Tisch College Community Research Center announces seed funding for community organizations

Doug Brugge, professor of public health and community medicine, photographed on Jan. 30, 2013. (Courtesy Alonso Nichols for Tufts University)

The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Community Research Center (TCRC) has awarded $25,000 in seed grant funding to two organizations this year: Medford Conversations, a series of community dialogues regarding community issues, and Shape Up Somerville, a group focused on community health and food security. Tufts announced the grants in a Feb. 2 press release.

TCRC focuses primarily on funding groups in Tufts’ host communities that address issues of inequality and injustice, according to its websitePast projects funded by the TCRC include Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence, Immigrant Youth: Health and Resilience and the Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health.

TCRC has been in existence for about 10 years but has seen an increase in support in recent years, according to Doug Brugge, director of the TCRC and professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts.

“Originally we had less money to give out, and we gave out fewer grants,” Brugge said. “We used to give out one grant at maybe $10,000 or $12,000 a year, and now we’re giving out two grants for a total of about $25,000. So we have grown in the last three to four years.”

Brugge also commented on the competitiveness of the grants.

“It’s an open call, there’s a deadline, we try to disseminate it broadly and we’ve gotten different numbers of applications in different years,” he said. “At most, we’ve had nine applications. We review those applications, and based on the frame we have and how many grants we can give out, we make a decision about which to back.”

In addition, TCRC offers micro-grants of between $100 and $300 for undergraduate students involved in research at the community level.

Ben Echevarria, a community co-chair for TCRC and executive director of Somerville’s Welcome Project, emphasized the importance of TCRC for community groups.

“I think what we have in community and academic partnerships strengthen both the community as well as the academic,” Echevarria said. “The community may not have the resources or know-how, and having something like [TCRC], where we can be paired with someone who will help us and communities find professors in answering these questions, has value moving forward.”

Shape Up Somerville, a department within the Health and Human Services Department in the City of Somerville, received $11,000 in grant funding from TCRC this year, according to the press release. The funding will be used for a community food security assessment, which will lead to a more comprehensive food system assessment in the future.

Shape Up Somerville Director Lisa Robinson said the initiative she leads has existed for about 15 years and was born out of a partnership with Tufts, Cambridge Health Alliance and the City of Somerville.

“Shape Up Somerville is sort of like a backbone for convening everybody, so that’s what role we’ll be serving in our comprehensive food system assessment that TCRC is funding in partnership with the Somerville Food Security Coalition,” Robinson said.

According to Echevarria, this year the Welcome Project is working with different community groups in order to help them reach their goals. Most recently, the Welcome Project has been working with Shape Up Somerville on their food assessment plan.

Robinson said the Shape Up Somerville initiative began with a comprehensive research plan and then became a city-wide program that promotes healthy living and food security.

“The study itself was looking at first and third graders in the school system and seeing how you could bring back the energy balance on a multi-level, multi-targeted, comprehensive approach: looking at before, during and after school,” Robinson said. “[These interventions were designed] as they relate to policies within the school, the environment [and] the food itself.”

In addition, Medford Conversations, which has held a series of community dialogues about race relations in Medford, will receive $14,000 for its study on whether its structure of conversations is successful in advancing social capital and creating a more civically engaged community. According to Medford Conversations’ grant proposal, the TCRC funding will be used to research and assess the project, in order to help it continue and expand in the future.

One member of the Tufts faculty leading this research is Professor Ninian Stein in the Environmental Studies Program. Stein has been working with Earthos Institute, where she serves as both a researcher and board member, to pursue research that would hopefully allow Medford Conversations to receive additional grant funding in the future.

Stein also hopes that Tufts students in her environmental studies classes will gain field experience in communications and research in the social sciences by helping evaluate Medford Conversations.

“Both of my classes are pretty heavily involved … I taught both of these courses last year, but this is new to have Medford Conversations involved,” Stein said. “[Introduction to Environmental Fieldwork] is an introduction to different research methods in the environmental sciences and social sciences. [The students] traditionally get practice learning how to conduct interviews, and in this case they would learn how to interview with Medford Conversations.”