Strong sense of community, participation discovered in survey

Residents of Sylvan Lake feel a sense of belonging in a community they consider safe, where they know quite a few people,

Residents of Sylvan Lake feel a sense of belonging in a community they consider safe, where they know quite a few people, participate in community activities and are aware of what’s going on around them.

However there were challenges discovered when the Community Needs Assessment Study was completed. Almost half of adults worried about being physically inactive, a third felt someone in their household was dealing with too much stress, a similar number worried about saving for retirement and 27 per cent expressed concern about too much debt. Two in ten people worried about having access to healthy food. Youth were concerned about physical inactivity, being bullied, being victims of violence and having difficulties dealing with family separation or divorce.

The study also found opportunities for seniors housing.

Results of the study, undertaken by HarGroup Management Consultants on behalf of the town’s Community and Social Development department, were presented to councillors at their meeting Oct. 22.

The purpose of the study was to examine how and why residents access community services, what kinds of services may be important and to provide information for long term planning of community services, said Jon Hartenberger, principle of HarGroup.

Besides a mailed survey which people could fill out on paper or online, Hartenberger said they conducted focus groups with various segments of society to delve further into answers from the survey.

First, he said, they wanted to understand Sylvan Lake in terms of why people live here and get a sense of community. In the focus groups they heard a number of stories about people who had employment in Central Alberta and chose Sylvan Lake over other area communities. They wanted a place that was safe to raise families and close to Red Deer. They were attracted by the scenic and natural beauty of the area, the recreation opportunities available from access to the lake and some had family living in or around the lake.

The survey, which was answered by 634 families in town and a total of 862 families when summer village and county residents were included, showed 87 per cent agreed there was a sense of community among Sylvan Lake and area residents.

Besides looking at challenges, the survey gathered information on reasons people don’t access services and where they would like services available (overwhelmingly in Sylvan Lake as opposed to Red Deer or elsewhere).

In focus groups they explored those subjects, Hartenberger said. “We wanted to see if there were some other factors that could be used to establish priorities.”

Three things surfaced, he said. The top across all three groups (families with children and youth, baby boomers and seniors) was programs and services that enable residents to access basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter.

“Another thing that rose to the top was anything that may cause physical or emotional harm to individuals.” The third was programs and services designed to build healthy relationships. “When looking at children, being able to address respect, appreciation and good citizenship … bullying and discrimination were hot topics with the focus group.”

Baby boomers felt mental health issues arising in society were not being addressed as well as they should be while seniors were concerned about supporting those who may be in financial need.

The survey looked at children and youth programs and services and found that cost and lack of available child care spaces were barriers to use of child care services. 67 per cent of Sylvan Lake residents with children, who are not currently using child care, said they would be very or somewhat likely to access services if they were available in Sylvan Lake.

With regard to the youth drop-in centre, lack of awareness, not liking what is available and cost were barriers. Types of programs and services of interest to Sylvan Lake residents included drop-in sports and arts activities, introductory learning to new sports activities and musical instruments.

The survey also looked at interest in parental help and support services, seniors activities, programs and services, housing issues, perceptions of living in Sylvan Lake into retirement, transportation, volunteering, awareness of family and community support services and community information sources.

Asked if they would like to continue living in Sylvan Lake into old age, 80 per cent of the 627 respondents answering the question said the strongly or somewhat agree with the statement. Yet only 34 per cent felt the housing options available to seniors were adequate to address the needs of the population.

Questioned on when they might move to seniors housing, 26 per cent indicated within the next five years while the total increased to 47 per cent in the next 10 years.

In focus groups Hartenberger said baby boomers and seniors were asked if they had to make a choice what type the community would make a priority for seniors housing assisted living and nursing homes ranked highest. He suggested the reason for that is that with home support they could continue living in their own homes instead of moving to an independent living type of building.

Asked if he had any recommendations, Hartenberger said they provide the research and information that is helpful for decision makers such as the FCSS board to develop priorities.

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