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The CNC produces journalism on a variety of topics in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties for about a dozen media partners including newspapers, radio and television stations and magazines.

Sarasota County asks residents to provide feedback on community conditions

People standing on a street
Sarah Owens
Community News Collaborative
Sandra Richendollar (left) and another tour participant paused to discuss their surroundings on North Links Avenue.

The Department of Health launches walking tours in four neighborhoods to collect data and residents' impressions.

Sarasota County’s branch of the Florida Department of Health is in the midst of a Community Health Assessment, and organizers need residents’ help.

The assessment is the first step in the county’s Community Health Improvement Partnership (CHIP), an initiative that began in 2002 to unite community volunteers with local organizations to improve residents’ health and well-being. The CHA is meant to identify priority health issues and provide information used to develop the Community Health Improvement Plan.

The current plan covers 2020 to 2025 and focuses on improving mental health, environmental health and access to care.

“It offers objectives and solutions to the problems that we identified in the Community Health Assessment,” said Andre McClerklin, Community Health Action Team Coordinator for the DOH. “The community assessment is done every five years at the Department of Health, and we’re starting our cycle right now. So, one of the ideas that we had was to incorporate some qualitative data.”

People standing near a Stop sign
Sarah Owens
Community News Collaborative
Community members gathered at a street corner during the tour of the west side of Newtown.

To collect that data, the DOH is assisted by Community Health Action Teams, community-led groups partnering with CHIP to help improve the health of county residents, by having them lead tours of the communities they serve.

“We thought to use our CHAT groups because they’re really connected to the community to get that data,” said McClerklin. “So, we came up with the walking tours, or we call them windshield/walking tours. It’s a national model that people use to get a different perspective of the community.”

There are four CHAT groups. Englewood, North Port and Newtown each have their own team while Laurel, Osprey, Venice and Nokomis make up the fourth group known as the LOVN CHAT.

The tours include a checklist for participants to provide input on specific areas. Categories include neighborhood and housing, transportation, environmental quality, public spaces and infrastructure/commercial activity. There is also a section for open-ended response.

McClerklin says they have already hosted the tours in the LOVN community and in Newtown.

Exterior of townhomes
Sarah Owens
Community News Collaborative
The King Stone Townhomes, located at 1720 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, are part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program providing housing for low-income families.

A tour of the west side of Newtown took place in late November, with 10 community members participating.

Sandra Richendollar, a Bradenton resident and Public Health Service Manager for the DOH, was in attendance. She previously attended a tour in Englewood as well.

“I love being a public servant and helping people,” Richendollar said. “Helping to make policies good for people to have a better quality of life.”

On the Newtown tour, she noted things like trash in yards and along streets, a wooden speed limit sign that she thought may have been placed by residents for safety, and what appeared to be a public housing surveillance camera at the intersection of 24th Street and North Links Avenue.

A mural on a building says Dream
Sarah Owens
Community News Collaborative
A mural resides on the building bordering the parking lot of New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.

While there have been several in-person community tours, McClerklin encourages those unable to attend to take advantage of the windshield tour option. Residents can drive around their communities and complete the checklist as well as take photos before emailing in their results. Participants will be entered into a raffle.

For information, community members can visit Betty J. Johnson Library, Elsie Quirk Library, Laurel Civic, North Port Public Library, Venice Public Library or reach out to McClerklin at (941) 861-2964.

Survey results can be emailed to srqchip4health@flhealth.gov.

The Community Health Action Teams meet monthly in their communities and gather quarterly for a combined meeting. Meetings are open to the public, and joining a CHAT group is free. To learn more about the CHAT groups or to get involved, visit the Community Partners in Action website.

Sarah Owens is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Connect with her at slowens@cncfl.org.