The NRCFCP has a rich history of working with communities to affect positive change. Most commonly we work with communities in Iowa and throughout the greater Midwest, however we have partnered with numerous communities from across the country.

Projects in this area have ranged from explorations of local capacity/needs assessments to evaluations of community-led initiatives. Current community development projects we are working on include the development of evaluation instruments for the alleviation of a grocery desert in Des Moines.  

An example of our work in the area of community development is described below. 

The Impact of Home Energy Assistance

People Working Cooperatively (PWC, Cincinnati, Ohio) began an experiment in 2010 to help families facing multiple energy, economic, and family challenges and to answer the question: “can PWC’s whole house services have a greater and longer term impact than low income energy-efficiency assistance alone?” Families in need of energy-efficiency assistance have other issues, challenges and problems to deal with besides staying warm during winter and cool in the summer. Some choose between heat and needed medication for health conditions. Others must choose between heat and adequate food.

Coordinated by Cadmus (Portland, OR), an independent evaluation team (including researchers from the National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice at The University of Iowa School of Social Work and the Community Building Institute at Xavier University), conducted the evaluation of PWC efforts and measured the effects on important life area.

The NRC developed an extensive instrument and training for the reliable administration of the instrument which measured the important life domains of Housing, Home Condition, Energy Security, Health, Employment, Budgeting, Reduced Stress, Community Relations, Childcare and Overall Family Functioning. One hundred-fifteen families, receiving differing levels of service, were measured in these life areas at three points during the study: prior to any PWC services, immediately following receipt of services, and several months after services to determine the program’s impacts.

PWC offered a variety of services that directly and indirectly helped their clients live healthier and more stable lives. These services included home energy-efficiency upgrades (e.g., insulation and energy-saving light bulbs), home repairs, such as roof replacements, plumbing repairs, and electrical system upgrades; home modifications for those with mobility impairments, such as ramps, chair lifts, and bathroom modifications and on-going repair and maintenance assistance, such as replacing leaky faucets, patching holes, or cleaning out gutters.

Researchers reviewed data from several different perspectives to isolate outcomes attributable to PWC services. While PWC’s funding for home repairs was limited with only 36 of the 115 families able to receive major repair services, improvements were substantial enough to increase overall stability in Home Condition life area. Repairs included leaking roofs, bathroom or plumbing problems, foundations issues, major appliance problems and electrical system safety issues. Of the 115 homes, 25 were rated as unsuitable for continued habitation or posing threats to health and safety. At the final assessment, only 4 were still rated as unsuitable for habitation.

We asked participants if their home condition affected their health, and 44% said yes. The most common problems were cold temperatures, allergies and mold which most commonly resulted in breathing problems and exacerbation of asthma. At the last assessment only 20% reported that their home condition continued to affect their health.

The Energy Insecurity life domain measured a household’s ability to meet its energy needs without jeopardizing its health and safety. Immediately after receiving services scores increased 12% and at the final assessment scores improved by 15%. Participants also reported improvements in their medication regimens after receiving PWC services. Prior to services, 48% of participants reported reducing their medications because of their money concerns. At the third assessment, only 11% reported reducing their medication due financial constraints and those reducing their medication for other reasons reported it was at the request of their physicians.

There were important improvements for those with children to care for too. This was especially important for grandparents who were able have their grandchildren visit and were able to take care of them because the home was warm enough and the dangers presented, such as an open oven door, were mitigated. One grandparent stated: “now when my grandchildren come to visit they can stay over.” Others reported being able to take care of grandchildren at times when the parents have to work or just to be able to have them visit for longer periods of time because the house was safe for them.

Some with disabilities benefitted through improved social connectedness because PWC installed ramps allowing them to leave the house and interact in the neighborhood and community: Typical reports from study participants were: “PWC allowed me to get my life back on track,” and “the PWC workers who came to deliver the services were a blessing to the household.”