UMass Boston’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging (CSDRA) is serving as project evaluator for a three-year grant program, Activating Boston, that aims to build and support social connections, health, and well-being in four city neighborhoods. The initiative is funded by John Hancock and led by Boston’s Age Strong Commission and other city agencies, AARP of Massachusetts, and Healthy Places by Design.

The four grantees selected in April 2024 to create inclusive, intergenerational public spaces are:

  • Asian Community Development Corporation: ACDC will bring together, and work alongside, Chinatown residents, community artists, and neighborhood partners to advocate for a park next to a permanent public library branch coming to Chinatown’s Hudson Street.
  • Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation : CSNDC will work with The Boston Project Ministries to lead a project in Dorchester to improve and activate a vacant lot, currently owned by the City of Boston, by hosting clean-up days, pop-up events, performances, and a mural painting project.
  • EASTIE Coalition: EASTIE Coalition, with the support of De Nosotros Foundation, will be promoting and conducting cultural, wellness, and social programming in Central Square Park. Local artists will be invited to build a safe environment by offering art, music, and theater workshops. 
  • Madison Park Development Corporation : MPCD will focus on activating a parcel of land within the Grove Hall neighborhood in collaboration with celebrated artist Ekua Holmes. Vacant for decades, the site’s history traces back through the period of urban renewal and corresponding community activism.

The initiative builds on a one-year pilot program, also funded by John Hancock, supporting two projects: a public art project in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood and improvements to a public space in Dorchester’s Four Corners neighborhood. CSDRA served as a consultant and evaluator of the pilot project.

“Our work with the Activating Boston initiative offers an extension and intersection of our age friendly community work and the development of evidence-based solutions to social isolation,” says CSDRA Director Caitlin Coyle, PhD ‘14, cofounder of the Massachusetts Coalition to Build Community and End Loneliness.

Yael Koren, who earned her doctorate in nursing with a focus on population health and health policy from UMass Boston in 2023, is serving as CSDRA’s point person for the project.

“We want to meet participants where they’re at, to encourage them,” says Koren. The evaluation role includes helping the nonprofit organizations with capacity to document meaningful processes and project outcomes. “We want to tell the broader story about each community project, to learn about their long-term impact, and weave their stories together.”

Koren notes that each of the four projects will include MLK Scholars, a youth skills-building and empowerment program created by John Hancock. “Incorporating youth participation helps build the ripple effects of intergenerational connections,” she says.