The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the Florida Institute of Government at the University of South Florida recently kicked off the public phase of their Community Needs Assessment Project for Sun City Center and the surrounding area.
Held March 3 at Community Hall, 1910 Pebble Beach Blvd. S, the meeting was for residents to become informed about the project, what it means for the community and provide an opportunity for participation.
The foundation’s goals in commissioning the study are:
• to host numerous focus groups within the community to identify its true needs;
• to build a community consensus on those needs;
• to find where the foundation’s grant monies can best be directed
• and to help lead efforts to make the community an even better place to live and work.
Before an audience of approximately 50 attendees, Richard Rios, chairman of the foundation’s South Shore Council, began by emphasizing the organization’s deep roots in the Sun City Center community, which date back to 1992. The council, formerly known as the Community Foundation of Greater Sun City Center, changed its leadership in January 2014 when he replaced two-term chairwoman Evelyn Lunsford and changed its name to the South Shore Council.
The foundation, whose philanthropic mission began in 1990 and now extends to four counties, initiated the Needs Assessment Project in Sun City Center and Kings Point late last year to determine pressing needs of residents regarding healthcare, jobs, food, memory care and other quality of life issues.
“One of the major reasons for this study is to be sure we are using money left by donors in the most impactful way,” said Marlene Spalten, foundation president and CEO. “We hear hunger is an issue in the area but what the study may find is that while food is abundant, transportation to get the food is really the issue.”
“(The assessment) is the best way for us not only determine community needs but also to look at services currently being provided and identify any gaps,” added Wilma Norton, the foundation’s vice president of marketing and communication.
The USF Institute for Government has 28 years of academic research and practical experience in conducting human needs assessments. Its work is conducted by USF faculty, staff and consultants who will come up with a list of recommendations based on their research.
Leading the institute team for the Sun City Center Community Needs Assessment are Angela Crist, institute director; Robin Ersing, professor, USF School of Public Affairs; and Robyn Odegard, the institute’s learning and development facilitator.
During the 90-minute presentation, which included an extensive Q & A session with the audience, Ersing detailed the process and methodology being used.
“We’re going to begin and end here in the community,” she said.
After the project began with planning meetings last November, interviews with representatives from various community groups – including the Sun City Center Emergency Squad, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Sun City Center Community Association, Samaritan Services Alzheimer’s Auxiliary, South Shore Coalition for Mental Health and Aging and others – took place in January and February.
Some members of the audience felt they had been excluded from the process. That was certainly not the intent, said Debbie Caneen, president of the South Shore Coalition and member of the South Shore Council.
“The purpose of the meeting was to seek additional input,” she said. “Anyone wanting to be involved should email me at [email protected] and include their area(s) of interest.”
Where it goes from here
The next phase of the project will be to form 10 to 12 focus groups comprised of residents and interested members of the community, each on a different topic. Those groups have not yet been designated.
Some suggestions from the audience included the special needs population, income disparity; women’s issues; generational differences between Baby Boomers and older residents; and loneliness and isolation.
Tom Bullard, director of Our Lady of Guadalupe Food Pantry, said he has heard from emergency squad members who have gone into homes in Sun City Center, opened the refrigerator to retrieve the owner’s medical information and found the refrigerator empty or containing only pet food in a home where there was no pet.
“You definitely have seniors here (who) need help,” Bullard said.
The Sun City Center Community Needs Assessment is expected to wrap up by July with a final presentation to the community.
Freelance writer Pamela Varkony can be reached at [email protected]
Reporter Lois Kindle contributed to this story.