Conversation with Elaine Ng, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center

 Founded more than four decades ago, the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) provides programs and services that give children, youth and adults the edge they need to be more successful and productive members of their community.  BCNC’s programs, such as adult education, childcare and culturally and linguistically-sensitive special events, help Asian Americans of all ages plant their feet in the neighborhood of Greater Boston, while preserving the community’s rich culture.  Most constituents served by BCNC are immigrant Chinese with low family incomes and limited English ability.

Elaine Ng, Executive Director of BCNC, recently discussed the mission of her organization and how her work is impacted by a partnership with Tufts.

Which aspect of your partnership with Tufts – from student volunteers to faculty research – do you feel work best with your organization?
As an organization, we are careful to ensure that any partnerships we form benefit both parties.  For instance, we make certain that the role a student plays at BCNC matches that particular student’s skills.  Tufts students are a huge asset for us, particularly the graduate students.  We draw heavily from both the Medical School and the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning program.  We treat volunteers as staff and strive to provide supervision support and structure. We are stretched to accommodate volunteers because of limitations on space and the capacity of our managers, so, while we gain a great deal from their work, we need to be sure to have the best volunteers with the best fit for our organization.

The relationships we are forging with Tufts professors are relatively new.  Professors tend to be research-oriented, rather than focused on service, and in the past, we did not have the capacity to support sophisticated research projects.  However, two years ago we made the commitment to bring a Ph.D.-level researcher onto our staff.  Having this kind of expertise on staff is unique for any nonprofit, but especially for community-based direct service organizations like ours.  Now, we are able to collaborate with Tufts researchers to gather and analyze program data, evaluate our outcomes, develop research projects with our population and more closely understand larger societal issues and trends, and ultimately use this information and data to shape our programs and services appropriately to maximize impact.  We welcome more research projects with Tufts; each project is an opportunity to heighten our knowledge and apply it to our organization.

From your perspective, how has the Chinatown community changed from its relationship with Tufts and the participation of Tufts students?
It is difficult to quantify community impact.  Generally, the university has made concerted and consistent efforts to reach out to the community and offer resources.  In short, they have been a great partner.

Tufts owns a good portion of land in Chinatown and the institution has worked hard to be a good neighbor. Tufts’ leadership has discovered that what’s in the best interest of the community is also what’s in the best interest of the Tufts students who study here.  Tufts has worked with the community to improve the environment for everyone in Chinatown.

What would you like our readers to know about your organization?  Your community?

Chinatown has more non-profit organizations concentrated in a small community than many other areas, and remains the most densely populated neighborhood in Boston.  In addition, immigrant Chinatown residents continue to be one of the lowest income groups in Boston, so it is worth focusing energy on our community.  There are partnerships still to be forged—pending opportunities for Tufts and its students.

At BCNC we are serious about our work; we actively mentor staff and constituents to develop community capacity while looking at research-based practices, performance indicators and evaluation.  This approach is what sets us apart from other organizations.  We value our relationship with Tufts, particularly the opportunities to collaborate on research.  The information we gather helps us to determine, shape and promote our mission—and, ultimately, to change the outcomes for the constituents we serve.  At BCNC we take a careful approach to ensure what we do is grounded in theory.  We are constantly evaluating our work.  No other Chinatown organization has an in-house Ph.D. researcher; we have made such a significant investment in staff because we want to be deliberate in the development and delivery of vital services utilized by our community.

Originally published March 2011