BeHeardCVA

It’s a beautiful place, this neighborhood, and a beautiful place to be a neighbor, according to a recent survey of Central Virginians.

In fact, on a scale of 1 to 10, respondents in Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson rated the region a solid 7.95.

“The overall average rating [suggests] strong satisfaction,” the survey, conducted by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center, said. “When the rating is examined by geography, the rating is nearly identical between Charlottesville City (7.99), Albemarle County (7.97) and the outlying area of Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties (7.84).”

The survey was conducted by BeHeardCVA, a panel of volunteers in the region who have agreed to respond to a variety of questions devised by the Center for Survey Research and its clients.

The panel currently has 729 residents signed up to answer questions about local life and issues.

The latest survey is the third conducted by BeHeardCVA since it started up in April. It’s the first panel of its kind in Virginia and is designed to specifically represent Virginia’s Region 10 in surveys conducted by governments, nonprofit agencies and other local organizations, officials said.

“We have a ton of nonprofits in the area that are trying to change their world, but they need to know what’s going on in their world before they change it,” said Tom Guterbock, founding director of the Center for Survey Research and now its academic director. “Unfortunately, it’s become prohibitively expensive to do a survey and it’s beyond the reach of most small nonprofits.”

Guterbock said creating a panel of residents willing to answer surveys allows the center to provide local research at a reasonable cost. The program is also one way for researchers to deal with the changes in how people answer phones due to increased scam, spam and theft efforts.

“In the past, a lot of surveys were done by telephone but that’s become problematic because people don’t answer their phones in the same way they did 10 or 20 years ago,” said Bob Gibson, communications director and senior researcher at Weldon Cooper. “It can be difficult to get enough people to answer the phone to get a bigger sample.”

The satisfaction survey queried 435 panel members. It shows more than half know six or more neighbors on a first-name basis, nearly 60% belong to health or sporting clubs, about 45% are members of religious organizations and 44% belong to homeowner or neighborhood organizations.

About 38% belong to professional societies and nearly 30% joined hobby, garden, or recreation groups.

“Regardless of age, 70% or more of respondents indicated that they had volunteered time during the past year to organizations such as charities, schools, hospitals, religious organizations, neighborhood associations and civic or other groups,” the report states. “These volunteerism results are essentially the opposite of what was found in [a 2017 statewide survey] where 69% indicated they did not volunteer in the previous year.”

According to the study, men and women have similar preferences for organizations for which they volunteered. Both rated disease-related causes as their top volunteer activity, followed by political advocacy and environmental or conservation groups.

An estimated 53% of respondents had talked daily or spent time with family members or friends who did not live with them, and the same number said they have daily contact with persons of different racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds.

Center officials said the satisfaction survey, and others that preceded it and will follow, are a way for residents to make their voices heard.

“Being on the panel is a way for area residents to express themselves and be part of the community’s planning process, whether it’s through local governments or nonprofits,” said Kara Fitzgibbon, director of the Center for Survey Research. “The more people who join, the more the survey is representative of the community.”

Researchers hope they can recruit a broad enough sample of the region from rural to urban and across ethnic backgrounds.

BeHeardCVA is recruiting panelists through community outreach, with representatives attending local events in hopes of signing up people of different social, ethnic, economic and religious backgrounds.

Interested residents may sign up at beheardcva.org.

Panelists fill out background forms that are used by researchers when building a survey base.

“That makes it more efficient when you already know who you’re reaching out to, their backgrounds and that they’re willing to respond,” Fitzgibbon said. “We can ask a question on Friday and have responses within a week.”

BeHeardCVA panelists must be 18 or older and live in the region. Participants may choose to take surveys over the phone or online and at times convenient to them. That, center officials say, makes it easier for those who work or have children to fit the surveys into their own schedules.

“It provides the ability to take the survey in your home, on the phone, online or whenever and wherever it’s convenient for you,” Fitzgibbon said.

Guterbock said BeHeardCVA can help define for agencies the concerns, issues and even factions inside a community.

“We often hear certain things about this county or that county, divisions we face within a community and how different opinions are. We’ve seen the divisions in the community, and the panel can help provide information that reflects that,” he said. “This is a vehicle to help bring the community together.”

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