for residents with special needs, and a variety of other tasks. Sometimes the parents of these children are not involved in their children’s educational endeavors. Due to this, CAN must step in to make sure that the children have a voice in the educational system or else these children are marginalized. For example, all day kindergarten was designed to keep “at-risk” children on par with their peers, such as GBC and Hikone children. However, neither of the elementary schools that Hikone and GBC residents attend offer all day kindergarten. Therefore, CAN became involved with the school administration in order to get Hikone and GBC residents enrolled in such programs. Without CAN’s involvement, it is possible that these children would be forgotten. Some board members understood CAN’s advocacy role better:
“CAN provides advocacy by help filling out Head Start information, being involved with immigration office, resident council, and visibility in the community by maintaining relationships with agencies and departments like the City, United Way, and Housing Commission.”
Again, the different images of CAN’s role in advocacy reveals that CAN has to work to make sure that all board members are better aware of the activities in which CAN engages.
Community Building. The final area which CAN needs to educate some of its board members is community building. Some board members weren’t aware of any community building events in which CAN participated, while others quickly named off a whole range of events including activities like potlucks and the Spring Fling. When board members were asked to rate community building activities, they rated them between somewhat important and important. Though many board members think “community building activities are great and a good way to connect residents” there was a concern that such activities were using too many of CAN’s resources because “lots of money was spent on the last community building activity and I am nervous about spending that much money on one event. CAN needs to make sure that we accurately assess needs [of the community]” when providing such activities. This board member was referring to a community event that was sponsored by a private funder. This funder had specified that part of the grant be used for this activity. However, clearly the board member did not know this, or did not understand the input funders can have when they make donations. CAN needs to clarify its role in community building activities with its board and to explain its funding sources and their matching expense categories .
Though board members displayed different levels of understanding about adult programs, services, advocacy, and community building, interviewed board members all felt that CAN needed to be responsive to resident requests in all of the above arenas.
The last group I interviewed was funders. Individuals from three of CAN’s four major funders allowed me to interview them. Up until this point, I hadn’t had much contact with the funders and interviewing them proved to be more difficult than I anticipated because of their busy schedules. However, I was able to interview them all and their responses helped me map a more complete picture of expectations.
Like all the stakeholders who had proceeded them, the funders interviewed were most aware of the children’s programs CAN offered. They felt that these programs were a major priority, making comments like:
“I do not have too much detailed knowledge of programs but programs like Serendipity seem to be good. Mr. Conboy is enthusiastic and the program seems to be doing well.”
“Kids have such limited experiences so it is good to provide them these experiences. Some of them don’t ever venture out of Ann Arbor so these activities broaden their horizons.”
“Summer programs are huge especially because of the lack of affordable child care. It is nice that the programs are community based and consistent because then transportation is not an issue and the fact that the program is full speaks volumes.”
Funders all rated academic programs as “very important” and most of the other children’s programs as “important,” which closely coincides with all the other stakeholders’ ratings of the children’s programs.
CAN’s other activities
Outside the scope of children’s programs, the funders interviewed had a limited view of CAN’s other activities. The following issues arose when some of CAN’s funders were asked about these activities:
1. They didn’t understand the nature of them;
2. They weren’t aware of the need;
3. They didn’t understand CAN’s role in providing them;
Adult Programs. Adult programs consistently receive less funding than children’s programs because, as one funder put it, “Adult programs aren’t the priority.” Most funders believe children’s programs are much more important. In reference to adult programs, one funder commented “The main question is what do residents want? For many it seems like information and referrals are what people are looking for.” Statements like these relate to second issue identified above, that some funders are not aware of the need for adult programs. As GBC residents indicated, they would like to see more adult programs, but currently there is not enough funding to support these programs. Hopefully this study will help to make funders aware of this desire for adult programs and subsequently funders will allocate more funds towards such activities.
Services. CAN’s involvement in services is another area where funders (like board members) had a limited understanding of what CAN does. As one funder put it CAN “doesn’t want to duplicate services, so it is important to refer to other organizations rather than provide the services itself.” Again, from my observation, CAN does not duplicate services. Evidently there are both board members and funders who are not aware of this. CAN needs to more effectively communicate to both stakeholder groups how it only liaisons with other organizations to meet its clients needs.
A related topic surfaced when some CAN funders raised the dilemma of empowering versus enabling residents through services. This is a valid concern; one that is frequently discussed within the CAN staff meetings. From my observation, CAN takes great care to do the former rather than the latter. Unfortunately many supporting agencies make this difficult by requiring a referral from another service providing agency to access its services. This referral process makes residents dependent on organizations like CAN, which in turn prevents them from becoming self-sufficient.
Advocacy. Advocacy is another area where funders have a limited understanding of CAN’s efforts. As one funder admitted “I am unaware of CAN’s involvement in advocacy but I think that advocacy is important because it gives people confidence to do things for themselves.” This funder recognized the importance of advocacy but does not know what CAN does to meet this need. Again, this reflects a communication gap CAN needs to fill.
Community Building. Some funders admitted to not being aware of any community building activities though they felt such efforts “were a good way to bring people together.” CAN needs to make sure its funders are more aware of all its efforts. Ironically, all the funders interviewed feel that “CAN is doing a good job communicating with funders.” Since funders are pleased with the way CAN is communicating, maybe the real problem lies in the kind of information being communicated. CAN needs to focus on giving funders a more complete view of its activities.
The funders I interviewed are overall pleased with CAN’s work. They emphasized CAN should elicit resident input so that it provides the services and activities residents really need and want. CAN seems to be doing this by establishing residents councils. These councils not only give residents a more powerful voice in the development of CAN activities, but also allow a structural link to the greater community.
Interviewees in this study were asked to rate the importance of CAN’s various activities on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being not important and 5 being very important, and some of these ratings have been incorporated into earlier sections. The table below displays a complete set of stakeholder ratings as well as rating averages of both activities and each stakeholder group’s overall rating of the importance of CAN’s involvement in providing the activity. It is critical to note that the numerical values are not as important as the trends they represent. Each of the stakeholder groups interviewed only contained between 3 and 6 individuals and so one outlier could drastically affect the rating. Due to this, focus should be placed on the trends that these ratings reveal rather than the ratings themselves and are only suggestive. Also, the Hikone responses were calculated twice, once with the “dissenter group” included and once without this group. Since that group was so erratic, some days despising CAN’s work and other days loving CAN, I strongly believe them to be such “outliers.” It seems important to include both averages. I used the Hikone ratings without this group for comparative purposes.
|Stakeholder Groups’ ratings of CAN’s involvement in providing certain activities|
|Hikone Residents||Hikone residents without outliers||GBC residents||Board Members||Funders||Average rating of each activity|
|Average stakeholder rating of CAN’s involvement||3.952||4.73||4.4||3.65||3.72||4.09|
Hikone vs. GBC
The above rating tendencies confirm what my interviews showed: Hikone and GBC are very different communities. Overall Hikone rated the importance of CAN’s involvement in the community higher than the GBC residents did. This reflects Hikone’s higher expectations of CAN. However, GBC’s ratings aren’t much lower, which seems to indicate that they would like to see more CAN involvement. Perhaps they have lower expectations due to their past experiences with former social service organizations. CAN should make an effort to equalize the programs and services more in both communities, something CAN seems to have already begun. At the same time, it also needs to remember that both communities are unique.
Residents vs. Board Members
There is a little more variance between resident ratings and board member ratings of different CAN activities. However, overall the ratings aren’t drastically different. The biggest differences are seen in the ratings of importance of advocacy and adult programs. The variance could be attributed to the fact that some board members do not know about resident’s desire for adult programs or CAN’s role in advocacy. With increased communication to board members, it is my opinion the ratings would become even more similar.
Residents vs. Funders
The biggest difference in ratings can be found between funders and residents, but again the difference isn’t very large. The largest differences between residents’ and funders’ ratings of importance are in the categories of advocacy and services. Again, the difference in advocacy ratings seems to be attributable to funders’ lack of knowledge of CAN’s role in advocacy. The different services ratings are probably linked to funders’ concern that CAN may be duplicating services, which isn’t true. In both cases, more funder education could eradicate these misconceptions, which likely in turn would lead to more similar funder and resident ratings.
A comparative analysis of these interviews showed that, slight differences not withstanding, all stakeholder groups hold similar expectations of CAN. Everyone seems to agree that children’s programs are very important and that the rest of CAN’s activities take a secondary position. Adult programs were rated as more important in the GBC community than at Hikone. While it is CAN’s goal to achieve more parity between Hikone and GBC, future program development will need to consider those kinds of differences.
In addition, the following issues deserve attention:
Funder and Board Member Education
This study showed that some board members and funders have misconceptions about some of CAN’s activities, particularly the work outside of children’s programs. Specifically, funders misunderstand the nature of CAN’s services component, and the need for agency involvement in the referral process in particular. Similarly, the on-going need for community building activities is difficult to grasp unless one is intimately familiar with the community dynamics at stress-filled low-income public housing sites. CAN needs to more effectively communicate with funders and some board members to ensure they have a more complete understanding of the need, scope and nature of CAN’s activities.
Communication with GBC Residents
In addition, CAN needs to improve its communication with GBC residents. The interviewed GBC residents said they feel like CAN has not worked sufficiently hard to keep them informed about activities and available resources. However, both the vast majority of both Hikone and GBC residents see the resident council as a positive way of facilitating communication as well as a liaison of sorts with the Housing Commission and CAN. CAN should continue to foster the growth of these new councils to preserve the lines of communication. Resident councils also facilitate resident input into CAN’s program development, something funders and board members value highly.
Funder and Board Member Concerns
Overall, funders and board members rated the importance of CAN’s work slightly lower than residents did. This is partially because (as many of them mentioned) they do not see the day-to-day effects of CAN’s work. However, three major themes surfaced:
Identifying resident needs:
CAN already addresses this concern through the formation of resident councils and by incorporating residents onto its board of directors. The commission of this study is another way to gain meaningful feedback to CAN administrators. However, while at first sight resident input can seem to be only positive, this study raised the following questions:
It is difficult (and disheartening) to develop programs based on resident feedback/input, only to have them fail for one reason or the other. CAN has to weigh residents’ requests with what it believes it can realistically accomplish. This is hard, but overall CAN seems to be doing a good job providing programs that meet the majority of the residents’ needs.
Utilizing outside agencies
One funder explained she felt adult programs were less important because “things that can help GBC/Hikone residents already exist in the community, CAN’s role is to help residents access these resources, not to provide them themselves.” This is a criticism many community based agencies face. However, when residents try to access services independently, they often find that unless they have a referral from another agency, they are denied support. This is why CAN’s role is so important: it provides residents a crucial a link to a variety of different services. For example, to get aid from Kiwanis (for example, to receive household items), another organization must write a request on agency letterhead, specifically outlining every item this individual needs. After Kiwanis receives this referral and approves the requested items, it issues a voucher to the requesting agency. Kiwanis sets aside one hour a week (Thursday from 9:30 – 10:30) during which the client, accompanied by the requesting staff member, can shop for the specified items at its thrift shop. Clients cannot self refer, and they must come with the staff member, or they are denied service. Policies like these increase the dependence of low-income clients on service providers and disregard such as unreliable transportation and inflexible work schedules. Organizations like CAN are needed not just to refer, but also to make sure that once a request is granted, residents have a way of accessing it.
Balancing Imported Programs vs. CAN Staff Initiated Programs
As the historical analyses of GBC and Hikone show, the agencies that preceded CAN had to carefully balance agency-specific programs with programs offered by other agencies. Sometimes these agencies’ demise was partially a result of not maintaining this balance. Yet, for programs to succeed in a community center, there must be a nucleus of staff that builds a relationship with the resident families. Thus, CAN must maintain enough of a program base that the agency is not completely dependent on other organizations. CAN will be able to sustain itself if it actively pursues outside program support while at the same time cultivating its own independent core staff.
GBC and Hikone have experienced quite a bit of change over the past decade and a half. Even the last year has brought many changes. As CAN looks to better serve its communities, it has turned to research like this study to better understand itself, its impact and its clients. The very fact that CAN employed such a study shows their commitment to Hikone and GBC and hopefully the results from assessments like this will allow CAN continued sustained growth into a mature, stable organization that meets the needs of its clients.
1. Organizations and individuals are identified with permission. See: Thomas’ A Synopsis of the Program Histories of Ann Arbor’s Green Baxter Court and Hikone Communities 1970 to Present, 2003, for more background.
2. The Family Independence Agency of the State of Michigan.
Tara Thomas is a junior at The University of Michigan majoring in Organizational Studies and Economics. She has a strong interest in the non profit sector and plans to pursue a career in the field upon graduation. She is especially interested in international development issues. After gaining more exposure in the field, she would like to return to academia to pursue a joint Masters in Business Administration and Social Work.