Five focus groups formed by the Franklin County Area United Way began meeting this month.

The groups were formed in response to a community assessment conducted by the United Way which identified five major needs — mental health and substance abuse; housing; employment; transportation; and safety.

“The meetings went well,” said Paula Obermark, United Way executive director, who is helping facilitate the sessions along with Marty Tudor.

All of the meetings were held at the Mercy Medical Building South.

Turnout ranged from six to 13 participants for each meeting, Obermark said.

“Meeting times were based on the most convenient time for the most participants,” she said. “As a result, not everyone who signed up could attend.”

Obermark said there are still openings in all five focus groups. Safety and mental health had the largest number of participants last week.

“Employment, housing and transportation are in special need of additional members,” she said.

The meetings are scheduled to last about one hour and 15 minutes each.

At last week’s meetings, each participant was given a packet of materials containing an overview of the community assessment and a summary of the findings for their particular subject.

“Participants will study and research each subject with meetings being held once a month for up to 12 months,” Obermark said.

“Additional information will be provided from those having working or expert knowledge of the subject and/or those who have need of these services,” she said. “Ultimately, it is hoped each group can make recommendations and formulate an action plan to implement these recommendations.”

The recommendations will serve as a guide for the United Way to help it determine which services are needed and to help prioritize funding for the next 10 years.

The next round of focus meetings will be held April 10-12 at Mercy in Washington.

People interested in participating should contact Obermark at the Franklin County Area United Way, 636-239-1018.

The meeting schedule is as follows:

Employment — Wednesday, April 10, at 7:30 a.m.

Safety — Thursday, April 11, at 7:30 a.m.

Housing — Thursday, April 11, at 10 a.m.

Transportation — Friday, April 12, at 10 a.m.

Mental Health — Friday, April 12, at noon.

Nearly 30 people turned out last month when an introductory meeting was held about forming the groups.

Obermark said participants represent a good cross-section of community members.