Changing JP, one house meeting at a time

(Photo Courtesy Alison Yoos) (From left) Joseph Leahy, Deni Paynter, Gerry Wright, Jeff Foulkes, Lynn Niizawa, Crystal Carrington, Jess Andersen and Alison Yoos plant an apple tree last November. All—except Wright—are past or present CCI residents.


HYDE SQ.—Alison Yoos lives in a house full of graduate students that get together and talk about all sorts of things. Unlike most graduate students, however, Yoos and her housemates then get up and take action.

The housemates all study different things—there are students of journalism, public health, social work, philosophy, international peace and conflict resolution and design. Yoos decided on getting her masters in public health from Northeastern University after traveling and working in Africa.

“We all come together and brainstorm to do things that are actually tangible,” Yoos said.

The house in which five of the eight students live, on Perkins Street and S. Huntington Avenue, belongs to the Community Caring Institute (CCI), a nonprofit headed by Gerry Wright, a community organizer in JP for over 50 years.

All of the residents have made a commitment to talking and working together for the greater benefit.

“We came up with the idea of creating a living situation that would foster interdisciplinary dialogue,” Yoos said.

“Being in grad school gives you a lot of theoretical stuff, a lot of models,” she added. “[At home] we talk about things that you talk about in school, but [at school,] everyone has very similar opinions. Here, you get more disagreement, but it leads to more things.”

So far, CCI has been organizing to protect the natural landscape on Hellenic Hill, a 12.5-acre wooded property owned by Hellenic College currently up for sale. Yoos was the author of a CCI letter to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, head of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople, asking for his support in the preservation of the area.

CCI—and Yoos by extension—received a supportive response.

Hopefully soon, Yoos said, CCI will start youth-oriented environmental programs to “teach kids about the environment as a resource for [their] health,” a goal CCI has already been promoting with its Pathways to Pinebank Promontory program, an initiative to improve health by increasing people’s exposure to nature with such activities as walks for seniors.

Until June 2009, CCI housed troubled teens under the custody of the Department for Children and Families. Due to budget cuts, CCI transitioned away from youth homes, while still providing support and mentoring to former residents.

Wright unexpectedly had all this living space. Yoos, then working with Wright through a Northeastern-organized work-study program, helped him conceive the idea of an involved and interdisciplinary graduate student home.

“My conviction is that we have to collaborate across many boundaries,” Wright said. “I have been amazed at how the vision has been realized.”

Wright and Yoos advertised for housemates. Twenty interviews later, the housemates were selected. There is continued interest for when room opens up.

“I never thought anything could be as deeply enriching [as working with kids],” Wright said. “This has developed [in me] a whole new sense of hope for the future for young adults,”

As for the biggest challenge of her living arrangement, Yoos hits a familiar note: “Dishes.”

By and large, though, “It’s amazing how well we get along. I think people really have gained something from living in the house.”

“It’s joyful and meaningful,” Wright said. “You can’t beat that.”

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