Strategic Community Impact Plan document a guide for community volunteers and agencies

November 05, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Leah Gayman, executive director of United Way of Washington County, and Community Foundation of Washington County executive director Bradley Sell show off proof copy of new Strategic Community Impact Plan document.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

At 31 pages, it's a deceptively slim, magazine-style document, but packed inside are 44 goals that those involved hope will focus and guide the efforts of donors, volunteers and public and private agencies for years to come.

Called the Strategic Community Impact Plan, or SCIP, the document is the culmination of a two-year effort, led by the Community Foundation of Washington County and United Way of Washington County, to identify and prioritize the most pressing issues facing the Washington County community and the best ways of addressing those issues.

"The idea was for us to become more proactive in identifying the issues and being intentional about trying to do something about that, instead of being reactive and just treating symptoms," said Bradley N. Sell, the Community Foundation's executive director.

"It was not about one organization, but the ability to say, 'Let's put our organizations aside and think about the people we serve,'" United Way Executive Director Leah Gayman said. "When you take off your United Way hat and you're just sitting at a table with someone interested in doing something about a problem, that's when it happens."

More than 200 volunteers, working in 11 focus groups, met for more than a year to develop the goals and strategies included in the plan, Sell said.

The resulting document was printed last week and will be presented to the public at a Nov. 14 launch at Hagerstown Hotel and Convention Center. There, members of the community will be invited to "tour" the plan and learn more about how to get involved with its implementation, organizers said.

A tool for funders

While the Community Foundation and United Way — two major community funding organizations — led the SCIP effort and will use it to guide their work, they envision other funders, such as Washington County government and the county Gaming Commission, also will use it as a decision-making tool, Sell said.

Washington County Commissioners Ruth Anne Callaham and Jeffrey A. Cline, both of whom participated in SCIP focus groups, said they thought the plan would be a valuable resource for the county.

Callaham said she hoped the plan would become one tool for the new committee the county established to prioritize requests for county funding.

"Dozens, dozens of people put in long hours (on the SCIP), and these are folks from, you know, all aspects of the community," Callaham said. "So it'd just be imprudent for the commissioners not to look at that and say, 'This is a good effort, and we may use that in some factor in how we assign funds.'"

James B. Hovis, director of the Office of Community Grant Management, formerly the Gaming Office, said the Gaming Commission, which awards tip-jar proceeds to charitable organizations, would take advice from the SCIP under consideration.

The Washington County Local Management Board, which directs resources for children and families, plans to use the SCIP as the base for the needs assessment it is required by the state to conduct every three years, said Thomas Kline, the Local Management Board project coordinator.

Working together

SCIP organizers encourage public and private organizations throughout the county to work collaboratively to implement the strategies in the plan.

"It's important for people to know that we're not going to do it all," Sell said of the Community Foundation and United Way. "We don't want people to say, 'This is great, you guys! Go out there and do it!'"

The document itself was a broad collaboration, involving members of many agencies and organizations that work within each focus area.

Already, the process has been successful in that the focus group meetings forged and strengthened partnerships between programs, Gayman said.

"I saw it over and over again: People sitting at the table going, 'I had no idea! I can help you with that right now!'" she said.

Gayman said she hoped the plan would lead to more collaborations such as the Nutrition and Physical Activity Partnership, a group formed in 2006 that includes Meritus Medical Center, Washington County Health Department, Hagerstown YMCA, Maryland Cooperative Extension and many other groups, which partner to educate the community about healthy lifestyles.

NAPA already has started discussing ways to implement the SCIP's recommended strategies for decreasing the obesity rate in the county.

"Right now at this time of a shortage of resources ... organizations have to pull together to share resources," said Becky Weir, who works with NAPA in her position as Community Health Outreach Coordinator for Meritus Health. "As we have found in working with NAPA, we were able to accomplish more working as a group than any one organization would have been able to do."


That collaborative approach is one way in which SCIP organizers hope to achieve a shift toward an issue-focused — rather than program-focused — approach to community service, Gayman said.

SCIP focus-group members also made an effort to look at the broader picture and focus on goals that address the root causes of community problems, she said.

For example, the self-sufficiency group made financial literacy a priority in hopes of preventing the financial crises that precipitate the need for many social services, Gayman said.

Similarly, the health and well-being group chose reducing obesity as a priority because doing so also will help cut down on hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure and other health conditions linked to obesity, said Community Free Clinic Program Director Adam Roberson, who served on the SCIP health and well-being focus group.

Another aspect of the SCIP's issue-focused approach was to think outside the bounds of existing programs, Gayman said.

"You can have strong programs that do a good job of hitting the populations that access that program, but at the end of the day, our mission isn't to help people who enter programs," she said. "Our mission is to help the community."

United Way's new focus

With the SCIP complete, United Way of Washington County has decided to focus its funding and volunteer-raising on a few specific goals within the plan, Gayman said. United Way will focus on school-readiness, reducing learning-loss, social and emotional supports for students, housing, sustainable employment, reducing risk behaviors and increasing healthy behaviors, she said.

These strategic investments were chosen because they are areas where United Way can excel and "move the needle," Gayman said.

"Instead of giving a thousand dollars here or there, we could really give a significant amount of money" in the selected areas, she said.

United Way of Washington County also is moving away from its focus on fundraising goals, long symbolized by thermometer charts in Public Square.

"Instead of saying, 'You need to raise $1.65 million,' you say, 'You've got to reduce this issue by 5 percent over the next five years,'" Gayman said. "That becomes our challenge; that becomes our thermometer. And the lives that are improved become our outcome."

Time for action

Though many of the goals in the plan have long been part of the missions of community organizations, some focus groups saw the need for new programs or strategies.

A small business and entrepreneurial resource center, a housing-first program, and a shared facility for local and visiting artisans are among the new initiatives suggested in the document.

In many cases, the goals included specific improvement objectives linked to key statistics — such as increasing the graduation rate by 1 percent each year and increasing the number of ballots cast by 10 percent in the next five years.

The criteria for goals included that they must be possible, measurable and possible to impact within five years.

Organizers are determined that the plan will not simply sit on the shelf now that it is complete.

The Impact Council — a 36-member group that steered the SCIP process — will continue to meet at least quarterly and will be tracking progress toward the goals, Gayman said.

A task force is working on a Web-based community dashboard that will track and display indicators such as the graduation rate, teen birth rate and unemployment rate, Sell said.

"We're basing everything we're doing on being able to follow our results and see, are we making a difference or are we just throwing money away," Sell said.

Gayman encouraged individuals to look through the plan with an eye for ways they can use their own talents to contribute.

"Every person has a role in this," she said. "There's nobody that's going to pick up this document and go, 'Oh, I don't belong here.'"

Organizers also hope to repeat the SCIP process for updated plans in the future, Gayman said. The current plan is labeled as 2012 through 2016.


On the web
Learn more about Washington County's Strategic Community Impact Plan at

If you go...

What: Community Launch of the Strategic Community Impact Plan
When: Monday, Nov. 14, 4 to 6 p.m.
Where: Hagerstown Hotel and Convention Center, 1910 Dual Highway

RSVP by Nov. 7 to

Coming up

Monday: SCIP's goals for people, including the areas of education, jobs and economic development, and transportation.

Tuesday: SCIP's goals for families, including the areas of family safety and security, health and well-being, elderly and disabled populations, and self-sufficiency.

Wednesday: SCIP's goals for communities, including the areas of public safety, arts, culture and tourism, and civic engagement.

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