LIPS member Kathleen Portillo
at work as an interpreter

This summer, five Somerville youth from The Welcome Project’s LIPS (Liaison Interpreters Program of Somerville) program worked as part of the research team for new SomerPromise initiative. A community-university partnership to marshal all of the community’s resources for the benefit of children in the Mystic Housing Development, the project is focused on a key first step – developing a clear understanding of the community’s needs.

To do so, ACS: Project PERIS Somerville Fellow Elizabeth Pufall Jones has been working with The Welcome Project on the Family Census Project, an effort to build relationships in this immigrant-rich neighborhood, understand community needs and to strengthen parent engagement in children’s education.

In order to do this successfully, Pufall Jones turned to a major community asset: young, bilingual residents from immigrant families – a population The Welcome Project works with closely through their LIPS program. During the academic year, LIPS youth receive training to work in the community as language interpreters who facilitate resident understanding of community initiatives.

 “We saw a role for these young leaders that went beyond the important task of including them as interpreters for interviews and focus groups,” Pufall Jones says. “We wanted to draw on their strengths as bicultural leaders who, like the parents, are navigating across cultures.”

To prepare them as investigators, five LIPS youth completed the CITI training (Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative provides the ethics education necessary for involvement in human subjects research) and applied through the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Tufts University to be members of the research team heading the project.  Their role as co-investigators positioned them to do project development, implementation and analysis – a highly unusual role for such young individuals, but one that also shows the commitment and motivation of these young adults. 

In their co-investigator role, they assisted in the development of interview, focus group, and survey questions, co-facilitated and interpreted the interview and focus group sessions, and did outreach to individual residents in order to complete surveys and inform them about recent community events and initiatives.  Further, working alongside Pufall Jones on the project provided them with the opportunity to learn more about the research process and the outcomes of the project, thus placing them as leaders in the community and among their peers. 

According to Kathleen Portillo, one of the LIPS youth involved, this project, “was significant to me and my personal career and academic goals. I am thinking about majoring in psychology, so having this training will help me.  Being a co-investigator has also helped me learn the process of conducting research and community outreach.” 

According to Warren Goldstein-Gelb, Director of the Welcome Project, this ACS fellowship had the elements that make for effective university-community research partnerships. “When university researchers in engage in a community, it is important to make sure they do more than address a specific research question. Community-based research should be informed by community expertise and build a community’s capacity. Training our youth as co-investigators not only strengthened their skill set, but enabled them to participate in a meaningful way that resulted in greater community participation and therefore better data.”

Though these students are already involved in the Mystic neighborhood, they’ve gained valuable skills and insight from interviewing their neighbors and other residents. 

Chaudeline Francois, another co-investigator LIPS youth, said that her involvement “has made me closer to the people around my city – I tend not to be as shy around new people I meet.  Now I want to know more about my community and the different places people come from.  I hope that this can help better my community.”

Portillo summarizes it best, saying that, “this project has inspired me to continue being active in my community.  This project has made me curious about community members’ perspectives and their hopes for making a better place.” 

Originally published August 2010