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New Mexico State students prepare needs assessment for YWCA

A swimming pool, child care and after-school programs are among the needs of Las Cruces women and children identified in a needs assessment conducted by New Mexico State University students as a project for a feminist inquiries course.

liminary findings, which were requested by a local committee working to develop a Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Las Cruces, will be presented to a range of individuals and groups in the coming months for community feedback. The local YWCA steering committee, which includes representatives from the city, the university, private businesses, public schools and non-profits, will publish a final report in October.

"The local steering committee is really starting at the grass roots," said Lisa Frehill, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at New Mexico State. "No one just wants to build a facility and hope people use it, we want to know what the community needs."

"The YWCA doesn't go into a community unless that community needs and wants the programs," said Cristina Trowbridge, program development administrator for the El Paso Del Norte Region of YWCA, which is one of the largest in the nation and includes southern New Mexico counties. "This committee, which has been meeting for less than a year, wants to look at the needs of the community and then establish goals."

Frehill's students conducted 14 focus groups throughout Las Cruces and Hatch to discuss and make suggestions regarding programs, prices, locations and scheduling. The group discussions resulted in a list of 38 different needs, which was reduced to a much shorter list with a swimming pool ranking first and programs for children coming in second and third. Exercise and nutrition were also identified as important needs.

Frehill's class is designed to teach research methods in women's studies, but this section placed more emphasis on hands-on research than traditional classes. Some class time was spent discussing progress and working through challenges the six students experienced during the needs assessment, she said.

Not only does the community benefit, but the students got hands-on experience in conducting inquiries, investigation and analysis strategies, she added.

Although the scope of the project was limited by time and cost, Frehill said, it followed standard practices and is a great starting point for the community.

During their investigation the students also requested information from the focus groups about what they would like to see in a Women's Resource Guide.

In collaboration with the Dona Ana County chapter of New Mexico Advocates for Women and Children, the Las Cruces YWCA steering committee will publish a resource guide for the community. The committee has developed a funding strategy and plan for the 80-page guide to be published by the end of the year. Frehill said focus groups revealed that the guide needs to reflect the area's diversity, have bilingual content and be free and easy to access.

The feminist inquiries class is a required course for a Women's Studies major at NMSU. The program is traditionally taken as a supplemental major to other degrees.

The mission of the YWCA El Paso Del Norte Region is to be intentionally diverse, provide high-quality programs and leadership activities, and advocate for and support women, girls and their families in reaching their full potential.

For more information about the needs assessment or the YWCA, e-mail Frehill at lfrehill@nmsu.edu or Trowbridge at c.trowbridge@ywcaelpaso.org.