Community Connections

Definition

Community connections are levels of civic engagement such as volunteering, use of services and attendance at community events. Access to community resources is indicated by the adequacy of the provision of services, the built environment that promotes ease of physical mobility and the support mechanisms for socially disadvantaged residents (1).

Over the last several years, our communities have changed their views on how to foster greater well-being and quality of life among residents. Now, there is a recognition that where we live, work, play, learn and socialize with our family and friends — and the community connections that blossom in these conditions — influence our physical and mental health. The way the community we live in is designed and built influences our levels of interaction with neighbors and the overall fabric, or feel, of the neighborhood. All of this determines a neighborhood’s “social capital,” or the makeup of a community and the pool of human resources available within it (2). Circumstances that inhibit or impede the availability of social capital for a community and the residents within it can have significant negative effects on physical and mental health. Community design affects the availability of time for:

• extracurricular and other activities for children;
• recreation and relaxation time for adults after work;
• community involvement in activities, such as neighborhood improvement projects and other social events;
• quality time for family members to spend together (2).

Urban and suburban built environments can also create physically- and socially-isolated communities. Higher rates of screen time (both TV and other devices), concern about crime, little contact with neighbors and geographic isolation have created disconnected communities with low social capital (3). Social isolation and low social capital that exist in these neighborhoods can result in a lack of strong social networks, which can contribute to obesity, cardiovascular disease, mental health problems and increased rates of mortality (3). Communities characterized by high levels of civic engagement often have lower levels of social isolation, which results in these communities having strong indicators of civic health, related to participation in volunteer work or civic associations, higher voting rates, charitable giving, socializing with neighbors and strong feelings of trust in neighbors (4).

Implications and Data for Jefferson County

Community Health Needs Assessment Focus Group Findings

A recurring theme across focus groups in Jefferson County was the importance of helping families, especially those in need, find and access the community resources and services that can help meet their basic needs. Services mentioned include employment assistance, resources for the homeless, mental health treatment services, housing assistance, resources for older adults, and substance misuse treatment and prevention.

Across focus groups, participants expressed the need for a well-advertised one-stop shop for community resources, given communication gaps and difficulty in finding resource information across various agencies Participants noted that Jefferson County Public Health and other agencies need to do a better job of promoting what they do and make their organizational resources more readily available to the community, especially to those who could benefit most from these services. Social media sites, such as Facebook, were mentioned as the most desired medium for engagement, followed by websites and traditional media. Some participants also suggested using mobile apps, such as Nextdoor, as another way to engage with the community.

Membership to social associations, per 10,000 person, Jefferson County, Colorado, and United States (2014)

Source: County Business Patterns (2014) via County Health Rankings (2017)

Source: Colorado Gives, 2016 Report: https://www.coloradogives.org/Data&Reports

Community Health Needs Assessment Focus Group Findings, continued

Focus groups also expressed a desire for more community engagement and creation of strong community networks, supported by outreach efforts of agencies such as Jefferson County Public Health. Participants recommended hosting block parties and other community events to foster connections between residents from all walks of life. Generally, across focus groups, there was a desire for local government and Jefferson County Public Health to explore ways to increase social connections.

Youth connections to their community through extracurricular school activities and non-paid volunteer work, Colorado (2015)

Percent of youth and young adults (ages 16-24) that are 'disconnected', meaning they are not in school and are not working, Jefferson County, Colorado, and United States (2015)

Disconnected youth are at higher risk of experiencing negative health outcomes. They may have not completed high school and/or have limited skills and work history, which can restrict access to employment opportunities.  

Community Health Needs Assessment Key Informant Interview Findings 

Several recurring themes related to community connections emerged from the key informant interviews. These themes are explained below.

1. One major theme among most informants was the need to connect families and individuals to community resources that can improve their health and well-being. One informant said there isn’t a deficit in resources, just barriers to connecting those who are most in need. Several informants expressed the need to educate in-need residents about how to navigate the community resources available to them, as knowing how and where to access care and resources can be challenging. Informants also expressed the need for efforts to increase this population’s health literacy. One key informant developed a community resource guide, but noted they were unsure of how complete it was. Many informants noted a need for a comprehensive listing of resources, like United Way’s 2-1-1, a Help Center-style database for health and human services resources.

2. Many respondents cited the division of information on resources as an issue. There is a need for a centralized database of community resources and services. It can be very hard for residents, especially those who are seeking services, to navigate the resource landscape. This is even more challenging for those who encounter language barriers and a lack of culturally competent services.

3. Informants cited duplicative Jefferson County Public Health coalition work and other community initiatives as an issue. Informants noted that there is a need for better coordination of community efforts by agencies and nonprofits.

4. Informants said that outreach to mountain communities is a substantial challenge, given the terrain and geography. Informants were particularly concerned about socially isolated older adults and childless adults, especially when medical emergencies arise.

5. Informants noted that certain groups in Jefferson County, such as members of the Hispanic and Latino community and low-income families,, encounter significant disparities in accessing community resources, including health care, healthy food, transportation and affordable housing. Many informants who serve the Hispanic and Latino community noted that overall, their clients describe a lack of culturally and linguistically competent human services. These informants also said that medical providers in their area often don’t have interpreter or translation services available for non-English speakers or those with limited English proficiency. Many informants noted their organizations are working on enhancing cultural competency and recognize it as a current shortcoming. Some key informants thought that hosting more culturally diverse events could be a way to catalyze community connections between groups in the community.

Voting rates for Jefferson County (2012-2016)

Source: Jefferson County Election Results, https://www.jeffco.us/578/Election-Results

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Reference List


1. Holdsworth, L., Hartman, Y. (2009, January). Indicators of Cohesion in an Australian Country Town. Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance, Issue 2. Retrieved from: http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/cjlg/article/viewFile/1009/1013

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Social Capital. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/healthtopics/social.htm

3. Srinivasan, S., O’Fallon, L. R., & Dearry, A. (2003). Creating Healthy Communities, Healthy Homes, Healthy People: Initiating a Research Agenda on the Built Environment and Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9), 1446–1450. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447991/

4. National Conference on Citizenship. (2015). Colorado Civic Health Index. Retrieved from: https://www.ncoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2014ColoradoCHI.pdf

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Data Sources


County Business Patterns (2014) via County Health Rankings (2017): http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/

Colorado Gives, 2016 Report: https://www.coloradogives.org/Data&Reports

HKCS: Healthy Kids Colorado Survey: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/hkcs

Kids Count 2017 Databook: http://www.aecf.org/resources/2017-kids-count-data-book/

Jefferson County Election Results, https://www.jeffco.us/578/Election-Results

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Published on July 17, 2018