Posted by Shameeka Brown on May 21, 2015

MPV flyer_croppedSince February, Alexandra Curley, Senior Associate at TACC, has been leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers and surveyors assessing the supportive service needs of 300 older residents in Madison Park Village, a subsidized housing community in the Dudley Square neighborhood of Roxbury. By developing a strong resident needs assessment with high levels of participation, TACC seeks to build Madison Park Development Corporation’s capacity to generate relevant data that can inform their decision making and think through scenarios based on residents’ needs.

The team just surpassed their goal of completing hour-long one-on-one interviews with 70% or 210 residents. With this milestone, we thought it was a good time to provide an update on the outreach methods and surveyors’ strategies that yielded the strong resident participation that is essential to making decision making more data-driven.

To learn more, we sat down with Shameeka Brown, a surveyor and assistant on the project:

Why did you get involved in this project?
I became involved in this Aging in Place project because, last year, I worked with TACC as a surveyor on a needs assessment at Harbor Point in Dorchester. That was my first experience with a large-scale needs assessment and looking at resident need from a more quantitative perspective was new and interesting to me. I also jumped at the chance to work on another project with Alex Curley; I highly respect her research methodology and TACC’s focus on assessing and addressing the housing, social, and quality of life needs of vulnerable populations.

How many surveyors are working on this project and what makes them a good team?
We have an excellent team of 12 surveyors conducting resident outreach and interviews on this project. They include graduate-level social workers, social work students, and community workers who have experience conducting surveys and working with seniors and diverse populations. Four surveyors are fluent Spanish speakers. About half of the surveyors have worked on prior TACC community needs assessments; many are currently working as social workers in Boston or are graduate-level MSW students. TACC provided training for surveyors in administering the survey instrument and interview processes on topics such as recruitment, obtaining consent, maintaining confidentiality, cultural competency, as well as balancing rapport and control. 

We know there are many barriers to participation. How have you overcome these barriers and engaged residents in the assessment?
This survey has been very successful in engaging large numbers of residents, but it did not happen effortlessly. To reach this level of participation, there have been multiple points of contact. We have mailed personalized letters, put up flyers and posters throughout the community, and hosted outreach meetings. All materials are also translated into Spanish. We make multiple attempts at different times of day and on different days of the week to reach residents through door to door outreach, leaving door tags for those that did not answer. For some, the small incentive of a gift card to Tropical Foods or Walgreens has also been a great way to increase engagement.  

The way that I have overcome the barriers to build trust and to engage residents is by clearly informing them that their answers to the survey will be confidential. I also let them know that the survey answers will not be directly linked to them and explain in detail how our system of using an identification number, rather than their name, works. Residents are also a lot more interested in engaging once I explain the tangible outcomes. As they begin to understand how resident input and data is necessary for Madison Park Development Corporation to make decisions about physical improvements and programming, many residents are more interested in sharing ideas. 

Can you share a story that helps us better understand the residents’ reaction/response to the survey?
As a social worker, it is the individual interaction with the residents that keeps me motivated and inspired. I could share many stories, but I suppose one interaction with a resident that really says something about both the residents’ responses and the need for this survey is this: I made an appointment for noon with female resident. After I arrived and sat down, she insisted on cooking for me. I tried to say no, but there was no refusing and I decided to relax and enjoy the West Indian dish.

Over the course of the interview, I learned that this resident had food insecurity. All this made me think more deeply about why objective needs assessments are critical to decision making. After I left, I thought to myself, if I were a more subjective observer such as a neighbor or resident coordinator would I ever think that a resident so eager to give me food was experiencing food insecurity? Sometime residents are willing to prioritize hospitality over their own needs.

In addition to the survey, how else will you be learning about residents’ needs?
The other ways that we will be learning about resident needs is through resident follow up (phone calls) and survey finding meetings with Madison Park Village residents and management.

I checked in with Alex Curley about this and learned that while the resident survey is nearly complete, there is still plenty more to be done to get a full picture of the residents’ needs. The survey results will inform next steps, including possible focus groups with residents, staff, or senior service providers. TACC will report findings and recommendations to Madison Park Development Corporation and work with them to develop more responsive service strategy and physical changes during renovations. 

TACC will develop multiple methods for engaging community in learning about results. For example, we might host a “data walk” for residents and staff to learn about some of the key findings and discuss their thoughts about them and gain their insights on issues and solutions; they also plan to provide the newly formed Madison Park Village Senior Advisory Committee with findings and follow up questions about particular issues they can assist with.

Another plan is to share the findings with City of Boston staff at Age-Friendly Boston and Commission on Affairs of the Elderly; TACC hopes this work might inform city-wide needs assessment as well as explore the potential to pilot an age-friendly intervention in Madison Park Village/Roxbury. The findings could also be used to inform senior service providers about the Madison Park Village community.

How does this project tie into your MSW training?
My decision to enter graduate school again was really due to an interest in assisting populations that have been disfranchised from mainstream society due to mental health and/or socioeconomic factors. This Aging in Place needs assessment directly ties into my MSW training in that the project is seeking to improve, recognize, and address the needs of a vulnerable population. From my perspective this is a social justice based practice and a core value of the field of social work.

ABOUT SHAMEEKA BROWN, SURVEYOR, TACC: Currently a graduate student in the Wheelock Master of Social Work Program, Shameeka Brown’s experience includes six years in the advocacy field. At Pyramid Builder Associates, Victory Programs, and Quincy Community Action Program, her roles included serving as a housing specialist and mental health advocate working with the homeless and low-income population. Her human services experience includes providing case management and advocacy. Shameeka was raised in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from UMass Boston and a M.A. in Human Services from Springfield College. 

You can reach Shameeka by email at