In recent years the densely populated and diverse Parkside neighborhood of Portland, Maine has seen an increase in crime and community tension and a lack of adequate professional services for neighborhood residents.
In 2005, The Opportunity Alliance, a nonprofit community action agency, opened the Parkside Neighborhood Center. The Center houses a community-policing program, a local initiative of the national child-abuse-prevention program Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, a Head Start program, and afterschool and adult offerings. The Opportunity Alliance sought to understand the full range of the community’s needs to better fund and customize programming at the Center and across the neighborhood. With funding from the J.T. Gorman Foundation, The Opportunity Alliance enlisted Metis’s research services.
Tapping the Community for Answers
In designing the assessment process, Metis’s top priority was to engage the community in collecting and analyzing data. This approach created a sense of ownership of the findings. It also helped ensure that the path forward would be relevant and sustainable. As such, Metis recommended that The Opportunity Alliance establish a broadly-representative advisory board composed of staff of the Parkside Neighborhood Center, residents, service-delivery partners, and Opportunity Alliance staff.
Metis researchers worked with the Portland Public Health Division to help recruit and train 24 community health outreach workers to conduct a neighborhood survey. The survey, developed in collaboration with the advisory board, was administered door-to-door and in gathering places such as the Neighborhood Center and churches. Also, Metis surveyed service providers and interviewed community resident leaders. The Metis team collected and analyzed government-agency data on crime, poverty, child abuse and neglect, and school achievement, to compare Parkside to the City of Portland, the county, and the State. All data were regularly shared with and reviewed by the advisory board and used to inform subsequent data collection efforts when appropriate.
Findings Forge a Path Forward
Parkside neighbors participated actively in a high-touch, collaborative process, and it generated a great deal of interest and useful information on which to base decisions. Furthermore, they became convinced of the need to rejuvenate the community, and this participatory process brought them closer to doing that.
Among the notable findings from the assessment was that providers overlooked Parkside’s Latinx immigrants amid the broader African and Middle Eastern immigrant populations. And, although crime had been decreasing, individuals’ sense of safety remained an issue for some residents. Based on the results of the assessment, the advisory board named neighborhood safety and community engagement as the concerns to focus on first. At the same time, participants continued to mine data from the assessment to help develop a strategic plan for overall neighborhood transformation.