At the end of June, staff from the Access to Essential Services program organized evening focus groups with the purpose of getting community input for how the program should work and how to make improvements for the fall season, so that the work staff are doing reflect the actual needs, concerns, and desires of community members. The content of the focus groups focused on how the Milbridge office functioned as a drop in resource center, how local resources can be more easily accessed, and what else Mano en Mano could do support the community in thriving in Downeast Maine.
Working with a group of workers from Wyman’s and a group of community leaders from Nuestra Voz en la Comunidad, the focus groups gave important feedback about how to improve and expand Access to Essential Services programming. The Wyman’s group touched on the importance of different types of communication, a preference for phone calls at certain times of the day, as well as an interest in more workshops and educational opportunities on-site at their worker housing. The second focus group with Nuestra Voz leaders, which included many parents with children, explained from experience how to overcome many of the barriers that exist in accessing local services. The group brought up the importance of computer literacy and coordinating with adult education programming to be more flexible, including different times of the week and home visits for busy working families. It was important to expand the discussion to include the language that Mano en Mano uses to describe the community, taking a look at the sort of work people are actually involved in and how they self-identify. These community leaders also helped create guidelines for how to offer and use Mano en Mano’s new emergency fund, a low barrier resource for meeting financial needs that are not met by other agencies, including legal fees for immigration matters and to pay for unexpected trips away in cases of family emergencies.
Now that that summer season is over, these suggestions can be put into motion for the fall season. We are thankful for the support and guidance of our community members who continue to inform the work that goes on in the Access to Essential Services program.