Josee Genty is a Resident Researcher with the Healthy Neighborhoods Participatory Action Research Study Team, led by Prof. Mariana Arcaya. CoLab is collaborating with teams of Resident Researchers in nine communities around Boston to design and carry out research that examines the relationship between community health and urban development. This is part of an effort to ensure that future development in communities like Everett, where Josee lives, contributes to the health and wellbeing of all residents. To read more about the Healthy Neighborhoods Study, please click here.
Insiyah Mohammad Bergeron of CoLab Radio interviewed Josee about her involvement with her neighborhood and this project.
Insiyah: How long have you lived in Everett and what brought you here?
Josee: My husband and I moved to Everett from Cambridge in 2006, and have lived here ever since. We were paying so much for an apartment in Cambridge that we thought it would be a better investment to put all of that rent money towards something more permanent. We looked around for a while and finally found our place in Everett. We have been proud community members ever since. This community is where my husband and I started a family, where we have found a church home, and where we send our child to school every day. It holds a very special place in our minds and hearts. I am actively involved in the community in Everett. I work for a non-profit at City Hall called the Joint Committee for Children’s Healthcare in Everett where we help people get access to health insurance. It has been especially meaningful for me because I studied public health. Getting to apply my knowledge through part time work with this organization has been priceless. Living and working in Everett, I have been able to cultivate a deeper understanding of how a neighborhood works, and what a neighborhood is.
Insiyah: What are some of the health issues that you know about in this community?
Josee: I think that the obesity epidemic has affected all of America. And my community is not immune to that. Like in many other places, there are also secondary health concerns which are directly related to obesity, like diabetes. These issues become further exacerbated within the community when people are unsure about, or unable to find, resources. When I first moved here I noticed that there were few places to exercise and get healthy food. Things have gotten a little better since. There is a new wellness center where people can go for physical activity and even a few new parks.
One of the newer parks in Everett
Insiyah: What other changes have you noticed in the neighborhood since you moved here?
Josee: I have noticed that there has been an increase in population. The more people you have somewhere, the more you feel the lack of resources. When I started the surveys here for this project a lot of people complained about the lack of jobs. People would say, “We never get jobs. How do we get jobs? Is this going to get us jobs?” One woman said that when she came here she was undocumented and thought that maybe that was why she couldn’t get a job. But even after she became legal she still couldn’t get one.
Insiyah: Why are so many people moving to Everett?
Josee: A lot of immigrants live in this community: Hispanic, Brazilian, and Haitian people. It is very multicultural. Many people initially moved here because it was cheap. Now, because a casino is going to be built here, things are going to change. Housing prices will rise so maybe low-income people will not be able to afford it here. With the casino development people are also complaining that there will be a lot of corruption and crime. I like it here now because it’s nice and quiet, but there is a definite possibility that that might change. But on the flip side, this also might mean more jobs for local people, something that would benefit many residents.
Insiyah: How did you get involved in this research project?
Josee: I got involved through my supervisor at the Joint Committee for Children’s Healthcare in Everett, and Everett Community Health Partnership (ECHP). My supervisor thought I might be a good fit because of my academic background. But I also got involved because this research is about my neighbors, my Haitian community, and fellow residents of Everett in general. It is part of my intellectual duty to be a part of something like this- doing research, getting the community involved, and hearing what needs to be done. Most of the people I initially surveyed were Hispanic and Portuguese. Later I met some Haitian people through the wellness center and told them that they needed to get involved too. I appreciated being a part of this research project because it engaged the community in a process of change.
A popular place for community meetings in Everett
Insiyah: Through doing the surveys, did you notice anything that surprised you?
Josee: One thing that surprised me was how many people wanted to do the survey. Most of the time when you go up to people and ask them to fill out a survey, they say they are not interested. I was so afraid at first of going out there because I don’t like being rejected. When you go up to people you don’t know, you never know what they will say, or how they will react. But most people were really nice and cooperative and that surprised me.
Insiyah: Why do you think people were so interested in this?
Josee: I think most people are really looking for change, and some people they think that this will bring change to their community. Again, many of the participants were interested in more local jobs, and some felt that since this survey was about health, maybe participating would bring access to health related amenities to the neighborhood, like parks, and a better environment to live in.
Insiyah: Was there anything else that struck you about the research process?
Josee: Yeah, we realized that we got mostly women in our survey sample! I guess because we are a team of all women it was easier for us to approach other women. And most of the women who partook were between the ages of 29 and 49. This was interesting to note because in contrast, the Dorchester Resident Researcher team got more men in their sample. I am assuming this was because they had more men on their research team.
Insiyah: What are your hopes for this research?
Josee: They often say that the first step in beginning to address a problem is to recognize it as such. This same logic applies to understanding, treating and healing our communities. This research is important because the more you know about a community, the more you are empowered to affect change. I am hoping that the information that we have collected will help local health officials gain a better understanding of the needs of the community.
Personally, having the opportunity to be involved with this research project has been really good for me. I am a very reserved person and can be quite shy. I don’t really like to go and interact with people sometimes. But doing this has opened new doors for me. It has given me a sense of leadership. It has helped me believe that I am doing something important, and because of that I have been able to put my shyness aside. It has helped me meet a lot of new people, hear different perspectives, and gain a deeper understanding of the community that I love. I will forever be grateful for that.
Read more interviews with Resident Researchers from this project here. The Healthy Neighborhoods PAR Study is being conducted in partnership with the Conservation Law Foundation, and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Conservation Law Foundation, and the boards and supporters of these organizations.