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6/16/2012 12:35:00 PM
'Time to help our youth,' says Morgan County needs assessment

Julie Crothers, Reporter-Times

The multitude of data recently released in United Way’s 2012 “Community Needs Assessment” reveals two critical issues — Morgan County’s economic, unemployment and educational struggles start with a lack of attention to youth’s needs.

United Way of Central Indiana in Morgan County and the Healthier Morgan County Initiative presented the study’s findings during a community update meeting Tuesday.

The assessment was completed by Diane Pfeiffer of United Way of Central Indiana and included more than 35 interviews with community members of all walks of life — from township trustees to social workers and government officials to leaders of philanthropic organizations, United Way Area Director Diana Roy said.

While this isn’t the first assessment completed by United Way, Roy said it is an important update to research completed in 2008.

“What we’re seeing from our last assessment is that some issues have changed dramatically and others haven’t changed much at all,” Roy said.

Unfortunately, some of those changes haven’t necessarily been for the good, she added.

On the list of concerns is an increase in student-reported drug and alcohol usage, more residents out of work and faltering education levels countywide. Those concerns, combined with falling income levels, a lack of insurance and health care and an increased in cardiovascular diseases and chronic lower respiratory diseases, make this study an eye-opening report for anyone in the county, she said.

“We see some serious concerns related to youth development and student success,” Roy said. “We’ve got to do a better job of addressing some of those issues.”

Study findings

During Tuesday’s meeting, United Way of Central Indiana’s Research and Planning Director Bob Cross presented the 2012 results to the more than 30 residents gathered in Martinsville.

“Within the central Indiana region, Morgan County is adversely affected by a combination of relatively low educational attainment levels and a lack of higher paying jobs,” Cross said.

And not surprisingly, he said, those issues tend to go hand-in-hand.

“There’s just 15 percent of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher... 12 percent who don’t have their high school degree (among adults 25 and older),” Cross said.

Cross said among the many challenges faced by county residents, there is a lack of high-paying jobs available and when combined with limited education and income levels, the results can be destructive.

“What we’re seeing is a cycle where our low-income families can’t afford insurance or education and have no choice but to enter into those lower-paying jobs, but at the same time, you have people who are educated that are out of work and are taking those lower-paying jobs,” he said.

On a more positive note, the percent of students who reported that their parents would disapprove of the use of marijuana, tobacco use and alcohol consumption has increased slightly since 2008, he said.

The report “also suggests that anti-smoking measures and messages may have had some success with students. More students believe that cigarette smoking will have negative consequences than those who believe that marijuana smoking will have negative consequences,” Cross said. “So the message has gotten across about smoking, but you might want to start talking about marijuana.

“They’re getting part of the message, they just need to get the whole thing.”

Bud Swisher, founder of the Healthier Morgan County Initiative, said the issues are clear to people who take the time to read through the study.

“It’s not surprising, as most people around here know, that the health of our Morgan County residents is pretty poor compared to our counterparts across the state,” Swisher said. “We’re ranked pretty low. There are some pretty reasonable reasons for that — we eat too much, we don’t exercise enough and we smoke too much. There’s other contributing factors... but we have those three main issues.”

Others attending voiced concerns about the flexibility of services, the price of medicine and transportation issues throughout the county. They also discussed needing more volunteers to talk with people in need so that they can put them in contact with social workers who can help them.

“We all want to help as individuals, but this is too big for that,” Roy said. “We have to start by bringing organizations together and collaborating our efforts.”

Next steps

Roy said from the moment Cross and Pfeiffer presented the report to the United Way board, changes have been in the works.

Just this week, the Barbara B. Jordan YMCA began recruiting 45 additional youth to participate in summer programming, using a one-time grant from United Way. The grant will provide transportation to bring children from the more rural and impoverished areas of the county, Roy said.

“Our first day was (Tuesday) and we had 25 kids, so we’re well on our way to getting more kids involved,” said YMCA Director Judy Bucci. “We set up four learning stations... and the kids were excited to be there.

“Some of them had never seen the swimming pool before, so that was a big deal.”

United Way will also sponsor transportation for 10 or more children in Mooresville who wish to attend programs at the Boys and Girls Club, Roy said.

“There will be a bus that picks them up at 10 a.m. and they’ll be able to stay all day for seven weeks during the summer,” Roy said.

While there’s still much more to be done, Roy said she is pleased with what the Morgan County community has been able to accomplish in such a short time.

“That’s 55 kids in our community that have access to programs that will keep them safe, will provide them with positive role models and will make sure they are eating healthy snacks,” she said. “We’re not going to solve this overnight — we know this. But we’re making progress.”

In addition to the one-time United Way grants, Primetime interim director and youth coordinator Kristi Dunigan said she has applied for a “Communities That Care Planning Grant” through the state Department of Mental Health Association.

The $100,000 state-funded grant is for two years and includes five phases of planning before the community can apply for additional funding to get the programs rolling. Those phases include a community assessment, organizing, introducing and involving the community, developing a community profile and action plan and implementing and evaluating the community action plan.

Once a plan is in place, Primetime will be eligible to apply for a second round of funding — this time to implement the plan on a countywide basis.

“We have a ton of projects going on at Primetime and around the county, but now it’s time to rewind for a bit and do some planning so we can get a better idea of what we need to do for the future,” Dunigan said. “There are already a lot of positive programs in place.”

Roy said she plans to present the data to a variety of community groups to help spread the message. Those interested in hearing a presentation about the United Way of Central Indiana study may contact her at 765-349-9780.

Additional findings

Other findings according to the study:

— The county’s unemployment rate since 2005 has generally followed the rest of the region, but its relative position has improved slightly. In 2005, the unemployment rate was 4.9, but spiked in 2008 and 2009 with 7.5 percent and 10 percent unemployment, respectively. Recent figures show a county unemployment rate of 8.6.

— The largest private sector employment areas in the county include manufacturing, retail trade, accommodation and food service, health care and social assistance and construction. Between 2006 and 2010, the county experienced a net job loss of 11 percent, representing 10 percent of aggregate earnings.

— The use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) is substantially higher than that of comparable counties. Estimates show approximately 13 percent of the population are SNAP recipients, about 6 percent less than Marion County, but significantly higher than Boone, Hamilton, Hancock and Hendricks counties.

— Morgan County ranks 42nd in the state in terms of health ranking, up from 36th in 2011. Nearby Johnson County ranks 13th, Marion County ranks 82nd, Shelby County comes in 77th and Hamilton and Boone counties are ranked first and second, respectively.

— More than 15 percent of Morgan County residents ages 18 to 54 are without health insurance. Approximately 8 percent of children under the age of 18 do not have health insurance.

— The county ranks higher in major cardiovascular diseases and chronic lower respiratory diseases than the state.

— The rate of suicide is substantially higher in Morgan County than the state average. In 2008, the county suicide rate was 22.65 per 100,000 deaths, compared to Hancock County at 10.03, Owen County at 13.32 and Shelby County at 4.10. The majority of suicides were by adults ages 35 to 51.

— Youth report higher than the state average use in alcohol, cigarette, smokeless tobacco, marijuana, prescription drugs, binge drinking and inhalants.

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