The first time I heard the acronym “NIMBY,” I was a brand-new home owner in a north St. Paul suburb. I was at a meeting for residents to discuss the possible location of a program for “non-traditional” high school students. At one point in the meeting, someone stood up and asked why his neighbors would think that a school like this for kids like this wasn’t needed in the community. If we understood the need, the citizen asserted, we wouldn’t all be so eager to chant “NIMBY.” If Not In My Back Yard, then where?
A suburb on the other side of St. Paul – Woodbury – has embarked on a mission to get a handle on what is happening in their back – and front yards.
Woodbury Community Foundation, an MCF member, hosted a forum Dec. 13, titled “Poverty in Woodbury?!,” to highlight the findings of a basic needs survey conducted by Wilder Research. Recognizing the issues facing Woodbury residents is half the battle, said foundation Board Chair Dixie Ewing; now the community can go about the business of addressing them. She said foundation leadership did not want to assume that just because the community is Woodbury, a fairly strong and middle-class – if not affluent – suburb, that its residents weren’t struggling along with the rest of the state and country.
Wilder Research Executive Director Paul Mattessich agreed, stressing the important need for communities to gain a better understanding of their residents’ challenges, opportunities and perceptions by quantifying and identifying them through research.
The Wilder survey was combined with data from the census, sheriff’s office and City of Woodbury to paint a picture. Here’s an overview:
Of Woodbury’s population of 57,550:
- 3 percent live below the federal poverty level. While this percentage is low, this translates to 1,700 Woodbury residents.
- 66 percent of respondents believe that children ages 11-15 are missing out on opportunities because of the bad economy.
- Foreclosures increased from 30 in 2003 to 404 in 2009.
- 33 percent believe there is not enough affordable housing to meet the needs of all community members in Woodbury.
- 1 in 10 reported being worried about not being able to afford food for their household during the past 12 months; this translates to 5,700 residents.
- 34percent of respondents disagree with the statement, “There are enough services and programs to help people in need” in Woodbury.
- Only about 41 percent of respondents are aware of food assistance programs in Woodbury.
- 26 percent of respondents reported that a member of their household was experiencing difficulty in dealing with a job loss. At the same time, nearly half of respondents believe there aren’t stable jobs available in Woodbury for all who want to work.
Armed with data, the foundation is serving as connector, convener, catalyst and collaborator to move on to “Now what?”
Alisa Rabin Bell, the foundation’s executive director, outlined four areas the foundation is focusing on: 1) youth, 2) jobs, 3) housing, and 4) food.
As an example, she explained, concerns about youths’ access to activities and opportunities wasn’t on the foundation’s radar screen prior to the survey. But now, understanding that this is an important concern to residents, the foundation has brought together to talk representatives of Woodbury’s athletic association, the city’s park and rec department, public safety, youth programs at area churches, the YMCA and other organizations that work with youth. Next moves are forthcoming.
The foundation, only in its second year of grantmaking, is still in the beginning stages of these initiatives, Rabin Bell points out. She adds, “We’re not here to replace the nonprofits already doing great work. We want to join alongside, bring them together and do more better.”
On the foundation’s website, link to a video that showcases the four key initiatives of the Woodbury Community Foundation as a result of the Wilder survey. You can also view a summary and the full report of the community needs survey.
- Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate