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Planning process for Wheelock-Mattahunt partnership moves forward

Posted by Cara Bayles  April 14, 2011 05:47 PM

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The committee driving a partnership between the Mattahunt Community Center and Wheelock College presented preliminary survey results to Mattapan residents at the group's final community meeting last night.

Last fall, Mayor Thomas Menino announced that Wheelock College would take over operations at the Mattahunt for the next four years, in order to save the community center from being squeezed by the purse strings of the city budget, which could no longer afford to staff it. Wheelock officials have since been fostering an open dialogue about what the community center should look like under its leadership, hosting community meetings and polling Mattapan residents.

The survey results mostly consist of online polling data, and reflect only a third of the information collected so far. Many surveys were filled out by hand and the data from those are still being tabulated. Wheelock officials also had to wait until schools finished administering MCAS exams before they could begin polling local students. So far, 750 surveys have been filled out.

"[The data] reaffirms what we've heard in the open dialogue sessions when we've talked to people," said planning committee co-chair Marta Rosa, who is in charge of government and external affairs at Wheelock. "People want family-centered, culturally relevant activities. They want programs that are academically sound. So, there isn't a whole lot of surprise, but it's good to see where the priorities end up."

Residents "desperately want swimming," according to Rosa; 76 percent of the 224 surveys tabulated thus far indicated they want to see the pool reopened. Homework help was important to 74 percent of adults polled. Also popular were college preparatory services and computer literacy.

That's a lengthy and pricey wish list, and so last night residents began to look at the preliminary data and begin to par it down.

"Our work tonight is to set up a working session with community members and have them prioritize what do they want to see year one, what do they want to see in year two. How do we begin to prioritize?" said Rosa.

The most popular items will likely be pushed through, with an eye on costs and a balance of youth and adult programming. Rosa said funding opportunities would also be discussed tonight, since resources would dictate the center's hours of operation. Keeping the center open on Saturdays was a popular priority among 84 percent of residents polled thus far.

The Mattahunt's sister community centers are still facing challenges. In the mayor's budget proposal for 2012 released yesterday, he proposed cutting 30 staff positions from five community centers in the city. Those five facilities would then seek partnerships with private organizations or nonprofits akin to the model that Wheelock is pioneering at the Mattahunt, which is one of eight community centers that was taken over by local entities after last year's budget cuts.

"The funding outlook isn't looking too bright for cities and towns across the country," Rosa said. "We certainly see this as a real opportunity to work deeply with this community and the engagement process has been very thoughtful and inclusive. We want to make sure our role as much as it can be a catalysts for keeping some services going, we want to make sure the community really owns it and its really the community's work that moves it forward."

The planning committee will finalize its priorities later this month, and a report on the long-term plan will be presented to the mayor in May.

Construction on the Mattahunt School could complicate the center's ability to run at full force, since students might have to move into the center for class space, but Rosa says they still hope to start some programming this summer.

E-mail Cara Bayles at carabayles@gmail.com.

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