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The Results Are In From a Year-Long Needs Assessment Study of Indian River County

Indian River Community Foundation

Ben Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Now, apply that to our greater community as whole, and we all benefit.

JP: The Indian River County Community Needs Assessment provides a comprehensive overview of some of the demographic trends occurring in our community along with insights into how we’re doing the area of children’s services, economic opportunity and employment, housing, healthcare and senior services.

Jeff Pickering is President and CEO of the Indian River Community Foundation, a grantmaking nonprofit based in Vero Beach. They spent a year, teamed with county officials, donors and about 50 charities, seeking knowledge to complete a Needs Assessment of the county. The report is 80 pages, so we asked for some of the takeaways.

Credit Indian River Community Foundation
Jeff Pickering, President and CEO of the Indian River Community Foundation

JP: We’re living in an aging, diversifying population with increasing wealth disparity. There are too many poor families who are unable to secure a living wage or have employment that supports affordable and safe housing.

The Assessment ended in March, just as the pandemic started.

JP: We already had 50% of the community who are living in poverty or one paycheck away from it, and with COVID, it just has exacerbated those particular circumstances.

He shares another finding.

JP: We have really too many low-income seniors that live alone and who are socially isolated in our community. Anything related to COVID just presents additional challenges to them.

The wealthier citizens of Indian River County are already generous to the hundreds of local charities.

JP: But when it comes to actually moving the needle, public dollars are essential.

For example:

JP: The Indian River County Hospital District that provides about $13 million in annual financial support to organizations that serve the healthcare needs of low-income, poor Indian River County residents.

Another was the August 18th vote to renew Millage for four more years, which...

JP: provides up to an additional $9-11 million dollars, specifically for keeping good teachers in the classroom and providing additional services to students for social and emotional wellness.

Credit Dr. Nivea Torres
Dr. Nivea Torres of the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative of IRC reads to students

Here’s Dr. Nivea Torres of the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative which addresses the needs of children from birth to age 5 in Indian River County.

NT: Close to 50% of our students arrive at kindergarten not being ready for success. Early childhood education is inextricably linked to economic development and you cannot create economic stability for a community that is illiterate.

Like everywhere else, COVID-19 only makes it harder.

NT: The Needs Assessment is very important because it provided a portrait of the landscape at the time, and those issues have not, you know, been resolved, but now we have bigger issues to contend with and the economic sustainability of these families has really crumbled.

Another focus area in the Needs Assessment is mental health.

BH: Our goal is to ensure that anyone wanting or needing access to mental health services has access to high quality services in our community.

Brett Hall is executive director of the Mental Health Collaborative of Indian River County. They work to recruit and retain mental health professionals, and to connect citizens who need these services. He was surprised the Needs Assessment showed many people think there’s not enough access to high quality affordable mental health care.

BH: We have today approximately 10.75 psychiatric providers per 100,000 residents. That’s the second richest ratio by county in the state of Florida.  So just give me a call and I will get you connected with them.

Find more here:

Credit Indian River Community Foundation
Caregivers at Treasure Coast Community Health

Credit Indian River Community Foundation
A Chef at The Source explores economic opportunities in Indian River County