Last Thursday evening, Charlestown residents filled the Knights of Columbus ballroom for a community forum about making Charlestown a healthier place to live, work and play.
The purpose of the forum, which was sponsored by Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Community Health Improvement and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, was to get people thinking and sharing their ideas about community health issues facing Charlestown. The forum is part of a community assessment, which MGH is now required by the IRS to conduct every three years.
“MGH has long been committed to Charlestown through the health center, the Navy Yard and since 1995, through the Center for Community Health Improvement,” Beth Rosenshein, member of the Community Assessment and Planning Committee, said in an email. “We have conducted at least three assessments in Charlestown since 1995.”
A scan of the room showed the majority of attendees to be women, though many men were also present. A range of ages and nationalities were represented in the crowd. Dinner and babysitting as well as interpreter services were provided during the forum.
“We’re early in the process,” said Joan Quinlan, executive director of the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement and chair of the assessment committee, earlier this week. “The assessment committee has met twice and then (there was) the forum. The third meeting is this coming Friday.”
After a brief introduction by MGH and Spaulding staffers, attendees were asked to break off into groups by table for small discussions about three different question prompts, which would later be shared with everyone in the room. Moderators and note-takers were assigned to each of the tables.
The three questions were as follows: 1) What are the most important characteristics of a healthy community, 2) what are the most important issues that must be addressed to improve the health and quality of life in Charlestown, and 3) what is already great about Charlestown? Residents were also asked to fill out a Charlestown quality of life survey.
The questions led to a thoughtful, productive conversation about what community members view as Charlestown’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to community health. The sense of community, pride – especially among the elderly population –, diversity, history, location, enthusiastic people who want to make change and available kids’ resources topped residents’ list of Charlestown’s biggest assets. Residents cited high rent, drug problems, noise pollution, lack of access to affordable healthy food, violence, overcrowding and high school bussing as some of the difficulties challenging Charlestown.
Jennifer Truong, a clinical research coordinator at Children’s Hospital, who has lived in Charlestown for nearly four years, said she was glad she attended the forum.
“I think it’s good to hear what others have to say,” Truong said. “I’m a member of the Charlestown Mothers Association, and I have a daughter who is two years old. I think a lot of people with young kids in Charlestown are deciding whether they want to stay here. So it’s good to be informed about what’s going on in the community and to know how what’s going on will influence future funding.”
There will be two more community forums related to the current assessment – in April and September of next year. During the next few months, the assessment committee will take all of the data collected at the forum and decide what additional data the community would like to see. In the coming months, the committee will also conduct focus groups and interviews. It will begin determining priority issues and brainstorming strategies by next April, Quinlan said.