query: what seniors want from community center

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Sat Jul 28 13:45:23 CDT 2007

[ed:  please feel welcomed to copy COMM-ORG with responses to Amy's 
query.  A bit from me below.]

From: Amy Hubbard <amyshubbard at yahoo.com>

I was wondering if someone on comm-org has any advice for doing 
evaluation with ethnically, racially, and linguistically diverse seniors 
living in Section 8 housing.  I am working with a non-profit which runs 
a senior center and the non-profit wants to find out why there isn't 
more participation in the center by residents living in a nearby Section 
8 apartment building.  A plurality of the residents speaks English and 
after that the major language groups are Spanish and Russian.  There are 
also speakers of Amharic, Vietnamese, and Chinese.  

My biggest concern is how to engage the residents enough in the 
evaluation so we are able to get a full understanding of their needs and 
why they're not using the senior center.   Does anyone on the list have 
experience in working with low-income seniors that they would like to 
share?  In particular, tips for recruiting people for interviews or 
focus groups but also just general advice would be helpful.

Amy Hubbard

[ed:  Increasingly, to me, questions like Amy's sound more like 
organizing challenges than research challenges. I have recently had the 
honor of working with two community change efforts based in social 
service nonprofits who are trying to make the switch to community 
organizing, and it is quite that building relationships and balancing 
power inequalities between community members and the organization are 
the largest challenge. Certainly research can help here, but the basic 
problem seems to be a lack of relationship between the community and the 
organization.  And even finding out why there is not a stronger 
relationship requires building a stronger relationship.  So even doing 
the research requires first doing the organizing.  My book on research 
methods for community change talks some about how to switch the balance 
from emphasizing research over action to emphasizing research and then 
looking at what research is helpful along the action path.  Is the goal 
to get more seniors involved in the center, or to find out their goals 
and then organize them to take over the center to meet their goals?  In 
this particular case the supporting research in that process may not be 
an "evaluation" so much as a needs and resources assessment--what do 
community members want from the center and what can they contribute to 
it?  So my next questions would be whether the senior center has or can 
create a structure that puts power and a sense of ownership in the hands 
of the seniors themselves.]

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