Survey one step toward reconnecting

There appears to be a curative stratagem occurring these days on Bainbridge Island, where politicians, social service professionals and caring individuals alike have decided islanders have become somewhat estranged from each other and need to reconnect. Has Bainbridge Island become unhealthy? Is there a growing chasm between the perceived haves and have nots, leading to a service gap for those in need? What do island residents think?

As part of the city Comprehensive Plan, the Health, Housing and Human Services Council currently is encouraging islanders to participate in an online survey that will help the agency define what makes a healthy community. The survey is part of an HHHS effort that has already gained information from a variety of established groups for the purpose of having the community measure its own well-being. The survey begins with a vision: “Bainbridge Island will function as a caring community that strives to maintain the well-being of all its members, a community where all members feel connected to the community and where each individual has opportunities to contribute to the community.”

The survey is broken down in three segments, the first of which asks if Bainbridge fits the “vision,” if a healthy community is important and if the participant feels connected to the island community.

The next section involves choices, asking participants what is important to them. They rate such endeavors as gatherings/events, schools/education, services that address needs, a diverse population, a range of housing options, friendships, island mobility/access, a variety of activities and what other elements are important to them to maintain a healthy community. It concludes with questions about the biggest threats to the island’s future health and well-being. The third section involves demographic questions, and the survey ends with a general question about the participants’ thoughts on how to make Bainbridge Island a healthy community.

The survey dovetails with the city’s Community Priorities Survey, which will ask residents to communicate their needs and priorities with a focus on the city’s 2009-10 biennial budget process. The goal of this public engagement process is to use the information gathered for community workshops involving citizens and city leaders, primarily for the purpose of making budgetary decisions.

Such outreach, hopefully, won’t turn out to be a waste of time and energy. The fact is, Bainbridge is a unique, evolving environment and it’s important that social service and city leaders understand the needs and concerns of all islanders. The goal of the surveys and subsequent feedback is to discover what is paramount and elemental to people living on the island, then helping people preserve those values.

The difficulty is having the community agree on what is most important. Still, the fundamental issue for any community that’s trying to discover its core, revolves around caring for others. Times are difficult, no doubt, but solutions to problems often appear out of nowhere when people reach out to others, whatever one’s age, ethnicity or economic status.

Conversations with island oldtimers and people who grew up here reveal a time when people had genuine concern for the well-being of their neighbors. There were problems, of course, but people really cared. Has that tolerance and warmth waned? Hopefully, compassion, not selfishness, is the cornerstone of Bainbridge Island life and we can all learn how to share it.

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