Community Needs Assessment: What We Learned

In the summer of 2021, United Way of 1000 Lakes began a Community Needs Assessment, seeking to learn everything we could about our region’s strengths, challenges, and most pressing needs. Led by our volunteer Community Impact Committee, the goals of the Assessment were to identify and measure the Itasca area’s most critical needs and find United Way’s place in meeting these needs.

The Process
United Way utilized a number of different tools to gather information from members of our community. We started by releasing a survey, open to all residents of Itasca County and its surrounding communities. The survey gathered both quantitative and qualitative data, asking demographic questions and inviting survey takers to share their input on the resource needs of the region, with a focus on health, education, and financial wellbeing.

Building on key findings from the survey, the next step in the process was to seek direct feedback from individuals in our community. United Way hosted a series of focus groups in different communities throughout the region (including Coleraine, Bigfork, Deer River, and Grand Rapids)  which brought together folks from various walks of life, including a group of nonprofit leaders who came together to discuss their perspectives. United Way also conducted one-on-one interviews with various subjects. 

The Findings
Information provided through surveys and focus groups was examined along with existing data to determine service gaps and the major challenges facing the Northland.  Childcare and quality education programming, affordable housing, financial education, mental health support, employment training, and access to health care, including preventive dental care, stood out as priority areas for those surveyed. Many of these priorities feed into each other – for example, it’s difficult for parents to obtain and stay in stable employment when childcare is unavailable or unaffordable, and unstable housing or limited access to mental health supports can have a major negative impact on a family’s long-term financial stability.

In addition, the network of local nonprofits that work to meet the community’s needs (as well as surveyed individuals) identified opportunities for greater community connectedness as necessary to make their work more effective. Through a greater volunteer base, transportation resources and assistance, and opportunities for gathering and connection, our communities can work together to improve the region for those who work in, play in, and call the Itasca area home.

What’s Next
As our Community Needs Assessment concluded, many families in our communities are lacking what they need to thrive – a quality education that provides a strong foundation for life, a job that pays enough to support a family and to prepare for retirement, and the tools necessary to be healthy and productive.

Building on these findings, we created an updated Community Impact Framework and strategies that will guide our work for the next five years, as we continue to strive for a better, stronger Itasca area for all.