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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

November 22, 2016

Southwest Kansas Community Assessment

Submitted by Debra J. Bolton

In the preliminary analyses (mixed methods) of the Community Assessment Process that covered nine counties in Southwest Kansas, reaching 901 individuals, some themes are beginning to emerge. In this study, there were 751 responses to the written survey instrument, and 150 individuals participated in face-to-face interviews. The languages represented were English, Spanish, Karen (Cah-wren, a dialect of Burmese), Somali, Tigrinya (Ethiopia and Eritrea), and French. While Southwest Kansas remains a favorite research spot for social researchers from many disciplines (Sociology, Anthropology, Education, Economics, and Human Ecology), few of those studies are executed in a variety of languages. We are hearing from the people who live in these communities, and it’s going beyond someone else’s opinion of the majority or minority groups.

Southwest Kansas is rural. Three population centers (Finney, Ford, and Seward counties) are densely-settled rural. The remaining counties are considered, “Frontier Rural” by Census Bureau designations. With that in mind, it’s important to know that the three densely-settled rural counties are Minority-majority populations. Of the remaining counties in Southwest Kansas, "minority" populations range from 15 to 47%. In Finney County, at least 10 African countries, about eight Asian countries, and people throughout Latin America are represented.

Preliminarily, and in looking at quality-of-life topics, one question centered on community life. For U.S. born respondents, we asked, “What is the best thing about living in your community?” For foreign-born respondents, we asked, "What is the best thing about coming to the U. S.?"

For U. S. born respondents, overwhelmingly, the responses centered on quiet, rural living where there are good schools and one knows most of the people living in the community. Conversely, for U. S. born respondents, the challenges of living in rural areas are having access to goods and services that require travel to larger communities.

For foreign-born respondents, there was a list of "great" things about living in Southwest Kansas:
• Safety from violence and corruption
• Educational opportunities for children
• Job opportunities for adults
• Quiet environments, and
• Nice churches and schools
In some of the recorded responses of "foreign-born" participants, there are items that most of us take for granted when it comes to living in a, relatively, free world. For example:
• "I came to the United States because there is war in my country."
• "We are lucky to be in the United States."
• "I am lucky to be able to graduate high school. My parents did not have that chance."

Qualitatively, we found foreign-born respondents to be hungry for opportunities to have access to education. In supporting their own children through elementary and high schools, parents appear to feel fortunate that their children are getting an education. However, they (parents) feel inadequate to help with homework, etc., because their own education is lacking. Barriers to gaining educational and language skills, for adults, range from no adult education being offered in their communities or limited space in current programs. Having a shift work schedule, also, is a major barrier for access to adult education.

Access to informal education, such as nutrition and chronic disease lessons, was a major source of pride for Spanish-speaking respondents who had participated in KSRE EFNEP classes. Actually, it was EFNEP graduates who referred us to more respondents who could answer the survey instrument or participate in a face-to-face interview. They are to be credited for our high response rate in the Spanish-speaking communities.

This is the beginning of my reports to you on the health, well-being, and social connectedness of people living in Southwest Kansas. As this analyses further unfold, I am glad to answer question you may have about people in this corner of the state; don’t hesitate to call or write.

The study was made possible by the generous contributions of the City of Garden City, Kearny County Hospital, Western Kansas Head Start, Finnup Foundation, and Western Kansas Community Foundation.