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Community outreach programs are a standard way for groups such as social service agencies, nonprofit groups, and church or other religious groups to identify a certain specific need in its community and provide services to the people who need it. An example is Planned Parenthood; it might conduct regular community outreach programs to identify who is at greatest risk for HIV and AIDS and based on the feedback from its work, design programs to help this particular group of people. Again, as an example, were this group to be 15- to 24-year old youth and young adults, Planned Parenthood might tailor programs that will appeal to this demographic.
Community outreach programs vary greatly. They are commonly seen in organizations that have a religious, social activist, health oriented purpose. Examples of groups that might conduct community outreach programs are universities conducting a trial on a new contraceptive product. The community outreach program would have a coordinator who would actively advertise, recruit people to test the new contraceptive and record and analyze the data. Further, this information could be used to plan programs to fulfill a need: contraceptives that young people would use to prevent the transmission of HIV and AIDS.
There are many types of community outreach programs. For example, if a church wanted to help homeless women and their children find safe shelter, the church would hire a person to actively organize a team to locate and identify homeless women and their children in their community. By talking with these women, the organizer could identify what their most pressing needs were: safe shelter, food, protection from violent ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends. The goals for this particular community outreach program would be to raise funds to support a temporary shelter for these women and their children. Other types include community outreach programs that are based on health issues: teenage smoking or teenage drug use or teenage pregnancy. In each case, the goal would be to identify the group of people, identify their needs, and design a program to help them move out of harm’s way by intervention, education and or even physically providing safety.
The overriding function of most community outreach programs is to fulfill a goal. One group might be charged with identifying the eating habits of teen girls with eating disorders. Another group might be to locate runaway teens to bring them to safety or reunite them with responsible family members. The function is to identify a specific demographic, study their needs surrounding a particular issues, and create a program to help them recover, learn or become self-sufficient.
Nearly every community outreach program has a lead outreach coordinator charged with organizing volunteers and other staff to carry out the group’s goals. These programs are often funded by grants and may require that all the activities and outcomes be recorded in a formal report to show the program's supporters that their money was used as intended. Many programs rely on this kind of funding and may have to re-apply for their funding each year or every few years. Reporting their activities ensures their programs continue and that people in the program continue to have the help they need.
The greatest benefit of community outreach programs is that the programs serve people who are often unable to help themselves. These people, often called at-risk or under served, are easily exploited by unethical people. In other cases, the programs provide education and services to groups of people who simply are not well-educated or misinformed. Young teens may believe they are bullet-proof and cannot become pregnant or contract HIV or AIDS. Outreach programs will provide important education to these people.
The greatest misconception might be that community outreach programs are designed strictly for poor, uneducated people. Some programs are educational or are working to test a new medical or health invention or way of doing something.