Ruby Lake Community
Ruby Lake is a predominantly Latino neighborhood located in Riverbend City.
During the recent train derailment and chemical spill, Ruby Lake found itself directly in the path of the chemical cloud. Unfortunately, the neighborhood evacuation did not go smoothly. It became painfully clear that the emergency preparedness plan for Ruby Lake was outdated. This pointed to a larger problem: the neighborhood lacked an updated needs assessment. Ten years ago, when the last needs assessment was conducted, Ruby Lake was just starting its transformation from a Polish to a Latino neighborhood, so the community needs have changed dramatically.
When a demographic shift changes the fabric of a community, an updated needs assessment is necessary. One of the first steps is to form a neighborhood-based needs assessment committee to discuss the needs of the community. As you listen to the members of the newly formed Ruby Lake Needs Assessment Committee, consider what needs appear to be the most pressing—and consider the degree to which you feel the initial meeting is effective.
The Mayor’s Office
Diversity Liaison Mo Xiong meets with Mayor Keith Bauer and Ruby Lake community activist Victor Maldonado to propose an updated community needs assessment for the Ruby Lake neighborhood.
Mo introduces her plans to create a Ruby Lake Needs Assessment Committee.
Mo: Keith, Victor, thank you so much for meeting with me today.
Victor: Thank you for inviting me, Mo. It’s good to see some concern about the events at Ruby Lake during the disaster.
Mo: Well, the problem was pretty obvious, Victor. Ruby Lake was in the direct wind path of the chemicals, and we needed to evacuate fast. Unfortunately, our community outreach plan was completely out of date.
Keith: Mo, what specifically was out of date?
Mo: Everything. Emergency information sheets, evacuation plans, translators, phone trees. Our whole system for communicating crucial information to community members was inadequate.
Victor: That’s not news to me. Things were definitely chaotic. What I want to know is how things got this way.
Mo: Well, the biggest problem is that we haven’t done a community needs assessment in the Ruby Lake neighborhood in 10 years. And as you know, 10 years ago, Ruby Lake was still primarily a Polish neighborhood.
Victor: Yes, that’s about when my family came to Ruby Lake. Our upstairs neighbors were the Lazarskis, and our downstairs neighbors were the Zalenskis. Mrs. Zalenski used to make us pierogies, and my mother made tamales for their family.
Mo: I love stories like that.
Keith:But as you can see, Victor, there’s been a significant demographic shift in your neighborhood, and the city hasn’t caught up to it yet.
Mo: And that’s what this meeting is all about. We’re going to be meeting with some folks next week about the issue of disaster preparedness in Ruby Lake. But what we want to talk to you about is creating a needs assessment committee in the Ruby Lake neighborhood. The disaster made it clear to us that a complete needs assessment is overdue.
Victor: The people in my neighborhood, we’re a tight community and we talk a lot. And one of the favorite topics of conversation right now is how badly the city handled the evacuation. People feel betrayed.
Keith: I’m sorry to hear that, Victor. How do they feel betrayed?
Victor: Well… I don’t want to sound disrespectful, Mayor. But you know, during the election, you campaigned heavily in the Ruby Lake neighborhood. We heard promises about how you were going to prioritize the needs of the ethnic communities. But we’ve seen how much money’s been spent on parks and roads in wealthy neighborhoods like Lindner Hills…and meanwhile, we have major infrastructure problems that haven’t been addressed.
Keith: Well, yes. I have made the needs of Ruby Lake and other ethnic neighborhoods a top priority. And I plan to continue to do so. Hey, that’s why we created Mo’s position.
Mo: Um… yeah, Keith.
Victor: I’m glad to hear that. And…well, again, I don’t want to sound disrespectful, Mayor. But you know, there’s another election next year, and it’s going to be a close one… and last time, you got the majority of votes in Ruby Lake…
Keith: Comprende, amigo! I’m deeply grateful for the support of the Ruby Lake neighborhood.
Keith: So, here’s the plan. We form a needs assessment committee that represents a cross-section of people in the Ruby Lake neighborhood. The committee will give us a preliminary overview of community needs. Then we’ll conduct quantitative and qualitative research in the neighborhood to get a more formal understanding of what the needs really are. After that, the committee will vote on what they see as the top three needs in the community. We’ll take that recommendation and go from there.
Victor: Sounds good to me, Mayor. I appreciate it. How do we get started?
Mo: Well, we need to invite community members to be on the committee. I’d like to work with you to identify appropriate people.
Victor: Sure. How many people did you have in mind?
Mo: 25? 30? For starters, we should identify a community leader who could help facilitate the meetings.
Victor: Well, we should definitely talk to Father Yuni, the priest at San Lorenzo Church. He’s young and very much in touch with the community. Although… is it okay to bring in a religious leader?
Mo: Oh, definitely. It’s common practice to include religious leaders on needs assessment committees. So…can you think of anyone else off the top of your head to include? Shop owners? Police officers?
Victor: Yes… Pilar Mendez… she owns a popular bodega. I know she’d want to be a part of this. Police officers… we might want to talk to Lieutenant Ed Kowalski. He’s been a fixture in the neighborhood for years.
Mo: Great! Let’s schedule a meeting and get to work on organizing the committee.
Scene 2 San Lorenzo Catholic Church
Father Junot “Yuni” Rivera
Yuni: Welcome, everybody! I’m so glad you’re here. For those of you whom I haven’t had the honor to meet yet, I’m Father Yuni Rivera. I graduated from Ruby Lake High School, and I’ve been here at San Lorenzo for the past five years. I’m proud to be part of this community.
I’m delighted to introduce two important people. My friend Victor Maldonado is someone many of you know. He’s a community activist who’s been a rock star at bringing good things to Ruby Lake. And I’d also like to welcome and introduce Mo Xiong, who’s the Diversity Liaison in the Mayor’s office.
Mo: Thanks, Father Yuni! Well, I’m delighted to be here at the first meeting of the Ruby Lake Needs Assessment Committee. As you know, the city is developing an updated needs assessment for this community. There hasn’t been a needs assessment done in 10 years, and as you know, the demographics of this community have changed quite a bit. The city wants to be better able to serve your needs, and before we can do that, we need to have a good sense of what those needs are.
Victor? Do you want to talk a little about what we’re going to be doing today?
Victor: Sure, Mo. Well, since this is our first meeting, we’re going to be doing some brainstorming. The city wants to know what we feel are the most pressing needs in our community. So I want you folks to put it all on the table and don’t hold back! If you think that something stinks in our community, let your voice be heard. I mean, folks around here aren’t exactly known for being shy, right?
I see we have a question.
Nicole: Thanks, Victor! Hi, I’m Nicole Fernandez, and I’m a fourth grade teacher at Ruby Lake Elementary School. I’m excited about the opportunity to be on this committee. My concern is that this doesn’t turn into one big complaint session that the city doesn’t do anything about. Is the city going to make changes based on what we say?
Mo: Thank you, Nicole. Don’t worry—you’re not speaking in a vacuum here. Based on the needs you identify, we’re going to conduct research to find out more about the scope of these needs. Then we’ll return that information to you and ask you to prioritize the top community needs. We’ll use that information to make changes.
Nicole: Oh…well that sounds promising. Thank you.
Yuni:So… like Victor said, don’t hold back. I’ll be taking notes in my famous chicken scrawl. Let’s get started.
Superintendent of the Riverbend City Public School District
Bruce Greenberg, the Superintendent of the Riverbend City Public Schools, discusses his concerns with the local schools.
Bruce: Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in this meeting. I’m delighted to be here with Nicole Fernandez, an award-winning teacher at Ruby Lake Elementary.
Mo: Bruce, what are your concerns about the schools in the Ruby Lake neighborhood?
Bruce: Well, I’m happy to say that the graduation rate at Ruby Lake High School has improved. Ruby Lake High has had one of the lowest graduation rates in the city, and that’s starting to change. But it’s still too much too low.
Nicole: I agree. I think we could do more at the elementary school level to make sure students are prepared academically when they get to high school. There are way too many kids in my fourth grade class that don’t have the fundamentals of reading yet. I do my best, but with class sizes so big, I can’t give every student the attention they deserve.
Bruce: Absolutely, Nicole. And another serious problem in this neighborhood is the lack of after school programs for students. Compared to wealthier areas in the city, there’s a serious lack of activities. And since so many students come home to an empty house, that’s a recipe for trouble.
Ed: From a law enforcement perspective, I couldn’t agree more. When kids have constructive things to do, they stay out of trouble.
Nicole: Could we start after school programs that help kids with reading?
Bruce: Of course. I would recommend a variety of academic and physical fitness programs. The Lindner Hills Community Center has all kinds of after-school activities—karate, dance, you name it. And the kids love it. Good after-school programs can steer kids away from crime and help them build academic skills. We just need the money to make this happen.
Pilar: Unemployment is a serious problem in Ruby Lake. Whenever I have a job opening, I can’t even tell you how many applications I receive. It’s depressing. And I’m just the owner of a little store. I can’t imagine how much competition there must be for jobs that pay more.
Martin: We see that at the clinic, too. Dozens of applicants for a job opening. But it’s not surprising. The Schneider Chemical Plant closing really affected Ruby Lake.
Victor: Well, that’s appropriate. I bet they manufactured some of the chemicals that got spilled in our city.
Pilar: Probably! It’s such a shame. That plant was here for years. Once it closed, people didn’t know what to do. They don’t have skills to do other things.
Martin: That is such a problem. People around here don’t have the skills to compete for the jobs that are available. Riverbend City has a pretty good market for hi-tech and health care jobs. But someone who’s been working at the chemical plant for years doesn’t have the skills for that.
Victor: Do you think a job readiness program would be a good idea?
Pilar: Oh my goodness, yes. For young kids graduating from high school too. I see all these kids hanging around, good kids who want to work, but they can’t find a job. Then some of them get into trouble because they have nothing better to do.
Riverbend City Police Department
Ed: You want to know what the most serious problem in this neighborhood is? That’s a no-brainer to me. Crime. Especially gang activity.
Victor: Ed, don’t you think that’s an exaggeration? Violent crime is down in Ruby Lake.
Ed: Violent crime is slightly down in Ruby Lake, and thefts are up. And you can’t tell me you’re not worried about the gangs. I’ve been living here since I was a kid, and we never had this much youth crime.
Nicole: You mean, you never had this much youth crime before we Latinos moved in.
Ed: Now that’s not fair. I’m no racist. If I didn’t care about the kids in Ruby Lake, I wouldn’t be worried about gang influence.
Victor: I worry about the gangs too, Ed. It’s definitely not as bad here as in other parts of the city, but any gang activity is too much. What do you think we should do about it?
Ed: More police officers. More officers on the street mean less petty crime. And as for the gangs, I say we implement the initiative they’ve been using in the Shoals neighborhood. They closely watch gang members and pull them over any time they commit even a minor infraction.
Nicole: You mean they profile kids who look like gang members?
Ed: No, Nicole, we don’t profile kids. We monitor known gang members. We’ve been doing this for four years in the Shoals neighborhood, and it makes a difference. I think we should try it in Ruby Lake.
Martin: I’ve been working in the Ruby Lake clinic for three years now, and one of the growing problems in the community is metabolic syndrome.
Mo: I’m not sure what that is.
Martin: That just means that people have a group of risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It’s usually related to obesity. A lot of immigrant communities have this issue. People get accustomed to American dietary habits and their waistlines expand. I’d love to see some kind of public health campaign to teach people about healthier choices.
Yuni: Part of the problem is that it’s not easy to get healthy food in this neighborhood. We’ve got fast food everywhere, but there’s no large grocery store close to Ruby Lake. People who don’t own a car have to ride two busses to get to Cloverleaf Foods.
Martin: I agree, Padre. And people don’t have big plots of land around here to grow their own produce.
Yuni: Maybe what we need is a community garden.
Mo: That’s a great idea, Father Yuni. Martin, what other health issues do you encounter in your clinic?
Martin: Another serious problem in this neighborhood is teen pregnancy. I really think we need to do something about this. I’m sorry, Padre, I hope this isn’t an inappropriate topic to discuss here.
Yuni: Oh no, don’t be silly. This is a topic close to my heart. My little niece Marisol is pregnant, poor thing.
Martin: I’m sorry to hear that, Padre. Unfortunately, she’s not alone. I know the city is going to follow up this meeting with some research. It would be great to see some numbers on how prevalent teen pregnancy is in Ruby Lake. My hunch is that the numbers will be shocking.
Victor talks about infrastructure problems in the Ruby Lake Neighborhood.
Victor: Well, I have to say that one of my biggest concerns around here is infrastructure.
Pilar: Ah, Victor… I bet you’re a little concerned about the sewers, huh?
Victor: Well, as a matter of fact, I am, Pilar.
Pilar: Care to share your tale of woe?
Victor: Well, for those of you who don’t know, I had two cars that flooded out in less than a month. Two. Both of them totaled.
Ed: Both totaled?
Victor: Yes, both totaled. I was parked in front of my apartment building before a storm. The sewers backed up and my car was totaled. So I went through my insurance and finally got a new car… and then it happened again.
Ed:<laughs> You need a garage, my good man.
Victor: No. What I need is a neighborhood with a properly functioning drainage system. And streets without humungous potholes. And a park that isn’t falling apart.
Pilar: I know. The city spent thousands of dollars on that beautiful new park in the Lindner Hills neighborhood. Can’t they even put some new grass down in ours?
Ed: Look, I’m sorry your cars got totaled, Victor. But to be blunt, I think that infrastructure is the least of our problems around here. Crime needs to be our main focus. I can probably find you half a dozen people who had their cars stolen twice.
Victor: Oh, come on, Ed. Infrastructure and crime are related. If our neighborhood looks like a pit, people commit more crimes.
Ed: Maybe. But I say, we prioritize neighborhood safety first before we worry about putting grass down in the park. If there’s crime in the park, we could put a freakin’ botanical garden down there, and no one’s gonna come.
Father Yuni’s Notes
Page 1: HEALTH ISSUES
Metabolic syndrome (diabetes, stroke, heart disease risks)
— Common with immigrants
— Community gardens might help?
— Teen pregnancy.
Page 2: SCHOOL ISSUES
Dropout rate – down, still high
Poor reading skills in early grades
After school programs needed!
Page 3: JOB ISSUES
Schneider Chemical Plant Closing – hit Ruby Lake hard
Workers lack skills for hi-tech, health care jobs
Job readiness program – young people need jobs!
Page 4: CRIME ISSUES
Violent crime down (slightly)
Theft, petty crime up
Solutions: More officers? Monitor gang members?
Page 5: INFRASTRUCTURE ISSUES
Park in bad shape