Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Alarming data can spark change

Statistics can be alarming. Worrisome. Data don’t always make us feel good. However, often it’s those numbers that spark much-needed action in a community.

Understanding our community’s most critical challenges is a necessary precursor to inventive solutions that improve the well-being and vitality of our families, friends and neighbors.

Local data from sources such as the United Way Community Assessment point out our most pressing needs, like childhood poverty. The percentage of Canyon County schoolchildren eligible for free or reduced-price lunch increased from 44 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2012. In Ada County, it rose from 20 percent to 37 percent, according to the Community Assessment.

With three young boys at home, these numbers really hit home for me. I want all kids to thrive early on and keep the momentum going.

Many barriers that exacerbate poverty — such as lack of transportation and inflexibility of parents’ work schedules — touch other issues, too, including education. In Canyon County in 2014, just 44.4 percent of children were prepared when they arrived at kindergarten, according to the Idaho Reading Indicator. It was 66.1 percent and 54.9 percent in Ada and Gem counties, respectively.

It will take long-term solutions in early education to accomplish improvements at the opposite end of the spectrum: education beyond high school. In Ada County, 35.4 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 16.6 percent in Canyon County and 14.2 percent in Gem County, according to the Community Assessment.

I want more kids to feel supported the way I was. Through a solid public-school foundation, then college and law school, I was empowered to reach my dream of becoming a lawyer.

Everyone deserves an opportunity to work hard and fulfill their potential. Unfortunately, it’s not just education and income barriers that stand in the way.

Issues such as health care access and diet are critical. The percentage of individuals reporting at least 7 out of 30 days as “not good” physical health days increased by at least 3 percentage points in Ada, Canyon and Gem counties.

Further, from 2008 to 2012, the obesity rate rose from 20.2 percent to 24.7 percent of Ada County residents and from 27.1 percent to 32.2 percent of Canyon County residents.

This data makes me uncomfortable — but perhaps that’s good. It will take a little discomfort to get us moving toward solutions. Thankfully, we’re already seeing progress. Public-private partnerships all over the valley are unearthing innovative ways to neutralize key stumbling blocks.

Collaborative action is imperative. Thanks to United Way and several partners, the Community Assessment provides a clear starting point. United Way recently used the data to update its goals, reflecting the most crucial local needs. These goals, available at UnitedWayTV.org, deserve our attention.

The needs are severe. The goals are clear. Now, let’s get to work, together. You can connect to some of the valley’s most exciting collaborations by calling United Way: 336-1070.

Our children, and future generations, deserve our absolute best efforts to cultivate lasting change.

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