Hey LGBTQ+ Community! – Live, work, or play in Akron? Then do THIS! Now! (Please?)

The Greater Akron LGBTQ Needs Assessment recently launched. It is a first-of-its-kind survey. And it needs you!

Whether you live in Akron, work in Akron, play in Akron, or heck, have even driven through Akron recently, a new survey needs your participation straightaway!

The Greater Akron LGBTQ Needs Assessment recently launched and it is a first-of-its-kind survey in a geographic area that has never seen so comprehensive a process to capture the voices of the LGBTQ+ and ally community.

Andrew M. Snyder BSN, MPH

The Buckeye Flame spoke with Andrew M. Snyder, the project’s research program coordinator at the College of Public Health at Kent State University, to learn more about why you should stop what you’re doing right this very second and take the survey.

How did this survey come to exist?
The story starts with me moving to Akron in 2018, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and wanting to find a sense of community in Akron. Growing up in a rural experience where there was no gay community—in Salem in Columbiana County—finding community was really important to me.

So I started volunteering at Canapi. I just walked in one day, and said, “What can I do? I’m a nursing student. I need hours. I want to be here.” I began with sweeping the floors at Canapi, and slowly worked my way up with responsibilities. I stared working with their HIV+ residents and their food pantries, and I got a taste of a lot of different public health and LGBTQ+ engagement.

Then at the beginning of the pandemic, I said to myself, “Ok. I’m finishing my PhD soon. Do I want to stay local? Do I need to go to a big city to be able to utilize my degree and my expertise?” I finally decided I wanted to stay here in Akron and in determining what I wanted to do, it came back to my nursing degree. When you get a new patient, the first thing you do is assess them. So, what better way to launch a public health career locally than to do a comprehensive needs assessment.

I’m a huge fan of assessment. But because it’s not the sexiest topic, not everyone gets the critical importance of assessment.
Exactly! I had seen so many incredible things happen in the greater Akron LGBTQ+ community, but I never understood why decisions were being made. Everything  seemed to be based on word-of-mouth, intuition, or lived-experience. Those are great. But when it comes to grant-funding, or aligning budgets with needs, there has to be data.

How did you get started in putting together so comprehensive a project?
The first person I went to was [Director of Community Health Corporate Support at Akron General Cleveland Clinic] Sue Hobson. I was actually talking to her about a much smaller project that I wanted to do about training bartenders in gay bars about heart health, because LGBTQ+ heart health is a real issue.

And then we talked about the big assessment idea. She thought it was incredible, so we dropped the first idea and ran with the assessment. Before I know it, she already put together a steering committee and I had to present my idea to big people. <laughs>

I pitched it to these amazing people, and in the pitch, we weren’t even asking for money. We were seeing if there was interest in the project. Suddenly both Kent and Akron General put in $10,000 and Summit County put in $25,000. That’s almost half the budget and we hadn’t even started the work yet!

That’s incredible!
It was amazing. A good idea really can sell itself, especially if it is needed and long overdue. We took that money, and started one-by-one started reaching out to funders. I must have done 120 presentations, because I didn’t want any one organization to have too much power or control. By the end of the process, we were fully funded for the two years.

Tell us exactly *what* is fully funded for 2 years.
The whole assessment itself is a two-year project. Fully funded means not just the cost to conduct the comprehensive needs assessment, but also a good chunk of the money will be used to hire a professional marketing firm to make sure we don’t produce a dissertation-looking, inaccessible thing.

We want the end-result to be friendly with locally-sourced pictures: something appealing you might pick up on a coffee table or in a waiting room.

Where are we at in the process now?
We started with pre-assessment: a 4-month long period where over 150 people were meeting in virtual spaces. We took that time to lean into some of the difficult problems in the community. People shared their experiences with things like conversion therapy and sexual assault. It was very emotional.

We took those 100+ hours of meetings and all of that feedback informed the super survey, which is robust and comprehensive. The survey includes questions on religion and spirituality, recreation and leisure, and many areas that are often overlooked for the LGBTQ+ community. And there are spaces for people to share qualitative data, things like, “What brings you the most joy in life?”

And then we launched the survey! And it’s incentivized, which is a bit different than other surveys. You really can win great prizes for participating.

So the big call to action right now is for people to take the survey?
Yes. Anyone 18 and over can take the survey.

Just LGBTQ+ people?
No. People who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and allies can participate, with those two groups receiving a different set of questions.

Do people have to live in Akron the city or Summit County to participate?
They don’t. There is some literature that says for really effective community-based participatory research, the community has to define itself. Who am I to walk into a space and say, “Greater Akron is anybody with a Summit County zip code”?

Akron is more than that area. Whether you’re in Summit, Portage, Stark, Medina county, take the survey. Whether you travel to greater Akron for a plethora of reasons—employment, recreation, religion, social services, health care—take the survey. If you have an attachment to Akron, please put your voice in the mix.

We’re seeing people who say, “I live way far away from Akron, but I bring my children into Highland Square for trick-or-treating.” Or “I go to Akron for Pride.” Great! Take the survey.

How are we doing so far with responses?
We currently have 840 completed surveys and 376 partially completed. If you open the survey link—text ‘survey’ to PRIDE22266—in the same device, you can still complete your survey where you left off. With regard to goals, we’re being really ambitious and shooting for 7,000 completed surveys by December. We want to get as many voices in there as possible.

It takes about 30 minutes to finish. That’s a big ask, and we get that.

So then sell us on a sense of urgency. Why should people take 30 minutes to get this done?
This data is so valuable because it will impact the decisions that are made in Akron, aligning what we’re doing and what people need, including programming. For example, Metroparks is already taking some of this data and planning LGBTQ+ events to coincide with Akron Pride, and it was all inspired by an older gentleman sharing that he was not able to enjoy his Field Day when he was younger.

This survey is about being heard and seen. For the minority intersections in our community, it’s about being represented, to have their information passed on to decision-makers. I know a lot of people are excited to use the data to help better advocate for their loved ones.

All of the data is going to be made publicly available when this process is completed, so organizations and causes will have the data to manipulate on their own. And then we want to have a 2-day convention at the end, which will bring back all the stakeholders so we can say, “Ok, this is what we thought we knew. This is what we now know. And this is how we’re going to make it better.”

We don’t want this data to sit on a shelf. We want to move from assessment to action.

So people should take the survey?
People should definitely take the survey!

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