In fall 2012, 23 Azusa Pacific graduate social work students immersed themselves in the Azusa community, visiting schools, families, businesses, and government officials to collect data for a comprehensive needs assessment that culminated the following fall. Funded by the Canyon City Foundation’s generous $5,465 grant, APU social work faculty members Adria Navarro, Ph.D., LCSW, and Kimberly Setterlund, LCSW, spearheaded the project. Under their supervision, students applied the theoretical and practical skills learned in Navarro’s Advanced Community Practice course to gain a better understanding of the issues residents face and offer recommendations to address them.
Along with USC, APU stands as one of only two colleges in Southern California offering a macro concentration in social work. Azusa Pacific’s community practice and partnerships concentration prepares students interested in leading government programs, nonprofit agencies, and policy and advocacy organizations. Projects like this give students hands-on experience in the field. “This needs assessment allowed our students to explore the complexities of community social problems firsthand,” said Setterlund. “They delved into how the city functions, learning about the community’s needs and practices, and connecting literature with skills.”
Focusing on three Azusa target populations—children, families, and older adults—students collected insights from key stakeholders through semistructured interviews and other empirical data, allowing them to identify trends and analyze the information. As they uncovered the city’s challenges, the students also quickly recognized several strengths that serve as community capital, such as cultural, spiritual, physical, environmental, informational, political, and economic resources. Among the findings, the researchers identified 10 areas for improvement, including English proficiency, violence and bullying, housing, health care, and support for senior citizens. For each, the researchers provided a detailed analysis of the findings as well as recommendations for strategies and interventions to address the issues.
“APU enjoys an excellent relationship with the city of Azusa, and our students benefited from that connection,” said Navarro. “The mayor visited the students in class and opened the door for them to work closely with city officials. As they delved deeper into the community life, interviewing residents and leaders, they gained a valuable perspective on macro practice in social work.”
“This project encompassed the definition of systems theory,” said Wendy Escobar ’13, student participant and former intern with the Azusa Human Relations Commission. “We applied our clinical skills while learning community work and experienced bureaucratic obstacles firsthand. This project taught me independence, self-reliance, interviewing skills, creative problem solving, networking, and how to engage people and establish trust as we worked together to strengthen the community.”
The findings and recommendations have been distributed to the city council, mayor, and key stakeholders in the community. Navarro and Setterlund also plan to share their findings at the Council on Social Work Education’s annual program meeting as an experiential education model. Meanwhile, the project continues to add educational value for APU students as they explore the data more deeply. “This spring, students enrolled in Advanced Community Practice drilled down into the issues of bullying, homelessness, and older adult services, partnering with community service groups to address these needs,” said Navarro.
“We are always looking for ways to connect with our neighbors in Azusa and give our students practical experiences,” said Setterlund. “This project provided a great foundation for future collaborations that will potentially strengthen the city as well as the partnership between Azusa and APU.”