NCN consultants recently traveled to a client (for the first time since pre-pandemic -yay!) to host an in-person community town hall with local residents and representatives from schools, government, agencies, and city/county libraries and tour potential locations for a human services center. Typically, NCN consulting around feasibility for a new nonprofit center involves a town hall for nonprofit leaders, but it was clear from initial conversations with the client that including this additional local voice would be critical to how a new facility would best serve local residents.
Having public school leaders and other staff present provided excellent insights on community needs. They witness daily what’s happening in student and family lives, and we heard how spaces and services for youth around mental health, after-school programs, workforce development, and exposure to culture and the arts is much needed. We also heard how high school juniors and seniors need to spend most of their after-school time at a job, so they can pay for basics like a cap and gown for graduation.
These conversations also illuminated the insufficient spending on mental health care for all ages in this state with no income tax; it has one of the lowest per capita spending rates on mental health in the country and only serves 1.17% of the population through state mental health agency expenditures. The lack of coordination, availability and access to these services were made apparent by the number of times this topic emerged in our conversations with local nonprofit and government leaders.
Insert a human services center to save the day. It struck me that this is a heavyweight for nonprofits to carry in place of inadequate state resources, but it’s also clear they’re already doing the work and that co-location under one roof and easing client access through coordinated referrals would be a big win locally, if only a relatively small drop in the bucket statewide. The success of this model in a neighboring town (funded by a voter-approved local 1% sales tax increase) with a brand new, county-run family resource center, providing free rent to agencies (and committing to collaboration), is already apparent. Insufficient resources is a challenging baseline, but thoughtfully planned human service centers continue to pave the way for more efficient and effective service delivery to help improve the overall quality of life for their local community.