Sense of Community, Education Called Strengths in East Providence Survey
The sense of community and education are among Rhode Island’s greatest strengths, according to a survey of participants in the Rhode Island Foundation’s Together RI community dinner at the East Providence Senior Center. “Together RI’s goals were to find out, first-hand, about where residents see opportunities and challenges, and to create a neutral place to discuss topics that they think are critical to our common future and to listen to each other,” said Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.
The East Providence event was 1 of 20 held across the state in order to give people the opportunity to talk face-to-face at a time when public discourse over social media is increasingly polarized. The Foundation invited residents to share a free, family-style dinner and talk face-to-face. “This was a neighborly get-together that gave folks a place to be heard, to listen, to reconnect and to engage in civic and civil dialogue at a time when they are more ‘connected’ via social media, yet more disconnected from each other personally than ever,” said Steinberg.
Participants sat at round tables of eight and chatted over plates of pasta, meatballs and salad. After the session, participants completed surveys that asked them to list the state’s strengths and challenges among other questions. In addition, some also submitted handwritten notes.
In addition to the sense of community and education, the top five strengths included the state’s small size, transportation and the economy. Among the most cited challenges were government and taxes, diversity and transportation. One participant called the sense of community a strength because of the “opportunities for people to connect and share ideas.” Another said there was “a sense of where the center of the community is, where things happen. There is a sense of the character of the state and its places and people.”
Many suggested improvements. “We need to step up our recycling, sustainable living and renewable energy,” one participant commented. Another called for more community garden space. Others said there needed to be a bigger investment in public schools.
About 75 percent of the survey respondents at the event reported they are now more likely to get involved in community issues after participating in Together RI and about 70 percent said they better understand the issues their community faces. “People had productive civic and civil dialogues at the proverbial kitchen table. There was definitely a desire for the opportunity to talk with each other and listen to each other. And almost everyone met someone new,” said Steinberg.
Statewide, the state’s top five strengths were its natural resources, small size, sense of community, particularly how well people seem to know each other; diversity and culture, and history and the arts, focusing on historical preservation and the wide range of performances that are available here.
The five most cited challenges were social issues, such as the brain drain and the opioid crisis; government and politics, particularly taxes; transportation, programs and services, particularly the cost of health care; and elementary and secondary education. The Foundation included all the Together RI state and local results in a report produced by the University of Rhode Island’s Social Science Institute for Research, Education, and Policy. Posted at https://web.uri.edu/ssirep/files/Together-RI.pdf, the report breaks out data by session location and includes information on demographics and the research methodology.
The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $38 million and awarded $43 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2017. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit rifoundation.org.