PCTN survey: Diversity matters to Paradise

Ridge may be 94 percent white, but most say they’re welcoming

TALKING TOLERANCE<br>Susan Bordelon and Gwen Nordgren discuss the community survey at the Paradise Center for Tolerance and Nonviolence on Skyway at Pearson. The group got a grant to ramp up its presence, including online at <a href="http://www.pctn.org/">www.pctn.org</a>.

Susan Bordelon and Gwen Nordgren discuss the community survey at the Paradise Center for Tolerance and Nonviolence on Skyway at Pearson. The group got a grant to ramp up its presence, including online at www.pctn.org.

Photo By Evan Tuchinsky

Full report
Complete results of PCTN’s survey.

When Gwen Nordgren moved to the Ridge five years ago, she had no idea she’d relocated to a place that’s 94 percent white. The Chicagoan house-hunted in Chico and figured the demographics in the neighboring town would be comparable. “I didn’t realize how undiverse the community was,” she said this week, sitting in the conference room of the Paradise Center for Tolerance and Nonviolence.

That’s why she’s particularly pleased with the overriding result of a community survey commissioned by PCTN, of which she’s president. Nearly 65 percent of the respondents said it’s important to live in a diverse community, and most report warm feelings toward people of other races and beliefs (between 56 and 79 percent, depending on the group).

It’s not all good news, though. Gays, lesbians and transgender individuals are far less welcome, with 19.4 percent feeling negatively about them—nearly triple the next highest group—and just 41 percent accepting. Moreover, 13.4 percent of respondents said they or a relative had experienced discrimination locally, and 6.3 percent knew someone else who’d been subjected to it.

“We’re learning from all of them. It’s good to hear what people think,” Nordgren said. “We join with the respondents who love the Ridge, and we join with the respondents who recognize things could be better.”

PCTN Director Susan Bordelon, a member of the task force that analyzed the findings, concurred. “We didn’t want to have any expectations; we just wanted it to provide us with better knowledge. The fact that people said diversity was important is a really gratifying result, even though there are serious problems for the small group of people who get targeted by prejudice.

“There’s definitely optimism to the community growing to a more welcoming place.”

PCTN started in October 2000 in response to intolerance following Paradise United Methodist Church’s “campaign for tolerance.” Church members and other concerned citizens banded together to combat hate graffiti and organize unity events—"it evolved from there,” Bordelon explained.

The nonprofit organization continues to host an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration and Unity in Diversity Festival, plus rallies (one of which, four years ago, drew in Nordgren). PCTN also offers a support and advocacy program for victims of hate crimes and educational programs for youth.

Staff and volunteers had only anecdotal evidence to assess what they were doing. “A lot of people told us we have done a good job,” Nordgren said, “but so what—how do we know? … When I started volunteering here, I remember people saying, ‘We really need a survey.’ “

A $38,000 grant from the California Endowment made one possible. Along with boosting the group’s marketing and fostering a revamp of the pctn.org Web site (set to launch Monday, Aug. 11), the funding let PCTN contract with local research firm Gary Bess Associates to conduct a mail survey of 20,526 households in Paradise, Magalia and Stirling City.

“This was just a wonderful answer to our dreams,” Nordgren said, “clarifying our place in the community and understanding our needs.” They waited for the completed forms, informed by the pros that 3 percent would constitute a good return rate.

“The biggest surprise was the huge response,” Nordgren said. “We thought we might get 500 [surveys back]—we got 1,818. We think that says people in this community are really engaged in the issue of diversity and tolerance.

“We were blown away by it. So was GBA. So was our checkbook.”

In-kind donations kept PCTN on budget. Now it will take the data and refine its services.

Added benefit: “It got the word out about the center,” Nordgren noted. “But more than half of the respondents knew us—we’re gratified by that.”