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Westmoreland nonprofits begin diversity survey

| Monday, June 2, 2014, 11:30 p.m.

Westmoreland nonprofit officials want to know residents' perceptions and experiences with diversity in the county through a survey introduced on Monday.

The online survey is open to county residents, business owners and public officials 18 and older, and asks questions ranging from how often responders talk about racism to how many friends and coworkers are minorities. In adition, the survey asks responders about their attitudes toward minorities and how they think race relations could be improved.

“I think we can all say there's going to be racial issues in every community. My personal feelings are we still have our issues; they're just not talked about a whole lot,” said Tay Waltenbaugh, CEO of Westmoreland Community Action. “It's the response to the diversity, or the lack thereof, we have to be responsive to.”

The agency, which offers housing services, emergency assistance, mental health and employment programs and child development, partnered with Seton Hill University to develop the questionnaire and analyze the results.

Although the survey, part of the nonprofit's “Confronting the Challenge of Diversity in Westmoreland County” project, is offered online, those without access to a computer can receive a paper copy.

Organizers hope at least 2,500 people from all areas of the county will take the survey.

“There's actually a lot more diversity (in Westmoreland) than a lot of people think ... (although) not as much as New York City, San Francisco or even Pittsburgh,” said David Droppa, an associate professor of social work at Seton Hill. “We wanted to find out what people's perceptions are of diversity — some people say ‘White-moreland' — which it isn't.”

Droppa, who is leading the research for the survey, last summer put together a group of Seton Hill professors from different disciplines. Droppa said the group spent months conducting 12 focus groups, as well as individual interviews with people representing business, government, education and clergy.

Census data can tell officials the racial makeup of an area, but the survey aims to discern people's feelings and experiences, he said.

Once the results are reported and analyzed, officials plan to develop a multimedia presentation that will be given throughout the county.

Waltenbaugh said the results could lead to program changes for his organization, and he hopes it would prompt changes for groups, including hiring practices for businesses.

“What we definitely want is to start conversations about diversity, so that we can together figure out what ways we need to change to make the county more vibrant, more culturally and economically successful,” Droppa said.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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