Promise Neighborhood Surveyor Interview

By: Amanda Hallock

Surveyors: Sherra Dunn, Jeffrey Jordan, Rita Nelson, Kevin D. Young, Hyden Terrell                            Project Manager: Kelly Traister

The Promise Neighborhood grant is well underway! The grant is $30 million over 5 years and the Department of Education requires Drexel University, the lead applicant, to have rigorous data collection and evaluation. One of the components of this is a biennial neighborhood survey.

To conduct the survey, Drexel has prioritized hiring Promise Zone residents (the Zone and Neighborhood share the same boundaries) and in doing so has seemed to have more success in survey collection. The Promise Zone resident surveyors know their neighborhood culture and have the important ability to gain trust more easily than a non-resident would. And don’t forget about their fantastic orange jackets! Besides being residents and dressed in orange, the surveyors are just all around fantastic. They have great energies and are passionate about the project. I discovered this and so much more when I sat down to talk with five of the surveyors in February.

  1. What is your favorite part of being a Promise Neighborhoods Surveyor?

Sherra Dunn (SD): My favorite part of being a Promise Neighborhoods Surveyor is talking with people because I’m from the area. I like finding out what people need, some of their ups and downs, some of their disappointments, what they think should and should not be done and where they feel money should be spent.

Jeffrey Jordan (JJ): I would echo that. My favorite part is seeing my neighbors and just having time to talk to them. We don’t just go take a survey. We could easily do that. But we also give a little bit of hope to our neighbors. The other day I saw a baby….

SD: The survey was going well until the mother went upstairs to bring the baby down and Jeff was so in love I had to redirect him to continue with the survey….

JJ: To sit there and talk about her child and then for the mother to go upstairs and get her child…it was just perfect.

Rita Nelson (RN): My favorite part of being a Promise Neighborhoods Surveyor is the amazing connection I find with them. I’ve gone to a couple houses where none of the kids go to the seven schools listed but they’re still concerned about the neighborhood and that’s a good sign.

Kevin D. Young (KDY): My favorite part of being a Promise Neighborhoods Surveyor is interfacing with people who at first blush you might think don’t want any help, but they really do. If you can suggest some things for them, they graciously receive it.

  1. How would you all describe the training and the preparation for this job?

SD : The preparation for this job was lengthy but it was needed. I have done this before for the Dornsife Center but this right here, we became even more creative. Our group decided to do develop our own resources to give out to the community when we surveyed them. It gave us a chance to know each other.

JJ: We work well together because of that time spent developing our own resources. Also, I am appreciative for the HIPAA and human subjects research certification and the training on mandatory reporting. These are all things we can use in future positions.

  1. What kinds of skills and background prepared you for this position?

KDY: Well, I have a background in sales, marketing, and public relations. I also own my own business so I am used to having a customer oriented approach.

HT: I’m a community person. It’s something I feel passionate about. Whenever we do go out I usually go out on a tangent somewhere telling somebody something else or another thing that happened in the neighborhood because I am involved in the neighborhood and I have a desire to see these things come forth and I want to see them happen.

JJ: I’m a minister and community organizer and activist.

RN: I was a union steward for 24 years. I bring those people skills and listening skills. People want you to listen, so we have to engage. You see the tension leave them when you say you’re from the neighborhood. And these wonderful orange jackets can’t be missed!

  1. What is something surprising you have learned since you started working on the survey?

SD: The survey has taught me to increase my skills on how to deal with others and increase my listening skills and how to be more aware of my surroundings. Even though I know the neighborhood, I notice there are a lot more houses being built in the West Philadelphia area. You see sale signs up and you see different cultures moving in.

KDY: I have been surprised at the beauty of the architecture. It’s my old neighborhood but I usually just look past the architecture as I drive through. Since starting the survey, I have noticed some of these older structures, 100-year-old stunning buildings. I have also realized that as some of the newer people are coming in and putting up new buildings, they don’t have the character of the neighborhood. That’s unfortunate. Also, I’ve learned that people in this neighborhood are doing a little worse than I thought they were. But they’re still trying and they’re conscientious and some of them are still going to school and trying to raise families. It’s hard on these people, my people.

Hyden Terrell (HT): I’ve been surprised by how willing people are to talk and how willing they are to voice their opinion. I thought we were going to meet a little more resistance, particularly because we are coming into their home and asking them personal questions. But I’ve been really surprised with how willing people are to give you the information. It’s nice to know that they’re aware we’re coming because we sent out letters in advance. I like that openness.

KDY: I think the reason that [openness] even exists is because a lot of people here have great interpersonal skills. That is to me the key to getting people to open up.

JJ: We are the neighborhood and I think Drexel did a wonderful job in hiring the neighborhood to survey the neighborhood. When it goes all the way back to it these are our neighbors. We aren’t strangers.

KDY: Even if they don’t know us we can have a conversation about something that you’d have to be from the neighborhood to know.

HT: They feel comfortable talking to us. Because we’re from your neighborhood, we’re talking about things that used to be around here, or just discussing things “you went to that? Yeah I was there.”

JJ: When I look at this team, I have been surprised at the powerful group of individuals that we have right here that’s from that neighborhood. It’s an awesome team.

SD: It is. They couldn’t have done any better on picking, they really couldn’t.

KDY: This is a testament to Kelley [Traister, Project Manager] and Errikka [Gilliam, Data Manager], to the team that they put together.

Kelley Traister: We got amazing referrals from community partners.  We looked for people who are passionate about the mission of Promise Neighborhoods, who are passionate about impacting their community. We’re thankful that we feel we have a really amazing committed group to carry out this work. They’ve informed us on so many things about going out into the community and the way we design and manage the survey. Their input is invaluable.

  1. What are your hopes for this survey five or ten years in the future?

KDY: I want measurable results. I want people to be able to look at it and see some tangible change for the good.

HT: I’d like to see some longevity. After the five years, I want them to come back and evaluate if what we did was working.

JJ: Every grant in the world has limits. There might be some dreams and hopes from the survey that this grant won’t cover and that’s okay. Hopefully this grant may lead to another grant which might lead to our neighborhood getting some of the things that we wanted in our community.

  1. Any last thoughts?

SD: Community is necessary to have growth. You can’t call yourself a community if everyone is not involved, whether they’re on the same page or not. You may have the same people showing up to these meetings but every now and then you may have to redistribute the information. A lot of things that are going on in our community that a lot of people don’t know about. If Jeff is doing a survey, I am recording the answers and doing the paperwork but I am also listening to the needs that the family is discussing. A lot of times people want to be heard. So, as they’re speaking, I am pulling out information that might help and keep them informed.

JJ: The Promise Neighborhood, one of their jobs, is bringing the organizations together and I think that’s so important. It’s so important that groups know what each other’s doing. And the foundation was laid by the Promise Zone in that the neighborhood was already working together. West Belmont was already doing work with PEC who was already doing work with Drexel who was already doing something with the Manor. Coalition building had to be part of the Promise Neighborhood and Promise Zone made that possible.

SD: People are private. In an African American community, you were raised that whatever goes on in your house stays in your house. But when you have someone come into your house and you are voicing this…and then to receive information on this. They feel thankful for the help because they might have never asked. A young lady wanted to go for a job but needed job training and we gave her the pamphlet. It felt good because we had already put the information together as a team.

JJ: Our survey is randomized. If it wasn’t a random survey and we just went to all the community organizations, the answers would be quite different. We’re going to homes where no one goes to these meetings so they may not get the information we get.

HT: What I’d like to see is what’s on paper come to life. To see these ideas actually come to play in the community. This area of West Philadelphia really needs it. This surveying of people that we have has opened my eyes up to even more families that are lacking or don’t know about the services that are offered and it’s good when you have it right then and there and give it to them. Because then they don’t have to go look for it, they don’t have to go call for it. They feel a little more connected to it when you give it to them right then and there. We’re in an area that’s been underserved in Philadelphia and it’s time that we’ve got our due.

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