The Child and Family Experiences Project in the Community

Professor Elana Gordis
Department of Psychology

For the past 6 years, the Child and Family Experiences Project, under the direction of Elana Gordis, Associate Professor of Psychology, has been working together with the Boys and Girls Club of Schenectady with the goal of both contributing to the community and conducting research on consequences of exposure to violence.  A key priority for Gordis was partnering with the community so that as she did research, she and her students were also learning about the needs of the community and contributing in some way. Gordis and her doctoral students approached the Boys and Girls Club with the question “how can be we helpful” and also saying “we are interested in studying the effects of violence on youth”. Fortunately, the leadership at the Club shares Gordis’ team’s interest in the question of how violence exposure affects youth, and a partnership was begun.

Many of the students have formed special relationships with some members serving as informal mentors providing them and academic help and encouragement to do well in school and to make positive choices.
Louise DiFabbio, Director of Operations - Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady

Gordis and her students began by becoming volunteers at the club. A handful of doctoral students and undergraduate students began helping at the Club several days per week. Next, Gordis received a FRAP A award in 2011 to conduct a pilot study of effects of community violence on emotional and behavior problems among youth age 9-12, specifically examining the role of physiological stress response systems.  In particular, she and her students are examining the role of the sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” response) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Results of that study suggest that the effects of community violence exposure on youth aggressive behavior depend on the functioning of the physiological stress systems. Gordis will present these findings at the Association for Psychological Science in Chicago this coming May. Gordis’s doctoral students have based theses on these data as well.

As Gordis’ team spent more time in the Club, the staff there were interested in their developing programming to help with behavioral issues in the youth. Gordis and her team shared the interest in developing programming to help with these issues, and they have been piloting group activities with the youth that address emotion regulation and conflict management.  The team is currently conducting a small study, approved by the IRB, to examine effects of these activities on behavior.

All of Gordis’ student lab researchers (approx. 10 undergraduates and 5 grad students) are official volunteers at the club (background checked, fingerprinted, etc).  All research projects go through IRB review at UAlbany.  The students help as volunteers with the youth and assist in conducting research projects. The students help run activities, help the youth with homework, supervise sports and games, and lead clubs and art projects, some of which are pictured here. Working in these roles gives these students great experience working directly with youth and also teaches them about the realities of doing research in partnership with a community organization beyond the walls of the research lab.  Gordis and her students meet weekly as a team to discuss and troubleshoot challenges that are going on in the club and discuss their research projects.

Overall our partnership with you and your students has been wonderful for the Boys & Girls Club. The studies that you have conducted related to violence and behaviors are important to help us understand and better serve the youth in our community.
Louise DiFabbio, Director of Operations - Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady

Gordis is very grateful to have excellent doctoral and undergraduate students at the Club. Their good work is central to keeping this partnership working smoothly. Their skills with the youth and flexibility in dealing with the logistical challenges of getting out into the community are key. Gordis also notes that her doctoral students are excellent at mentoring the undergraduates in their work and developing new ideas for programs and studies. Gordis also gives much credit of the partnership to the staff and leadership of the Boys and Girls Club in Schenectady, who have been very interested in the team’s research projects and ideas and who have been so appreciative of the efforts of her research team.  

The partnership with the Boys and Girls Club has been one of the most positive aspects of this research endeavor. The students receive training in how to work and conduct research in real world settings, rather than staying within the confines of the university research lab. In addition, they understand that they are ambassadors to the Boys and Girls Club of the research team and of UAlbany. They also are being helpful to a community that needs and appreciates the help.

Gordis recently received this letter from Louise DiFabbio, Director of Operations, at the Boys and Girls Club of Schenectady.


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