LIFE Study addresses quality of life in the Fox Cities

Bridget Donnelly

(Photo by Craig Sherwood)

Members of the Fox Cities community met at the Paper Valley Hotel Friday, Oct. 7 to discuss the results of the Leading Indicators for Excellence Study.

According to the purpose statement of the study, “The 2010-11 LIFE Study builds on previous data collection initiatives to present a snapshot of the socio-economic conditions in the area. Its purpose is to spark regional leaders and community members to action: action based on an accurate understanding of the things going on in the community across a variety of sectors.”

The study was undertaken by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Center for Public Affairs and the St. Norbert College Strategic Research Institute.

It looked at 10 different areas of the community: arts and culture, community, health, home, education, natural environment, recreation and leisure, safety, self-sufficiency and employment.

Gayle Hardt, Vice President of Community Development for United Way Fox Cities, noted, “The intent of the study is to find out how we are doing and identify community assets as well as areas of concern or ‘opportunities for improvement.’ The study’s sponsors do not propose solutions for identified problems, but rather challenge area residents to review the findings and get involved.”

Hardt continued, “The 2011 study is a perfect tool for Lawrentians to use in determining how and where they would like to get involved.”

Charles Demler ’11, current AmeriCorps Vista Service-Learning Coordinator at Lawrence, and Director of Volunteer and Community Service Programs Kristi Hill attended Friday’s presentation to discern Lawrence’s place within the Fox Cities community and isolate community needs that Lawrentians may be able to assist with.

Said Hill, “I continue to wonder what more we can do as a university to respond to some of these needs through volunteerism, adopt-an-agency initiatives, community engagement work through the classroom, internships, etc. I think it’s essential that we first consider the needs of the Fox Cities community and the strengths of our LU community before we offer our services.”

Demler pointed out a concrete example of how reading the results of the study might translate to actions that Lawrence students might take. “The arts are strong in Appleton,” he said, “but the study indicates that involvement in arts education programs is limited by gender. We need more boys in arts programs, and Lawrentians can think about how they can be a part of that. Lawrence can use its strength and resources to meet this and other real needs indicated by the study.”

Along the same lines, Assistant Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Director of the LIFE Study Lora Warner noted, “The availability of attractive arts opportunities in the Fox Cities is…highly rated in general. While Lawrence is not directly responsible for this high rating, the offerings by Lawrence certainly contribute to an appealing aspect — the arts — of the quality of life in the Fox Cities.”

When asked how Lawrence University might factor into the study at large, Warner stated, “The higher education opportunities in the area are one of the strongest rated aspects of the community by leaders and community members we surveyed.” However, she also pointed out that Northeast Wisconsin falls slightly below both the U.S. and Wisconsin averages for the number of adults who earn a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Emma Reiser, a student intern on the study’s research team, pointed out another area of the study that shed light on attitudes that might be prevalent among current Lawrence students. Said Reiser, “In the ‘Work’ section, it is reported that community leaders rated the Fox Cities relatively low on the issue of attracting young professionals. This may affect the retention or return of Lawrence graduates in our area as they seek work in other communities that are more attractive to young professionals.”

Overall, however, representatives from Lawrence interested in the study have pointed to ways in which the university can help the community at large. Hill said, “I believe when we provide service to others we in turn learn a great deal about the community and ourselves. For this reason, the Volunteer and Community Service Center aims to provide service to and learning from the community.”

Hardt commented, “Whether action is taken as an individual, as a group, or in partnering with other organizations, everyone is encouraged to find their niche and make a difference.”

Results of the LIFE Study are available online at http://www.foxcitieslifestudy.org/resources/foxcommunityreport.pdf.www.foxcitieslifestudy.org/resources/foxcommunityreport.pdf.

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