In 2009, over 1 million meals were served in Southwest Virginia with help from the food program.
The Roanoke Region, composed of five counties and three cities, is large and diverse. Keeping track of and identifying community needs is challenging in a region that ranges from the sparsely inhabited rural mountains of Alleghany County to the densely populated City of Roanoke. Yet, identifying and creating solutions is exactly what the Council of Community Services has done time and again over the past fifty years, making it a linchpin in bringing people and government together to make life better in the Roanoke Region.
Fifty years ago, the Council of Community Services was established in 1960 with a staff of two people. In retrospect, life might have seemed simpler then and identifying community needs should have been easier, but just the opposite was true! Identifying community needs was not easier…it was more difficult. In those early years the Council gathered data through the mail, individual telephone interviews, meetings, paper surveys, and focus groups. Studies were time consuming and expensive; research was done in libraries, produced on typewriters and published in hard bound copies. The Council persevered during its first decades using volunteer leaders and establishing standing committees such as the Human Resources Advisory Committee (1973) charged with the responsibility of identifying community needs not being met and of identifying barriers in delivering effective services ,such as inadequate funding or outdated administrative polices.
Throughout five decades the Council has provided leadership for organizations and individuals in the areas of planning, information, and referral services to improve the quality of life in our communities. It has established and continues to support the Roanoke Regional Housing Network, the Senior Citizen Coordinating Council, and the Family Violence Coordinating Council. Each group, using timely data provided by the Council, examines needs, shares resources, generates ideas, and when necessary, launches new and needed programs.
Today, with a staff of nearly 50 employees, the Council of Community Services provides on-time data on community needs through the use of indicators, presentations of valuable data that show change over time. Eliminating the time between research and production, 150 indicators are maintained in an electronic library, updated monthly and made immediately available to policymakers, practitioners, and community leaders throughout the region. Using this data the Council and its partners have launched new well funded programs to address community needs such as the Community Housing Resource Center dedicated to preventing individuals and families from becoming homeless, and the Nonprofit Resource Center committed to improving the capacity of the nonprofit sector.
Over the past 5 decades, the Council of Community Services has worked closely with its community partners to identify community problems, to link the community to solutions, or to develop programs that will provide the solution. An example of this is 2-1-1 VIRGINIA, the national abbreviated dialing code for free, 24-hour access to health and human services’ Information and Referral. The Council in the early 1960s recognized a lack of a method to efficiently and quickly disseminate human services information to the community. In response to this need, the Council launched a local information and referral system for health and human services in Roanoke. A few years later as the need for health and human services information increased throughout the Commonwealth, the Council, working with statewide community partners, expanded its information and referral efforts to establish what is now 2-1-1 Virginia. The Council manages and coordinates the state wide system including 6 call centers.
The Council’s track record in finding solutions for community problems is evident in the many initiatives and programs it has launched over the past five decades. What is interesting to note is that the Council’s formula for success has contained the same ingredients over the years. The first ingredient is collecting and reporting data regarding an existing need; the second is working closely with community partners to identify and connect those in need to valuable services already available in the community; and the final ingredient is launching a new program to address the need and to provide the support to make it successful. In some cases, these new programs have become independent organizations as was the case with RADAR which provides rural and specialized transit services in the Roanoke Valley for more than 33 years. In other cases, programs have remained within the Council.