In an effort to build community and share resources, the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) has teamed up with Goddard Riverside, the settlement house nonprofit, to conduct a needs survey for residents at Amsterdam Houses, the housing projects that sit across Amsterdam Avenue from Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.

The outreach began when Nancy Wackstein, GSS director of community engagement and partnerships, called her former colleague Susan Matloff-Nieves, deputy executive director at Goddard Riverside. Wackstein said that besides educating social workers, GSS also conducts important research that she thought could help the nonprofit fine-tune programming.

“Fordham is a neighbor, and I thought that if we find out what the residents need then maybe we can engage in the next steps on how our school can help,” she said.

Students and faculty conducted the survey to gauge residents' needs.
Students and faculty conducted the survey to gauge residents’ needs.

For their part, Matloff-Nieves said that the settlement house does not have resources or the expertise to design a questionnaire and conduct survey in a systemic way.

“We haven’t done a deep dive into what people in Amsterdam houses need, so it’s really great to have Fordham’s support in this,” she said. “We were looking for hard data and a way to do significant outreach into the neighborhood, because we serve about 1,000 people a year of whom about two-thirds are Amsterdam Houses residents.”

The collective effort was made possible through a grant from the New York Community Trust and additional support from Fordham’s Ravazzin Center, under the leadership of Janna Heyman, Ph.D. The questionnaire was developed with Goddard Riverside staff, GSS graduate students, and residents from Amsterdam Houses. Design and execution were supervised by Smita Dewan, Ph.D., GSS director of assessments, and Lawrence Farmer, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the GSS doctoral program. Dewan said that the initial stages began with interviews and focus group discussions.

Patricia Ryan
Patricia Ryan

“The kind of data you have in focus group is very different from how you get it in a survey; they’re discussions, so they’re all talking to each other and generating information as opposed to a survey where you just look at a question and respond,” said Dewan.

Farmer said that the community then helped with wordsmithing existing surveys of other housing communities so that their survey was specific to Amsterdam Houses.

“Some of what we built in was from other surveys, where some of the same issues have come up, like the need for recreational spaces and for arts and crafts,” he said.

On an early summer afternoon, recent GSS grads joined, staff, professors, and community leaders from Amsterdam Houses to help residents fill out surveys at stations set up in the lobby of their building.

A good portion of the new survey examines the residents’ backgrounds, including education, marital status, and employment, before delving into programming needs, such as assistance in applying for social security or affordable legal services. Questions about the community needs, such as public parks and recreational opportunities, are followed up by questions on specific needs within adult education, youth and children’s programming, family support, and health.

During the workshops, the researchers encouraged participants to spread the word about the work they were doing so that the community would be aware of their presence.

“I think it helps we were from Fordham because they know that we are invested in knowing them,” said Dewan.

Indeed, Patricia Ryan, a president of one of the building associations in the complex, said that she’s grown familiar with the University over the years as they have helped the community in purchasing security cameras and sponsoring family day.

“Oh, Fordham? Fordham shares. I’m telling you, Fordham is good,” said Ryan. “You know Lesley Massiah (Fordham’s associate vice president for government relations and urban affairs), That’s my girl; when I need anything I contact her she gets right back in touch with me.”

For Rosanna Minaya, GSS ’19, the survey represented the culmination of a year’s work. She worked on it from the start as part of her second-year practicum.

“It was amazing. I got to see research methods and how important they are. And I was there to see how it was developed, give input to the pilot of the survey, and help to set up today.”

She added that she was happy to report that she landed a job with the Center for Urban Community Service in employment placement, “helping New Yorkers find jobs.” As she took in the scene she smiled.

“This is what research looks like; it’s so much different than what I initially imagined,” she said. “I love doing interviews and hearing what people have to say and their stories.”


Tom Stoelker is senior staff writer and visual media coordinator for Fordham News. After fifteen years as a freelance designer, Tom shifted his focus to writing and photography. He graduated from Lehman College, CUNY where he majored in English literature and photography and he received his master's in journalism from Columbia University. His work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Wall Street Journal, and The Architect's Newspaper, where he was associate editor.