Beginning in June, a group of 10 Harvard undergraduates will work with the African Community Center of Lowell to support immigrants and refugees from African nations acclimate to life in Lowell, Mass.
Gordon Halm, the director of the African Community Center of Lowell, and Daniel D’Oca, a professor at the Graduate School of Design, spearheaded the project as part of the College’s Mindich Program in Community Engaged Research.
Halm said the goal of the project is to provide necessary tools to recent immigrants as they adjust to life in the U.S.
“Our hope is that this project will sort of highlight the resources available to the simplest person, so that anybody could look at and say, ‘Okay, this is where I could find these resources,’” Halm said. “‘This is where I can better my education, and this is where I can better my trade.’”
In order to discern what resources are in demand, students will have the opportunity to interact directly with the residents through focus groups and weekly trips to Lowell.
“We're hoping to sort of organize a focus group, meeting people where they are, where they worship, where they dine, where they play soccer, and things like that, so that they will be more engaged with the community members,” Halm said.
Students will research local services and businesses and explore the best practices to welcome refugees into the neighborhood, according to the project website, and will also synthesize the information into guides that will be provided to residents.
Examples of necessary resources include legal advice, job training, and education, Halm said.
“If you say to a high school student, ‘What is your next move?’ a lot of them don't have that ambition or the dream of going to schools like Harvard, and other places like that, you know? They all want to stay local,” Halm said. “I want them to bring the best out of themselves in terms of also dreaming big.”
D’Oca said that aspects of the project are still to be determined, as the program aims to cater to the specific needs of the residents.
“We don't know exactly what the pieces will be, because it depends on what people tell us in these focus groups,” D’Oca said. “Secondly, we're also being open minded about the physical format, because we're going to ask people, ‘Do you prefer to look at things on your phone? Would you like a printed newspaper?’”
Students will work with Interboro Partners, D’Oca’s design office, on the project. D’Oca has worked with Harvard graduate students to develop urban plans for neighborhoods in Lowell for the past five years. Through this work, he met Halm.
“[Halm] helped us really understand some of the unique needs and challenges and perspectives of people in the African community there in Lowell,” D’Oca said. “I just thought of him immediately when I was thinking about what to do for the project this summer with the Mindich Program in Community Engaged Research.”
The Mindich Program in Community Engaged Research is accepting applications for the project until April 8.
—Staff writer Alexander I. Fung can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.