By John Porter
Happy birthday, Alexandria Council of Human Service Organizations!
Founded in 2006 to “bring together high-level city and nonprofit organizations and their leaders for the benefit of the larger Alexandria community,” the Alexandria Council of Human Service Organizations has made great strides since its humble beginning.
The organization’s original statement of purpose was “to improve human services through cross sector collaboration to benefit the entire Alexandria community resulting in an innovative and integrated human services model,” and that purpose remains today.
Ten years ago, the city’s department of community and human services and ACT for Alexandria, Alexandria’s community foundation, acted on the belief that working together in the human services arena could provide improved efficiencies of operation and more effectiveness in addressing community needs.
The subsequent convening of organizations and agencies involved in addressing human service needs in the community resulted in the formation of ACHSO, with the goal of providing “a forum to network, share best practices, build relationships and leverage resources.” And while there still is much work to do, this coalition of organizations consistently has helped address important and long standing issues for the city.
One of the first major efforts of ACHSO was to commission and produce the Alexandria Human Services Needs Assessment in 2008. This report highlighted and synthesized “findings from existing research that profiles Alexandria’s human services systems … with the intention to identify needs, ‘gaps’ in services, and opportunities to improve human services” in the city.
The study described Alexandria as a community with “extremes of wealth and influence alongside poverty and helplessness,” with a sincere commitment of stakeholders to “bettering the lives of all residents and visitors.”
It provided recommendations in four major areas and charged ACHSO to “help connect the dots by increasing awareness, improving quality and access, expanding the continuum of offerings, ensuring universal access (to services), reducing institutional and policy barriers and helping to bring and leverage existing resources to areas currently underserved.”
The release of the study couldn’t have been more timely, as our country entered the worst economic recession in decades, with an increased need for services and less available funds to address these needs. While not the best way to foster working together, the recession helped prove the importance and value of doing so.
Regular meetings, forums and workshops focused on collaboration and the providing of services in a time of dwindling resources, while the focus on acute needs such as food, shelter and health took priority in the city. We had truly entered a new phase of addressing human service needs in the community.
More recently, ACHSO commissioned a new study to update the 2008 needs assessment as, understandably, much had changed, although the report states that “much remains the same.” Meeting Needs Today: A Needs Assessment of the Alexandria Human Services System Volume 2, published in March 2015, provides an update of the 2008 needs assessment while amplifying and adding perspective to several other reports regarding human service needs in the city.
The hope was this report would “help to further the common aspiration of our city’s many caring stakeholders to improve the human services system for children, youth and families that call Alexandria home.”
The report identifies five key issues facing the community — affordable housing, early intervention services for youth, the information gap, the eligibility gap and nonprofit advocacy — providing a series of recommendations in each category in the hope of helping decision-makers as they prioritize funding and policy relative to other city needs.
The report concludes that while “Alexandria and its partner organizations have made considerable positive strides in addressing some of the human services needs identified in ACHSO’s 2008 report … there is still much work to be done.”
As ACHSO enters its second decade, I commend member organizations, as well as other community stakeholders, as we work to make Alexandria an even better community for all of its residents. Together we are making a difference.
For more information about the Alexandria Council of Human Service Organizations and to view the reports mentioned as well as other information, go to: www.alexandriava.gov/achso.
The writer is president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.