Wheelock BSW Students Help Shape Mattahunt Programming

December 06, 2012

Wheelock BSW Students at the Mattahunt Center in MattapanAs part of Wheelock College's ongoing partnership with the Mattahunt Community Center in Boston's Mattapan neighborhood, students in the College's undergraduate social work program are conducting a semester-long class research project designed to help shape future programming at the Center.

Wheelock Assistant Professor of Social Work Ashley Davis launched the project as a "hands on" component of a course called Social Research, in which bachelor of social work (BSW) students learn about research methods in social work.

"The project allowed for an experiential way for students to learn about research and for important conversations to arise organically about ethics, social justice, reflexivity, and cultural competence, among other topics," said Davis. "The students took the project very seriously and had a high degree of professionalism, especially when they understood that their findings would actually be used by the Center in its future planning."

For the project, the 26 students in the Social Research course first met with Mattahunt Director Rashad Cope to learn about the Mattahunt-Wheelock Partnership. They identified two of Cope's key goals for the Center: increasing family involvement and expanding programs offered to the community.

"Hopefully social work services will be one of those programs and will include opportunities for undergraduate and graduate social work students to serve the community through their field placements," said Davis. "Rashad's visit inspired and energized students, and he generated interest among students in what's happening at Mattahunt."

To gather data, the Wheelock BSW students visited the Mattahunt Center four times. First, they volunteered twice in the Mattahunt's afterschool programs to get to know the staff, children, and the community. After the visits with the children, the students wrote up reflections on their experience, any similarities and differences in social locations (e.g., race/ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, social class, religion, ability status, etc.) that exist between themselves and the children at the Center and how these similarities or differences have an impact on their roles as researchers.

"The project at Mattahunt has taught me that one of the most important aspects of research is to learn about a culture before immersing myself in it in a professional manner," said student Lea Bartolo. "In order to earn a community's respect, it is important for professionals to not be ignorant about a people's community and way of life."

The students then visited the Center two more times to survey parents (using a survey available in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole) about additional support services they would like to see provided there.

Said student Rose Karshi: "Mattahunt was an interesting and eye-opening experience for me. The parents were very outgoing and the kids were bundles of energy willing to learn."

The BSW students are currently analyzing the data they gathered and its implications. They will write up their findings in final papers for the course, as well as in a presentation to the Center's parents and staff.

Davis said the project went so well that she plans to carry out a new class research project at the Mattahunt during next semester's Social Research course.

About the Wheelock-Mattahunt Partnership

Wheelock College was introduced to the urgent needs in the Mattapan community by Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the City of Boston in 2010. The Mattahunt Community Center, located in Boston's Mattapan neighborhood, was closed in 2010 because of severe city budget constraints. Guided by its mission to improve the lives of children and families, Wheelock worked in close partnership with the Mattapan community to set a collaborative vision for the center that focused on the expressed needs of the community and ensured that the Mattapan community voice informed the future programs and services offered at the Mattahunt Community Center. The Center re-opened in 2011 and is now a thriving, sustainable community hub that offers a growing roster of academic and recreational services and activities driven by community needs and priorities.  An average of nearly 200 families per day currently access and benefit from the Center's robust portfolio of programs and activities.

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