Article and photo by Urban Alliance staff.

This past summer proved to be one filled with opportunity and learning experiences for eight young adults from House of Restoration Church, New Dimension Christian Center, and the Wilson-Gray YMCA. During the months of July and August, the group embarked on a mission to collect surveys as research assistants, jobs made possible through a capacity-building grant offered through Urban Alliance’s Next Generation initiative, which helps churches and ministry organizations reach and serve youth so they develop the character, relationships and skills needed to succeed in their schools and communities.

The survey project, developed by the Hartford Invest Health team, helped gather feedback from Hartford residents about their food habits so community stakeholders can advocate for changes that address felt needs and help increase access to healthy, nutritious food in the city. The “Promise Zone,” a geographical area that includes the Clay Arsenal, Northeast and Upper Albany neighborhoods, was the focus of the project.

The main charge for the research assistants was to collect hundreds of surveys from residents who attended events in the Promise Zone, and record data for analysis.

Mallory Cruz, from House of Restoration Church, shared, “This opportunity challenged me in not allowing me to be shy. I had to talk to people I didn’t know and approach people at times.”

Vanessa Torres, also from House of Restoration Church, added, “I had to come out of my comfort zone, having to go up to people I don’t know and speak to them about the survey.”

Yet, as the outside temperatures rose, so did their confidence and skills.

Gabriel Muniz, from New Dimension Christian Center, explained how being a research assistant helped him build employment skills. “Being proactive throughout the research process, approaching new people, explaining concepts, following through, compiling data, communicating with partners, all in a timely and professional manner, helped me to to build employment skills.”

“It helped me build employment skills by doing something different than previous jobs,” added Torres. “I built better communication skills and worked with data.”

Not only did the team of eight gain valuable job skills and experience, they supported local leaders who seek to strategically invest resources to support the health and wellbeing of Hartford residents. 

Some found that most valuable.

“This opportunity challenged me in that I came to a deeper realization of how just committed and proactive individuals need to be when addressing a social-economic-cultural problem,” shared Muniz. “In this case, addressing the limited food options available to Hartford residents. I was challenged to be more aware of the reality that, depending on where one lives, access to affordable, quality food can be easy to come by or almost impossible to purchase.”

And, just as important as skill building is the aspect of relationship building.

“I enjoyed getting to meet new people that I got to work with,” shared Cruz.

Muniz added, “My favorite part of being a research assistant was the personal nature of the experience.  It was great meeting new people, strengthening relationships with people I already knew, and, overall, being able to experience a rewarding time throughout the city.”

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