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LVCF Reflections Paper | 50th Anniversary Spark Grants and the Continuing Needs in the Lehigh Valley

Dr. Christopher P. Borick, Lötter Fellow

LVCF Reflections Paper The Lehigh Valley is a diverse and dynamic region that is among the fastest growing areas of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. While the Lehigh Valley is flourishing in many ways, it struggles with a number of the same challenges that are part of contemporary American life. The residents of Lehigh and Northampton counties face an array of social, economic and environmental issues with local governments and non-profits engaged in efforts to address these concerns. As it has done for the past half-century, the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation (LVCF) has sought to assist these local entities in meeting the challenges they face and to thus meet the Foundation’s mission of “improving the quality of life in our region.”

To mark its 50th anniversary, the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation sought to target a number of the most pressing issues related to quality of life in the area through the establishment of its “Be the Spark” campaign. Under this initiative, LVCF identified the areas of: mental and behavioral health; cultural enrichment; food and housing access; environment and sustainability; human trafficking; and veteran affairs as key issues in need of increased attention and support. Throughout 2017, LVCF awarded $300,000 to six areas identified with 29 recipients receiving a Spark Grant.

To help better understand the impact of LVCF’s “Be the Spark” campaign, the Foundation, through a generous grant from the Lötter Family Fund at the recommendation of Luther J. Hottle, established Christopher P. Borick, Ph.D., as the LVCF Lötter Fellow. In this capacity, Dr. Borick, along with the students and staff of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion,  engaged in a thorough examination of the particular challenges that the Lehigh Valley is facing in the six areas focused on in the Spark program.  Beginning in the fall of 2017 and culminating in the late spring of 2018, Dr. Borick and his team at Muhlenberg examined how the Spark Grants have helped address the concerns identified by LVCF and offer an appraisal of the continuing needs in these areas.

Throughout the fall of 2017, Dr. Borick and his students gathered contextual information regarding the areas focused on by the Spark Grants in an effort to more fully comprehend the challenges that are being faced by residents of the Lehigh Valley. This research helped build a framework in which local conditions are compared to national benchmarks and thus provide insight into some of the external pressures that are affecting conditions in the Lehigh Valley.

As 2018 begun, the Muhlenberg team reached out to Spark Grant recipients to ascertain their insight on the experiences they have had as their organizations have implemented the grants, examining both quantitative and qualitative measures of their efforts. These conversations with grant recipients are supplemented with discussions with additional Spark applicants to ascertain the continuing community needs in these areas of focus.

This research concluded in June 2018 with the publication and presentation of Dr. Borick’s findings. This capstone report integrates the various elements of the research process into an analysis of the impact that the Spark Grants have made on life in the Lehigh Valley and offer perspective on where additional attention and support are needed in the wake of this major initiative.

About Christopher Borick, Ph.D.
Lötter Fellow Reflections Paper

A professor of political science, Christopher Borick is the director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. His research and teaching interests are primarily in the areas of public policy and public opinion. He is a nationally recognized public opinion researcher who has conducted over 300 large-scale public opinion surveys during the past fifteen years. The results of these surveys have appeared in numerous periodicals including Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.


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