Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Lifting Spirits and Changing Lives: Analysis of Outcomes from One Organization's Journey with Community-Based Research*

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Lifting Spirits and Changing Lives: Analysis of Outcomes from One Organization's Journey with Community-Based Research*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, local nonprofit service providers in the Gulf Coast region faced numerous challenges responding to people's immediate and long-term needs. Experiencing increased demand for services, limited resources, and vulnerability to future crises, several organizations commenced systematic planning, capacity development, and evaluation projects to help mitigate the effects of disaster and to promote long-term sustainability at the organizational and community levels. One such organization, Visions of Hope (VOH), Inc., in East Biloxi, Mississippi, participated in a collaborative community-based research (CBR) and evaluation process with a sociology, community development, and public health interdisciplinary team. Combining our academic and practitioner perspectives of this partnership, we describe how our project was developed and implemented. We also discuss the intended and unintended outcomes experienced by VOH, an important agent for social change and improvement of quality of life for vulnerable populations and the communities that organization serves.

In 2005, local nonprofit service providers in the Gulf Coast region were called into action and challenged by the immediate effects of Hurricane Katrina. While working to meet people's immediate needs, they soon recognized the emerging long-term needs associated with this type of disaster event. In addition, pre-existing needs of people in the affected communities became much more apparent. Nonprofit organizations quickly confronted their own strengths and weaknesses as service providers working on the front lines of this crisis. Experiencing an increased demand for services and limited financial and human resources, several organizations in this region commenced more systematic planning, capacity development, and evaluation projects as ways to address these issues (Bunko et al. 2008; Kerstetter et al. 2008).

One of these organizations, Visions of Hope, Inc. (VOH), in East Biloxi, Mississippi, has participated in a collaborative community-based research (CBR) and evaluation process since 2007. Through a university-community partnership guided by a multidisciplinary research team from sociology, community development, and public health, the experiences of VOH provide testimony of the success of these efforts and the utility of community-based research (CBR) as a tool for developing and delivering services that function to improve the quality of life of vulnerable populations and the communities in which they reside. These experiences also help us to understand both intended and unintended effects of engaging in CBR from the viewpoint of local organizations traditionally underserved by the research community.

A GULF COAST JOURNEY WITH CBR

During Hurricane Katrina, East Biloxi, one of several neighborhoods comprising the City of Biloxi, experienced extensive storm surge flooding due to the neighborhood's proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and Biloxi's Back Bay. Many homes and businesses were destroyed, with several pushed offtheir foundations by the floodwaters. However, even before the storm, this neighborhood faced socioeconomic challenges. Compared with other areas of Biloxi, the East Biloxi neighborhood had lower levels of educational attainment, higher poverty rates, and many racial/ethnic groups, especially African American and Asian, primarily Vietnamese (Kleiner, Green, and Nylander 2007).

VOH provided building space and assistance for relief coordination efforts centered in the East Biloxi neighborhood shortly after the hurricane and wanted to maintain an active role in recovery and redevelopment efforts, as short-term relief demands subsided. In the first few years after the storm, many people were engaged in the development and implementation of citywide and regional development plans; however, less attention was focused on organizational planning and the development of grassroots organizations' capacity to participate in the redevelopment process. …

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