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Persistent Poverty Project records

Identifier: M127

Scope and Content Note

This collection documents the activities of the Boston Foundation's Persistent Poverty Project in its attempt to create a picture of multi-generational, multi-ethnic poverty in Boston. The Project ran from 1987 to 1997 and held roundtables, focus groups, seminars, and briefings to disseminate its research. The records reflect the Project's work with the African-American, Asian-American, youth, white, and single parent communities in Boston to gather data. The records also document the Project's involvement in outside organizations such as the National Neighborhood Indicators Project and the National Community Building Network. The Project produced several major reports as well as smaller products such as the Boston Indicators and the Boston Children and Families Database. Topics include poverty and ethnic communities in Boston, community building, training for community activists, and public education. Materials include photographs, agendas, minutes, correspondence, memoranda, reports, project histories and outlines, workshop and seminar proceedings, schedules, and audio cassettes of some meetings, roundtables, focus groups, and seminars.


  • Creation: 1985-2002


Conditions Governing Access:

The collection is unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use:

Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the University Archivist.

Historical Note

The Permanent Charity Fund was created in 1915 by brothers Charles E. and Charles M. Rogerson to aid in the relief of World War I-related hardship in Boston. A large donation in 1916 by James Longley allowed the Fund to give out its first grants with special attention to the needs of immigrants in the North End. By the 1920s, the Fund had given grants to more than a dozen settlement houses, including Denison House where Amelia Earhart was employed as a social worker. In the 1930s, the Fund was a key philanthropic organization for Boston. It funded the Family Welfare Society and the Travelers Aid Society, both of which sought to relieve some of the difficulties of the Great Depression by providing food, shelter, or employment. During World War II, the Fund was particularly concerned with the "plight of women and girls" and granted funds to the Young Women's Christian Association and the Women's Educational and Industrial Union to see that women had a safe place to stay, job training and, if necessary, psychological help. After the war, when Boston's downtown began to undergo the first wave of urban decay with complaints of teenage gangs with knives and brass knuckles "prowling the streets", the Fund turned its attention to the revitalization of the downtown area and recreational programs for Boston's youth, including improved access to Boston's cultural institutions. In 1964, the Fund received an unexpected bequest of $20 million from the will of Albert Stone, Jr., which allowed the Fund to support community organizations directly for the first time in addition to expanding its other grant-giving activities. By the 1970s, the Fund had almost four million dollars to distribute annually and became deeply involved in the initiatives surrounding the court-ordered desegregation of the Boston public schools. By the 1980s, the Fund, now known as the Boston Foundation, had an endowment of almost $250 million and was a well-established organization with a national reputation.

In 1987, the Equal Opportunity Program of the Rockefeller Foundation chose Boston along with Washington, D.C., Cleveland, San Antonio, Denver, and Oakland to be part of the Community Planning and Action Program. The aim of the program was to see how each of the six cities would develop strategies and work with the local community to analyze and reduce poverty. In 1988, the Foundation convened a seven-member steering committee of Boston Foundation staff and interested members of the Boston community including Frieda Garcia from United South End Settlements, James Darr from the Private Industry Council, and Paul Ylvisaker from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The committee was later expanded to 12 members and brought in other academics and community activists. The Project began under the direction of Tony Wagner and then almost immediately came under the leadership of Wendy Puriefoy, also Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Boston Foundation.

The Project began its work with a broad-based data-gathering exercise in the form of a lengthy survey conducted by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts. The survey reached over 17,000 Boston residents by phone, including poor and non-poor; the Center also conducted in-depth interviews of over 2,000 low-income Bostonians. The findings of the surveys were analyzed and published in 1989 as the report In the Midst of Plenty. To generate interest in the report, the Project sponsored six seminars at the Parker House Hotel with prominent experts in the field of poverty as guest speakers, including Mary Jo Bane from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Paul Osterman from the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Teresa Amott from Bucknell University.

After the success of In the Midst of Plenty, the Project welcomed the other Rockefeller project cities to Boston in 1990 for the "Developing Political Will" conference which participants in a nation-wide sharing of data and experience. The conference focused on the strategies that would be needed by the various Persistent Poverty Projects to address upcoming political challenges.

The next stage of the Project's work, following a refocusing effort after the dramatic collapse of the "Massachusetts Miracle" economic upswing in mid-1990, involved the creation of the Strategy Development Group out of the original steering committee. The goal for the restructuring was to create a microcosm of the city, including larger numbers of those whom In the Midst of Plenty had revealed as being the most affected by poverty. Members of the Group included local academics and researchers, members of the business community, community activists, and members of local organizations. The creation of the Group allowed the Project to focus on creating roundtables and focus groups to gather community data directly. During 1991 and 1992, the Group was also responsible for the Public Policy Seminar series and a number of Boston College Citizen Seminars, public events that focused on a variety of community issues including education, community building, and economic development.

By the end of 1991, the Group began to hire subcontractors who would be responsible for the roundtable and focus group events, including recruiting participants and providing facilities and facilitators. Subcontractors included the Mauricio Gastón Institute, the William Monroe Trotter Institute, the Asian American Resource Workshop, Northeastern University, Teens as Community Resources, and Maria Estela Carrion and Ann Withorn. Contractors were also chosen for the focus groups and began to meet with Project staff to create a structure for the data-gathering. Six roundtables and 28 focus groups were held, drawing in a broad cross-section of the Boston poor community including whites, African Americans, Asian Americans, youth, single parents, and Latinos. Each of these broad groups was then broken down again to specific focus groups with the Asian American roundtable, for example, broken down into Cambodian, Chinese, and Vietnamese focus groups.

The first roundtable in the series, "Beyond Poverty: Building Community Through New Perspectives," was called "Recognizing Poverty in Boston's Asian-American Community," and was held on February 10, 1992, and coordinated by the Asian American Resource Workshop. The panel included Hiep Chu from the Vietnamese American Civic Association, Davy Um Heder from the Cambodian Women's Project, Peter Kiang from the University of Massachusetts, and Turenne Mech from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Work also continued with the subcontractors for the focus groups, concentrating on refining the research design as originally set out by Strategy Development Group member Dr. Hortensia Amaro in the early summer of 1991. On February 24, 1992, the Project held the second roundtable, "Perspectives on Poverty in Boston's Black Community," arranged and supported by the William Monroe Trotter Institute. The third roundtable, "Latinos, Poverty, and Public Policy in Boston," was held on March 2 and coordinated by the Mauricio Gastón Institute; the fourth, "Whites and Poverty in Boston," coordinated by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University was held on March 16; then "Single Parents and Poverty in Boston," coordinated by Strategy Development Group member Maria Estela Carrion from the University of Massachusetts at Boston was held on March 23; the sixth and final roundtable, "Youth Take the Stand," was coordinated by Teens as Community Resources and was held on March 30, 1992.

In mid-1992, at a national conference of the Community Planning and Action Projects, the Rockefeller Foundation announced that it would not be following through with its plan to fund the Projects for the full ten years that had originally been proposed; however, it encouraged Projects to continue with their work and to network among themselves for greater efficiency and information sharing. Participants decided to concentrate on national network building, not only among the Projects but also among other interested organizations, with an eye to creating a national community-building network.

At the end of 1992 and during the early months of 1993, work began to pick up on the planned Boston Children and Families Database. The Strategy Development Group also began work on its own review of the focus groups and roundtables and its own deliberations, eventually published as To Make Our City Whole. To further this process, the Group hired outside consultant Jacqui Lindsay to interview founding members of the Project steering committee and to design an assessment of the Group's work to date. During March of 1993, Lindsay held the assessment sessions for the Group and began writing what would later become Making Democracy Work, the report that covered the internal workings of the Strategy Development Group. The Group also held an education roundtable at the Boston Foundation, attended by over 50 interested members of the Boston community. This roundtable began a process of dialogue about education in Boston which would culminate in the televised "Diplomas and Dreams" project. This was a multi-part television series on public education in Boston. It involved students, parents, teachers, and activists in four televised dialogues, broadcast on Boston Neighborhood Network TV in May and followed up by a citywide town meeting on education held in June. Later in the year, this one-time event was institutionalized as a regular program on BNN-TV's Answer Channel.

Also in June, national planning continued on the proposed National Community Building Network during a meeting hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation in Washington, D.C. In Boston, formal agreements were made regarding data for the Boston Children and Families database and meetings were held in July and August to review the data types and sources and begin finalizing the Database. In August of 1993, the Project hosted a visit from the Ford Foundation which was looking for sites for one of 20 Diversity Initiative grants, one of which was later awarded to the Project. During the fall and early winter of 1993, work continued on the Database and on the larger National Community Building network with Boston Foundation president Anna Faith Jones and Project Director Charlotte Kahn, both of whom attended a number of national conferences with other Project cities to hammer out details of the Network.

In January of 1994, the Group finally completed work on To Make Our City Whole, and the final draft was published in May. Pre-publication editions were released in February and March, accompanied by a burst of publicity, including a press conference attended by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. In June, the final draft of the focus group report, combining data from all 28 groups, was published as In Our Own Words.

During the winter of 1994, because of work that had already been done on the Boston Children and Families Database, the Project was invited into the planning process for the City of Boston's application for an Empowerment Zone grant through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Once the grant was secured, work began on implementation, involving the Project in the Community and Technology Working Group and the Empowerment Zone Committee through the City of Boston.

At the end of the summer of 1994, the Project was also invited to take part in the National Neighborhood Indicators Project, a nationwide system coordinated by the Urban Institute and supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The goal of the project was to select key indicators of community health in order to monitor change and progress in communities nationwide. In Boston, this initiative resulted in the "Boston Indicators of Change and Progress," a short report outlining Boston's health and future in terms of several indicator groups, including economic wellbeing, employment, arts and culture, and health-care. The project continued in the late 1990s as the Boston Arts Indicators Project, with the focus shifting to indicators of a healthy artistic and cultural community.

By the beginning of 1995, the Project was beginning to plan for its own dissolution in 1997. No substantial new projects were planned, although work did continue on the Boston Children and Families Database, the Indicators project, the Empowerment Zone, and the Community Building Network. The Project began to consolidate the work it had done to date, holding training sessions for the Database and the Community Building Curriculum and discussions for the institutionalization of the Database which was eventually housed at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. In 1997, the Project formally went out of existence, although functionally it continued under the new name of the Boston Community Building Network and carried on the projects that the Persistent Poverty Project had begun, including the Community Building Curriculum, the Indicators Project (expanding this to include the Arts and Culture Indicators Project), and the Boston Children and Families Database.


Permanent Charity Fund founded.
James Longley gives first major gift to Fund.
Fund involved in grant-giving to settlement houses.
Fund is the major supporter of Depression relief efforts in Boston.
Fund involved in relief of World War II hardships in Boston, particularly for women and girls.
Fund becomes donor for relief of new "urban decay" phenomenon in Boston.
Albert Stone, Jr. leaves $20 million bequest to Fund in his will; Fund begins to fund community organizations directly.
Fund becomes involved in desegregation efforts in Boston.
Fund changes its name to the Boston Foundation; endowment is almost $250 million.
Equal Opportunity Program of Rockefeller Foundation chooses Boston Foundation as project city for Community Planning and Action Program; the Boston Foundation creates the Persistent Poverty Project.
The Boston Foundation convenes seven-member steering committee to guide Project work; Project begins data-gathering on multi-generational poverty in Boston.
Project publishes In the Midst of Plenty.
Project hosts "Developing Political Will" conference for all Community Planning and Action Program cities; 43-member Strategy Development Group forms to advance the Project.
Group holds seminars to publicize its work; Group hires subcontractors to plan and hold roundtables and focus groups to gather more poverty data for specific groups in Boston.
Holds first roundtables and focus groups; work begins on Boston Children and Families Database.
Holds assessment sessions for Strategy Development Group; designs and holds "Diplomas and Dreams" television dialogues on education; site visit from the Ford Foundation.
Project publishes To Make Our City Whole and In Our Own Words; Project is involved in planning process for Boston Empowerment Zone; Project is invited into National Neighborhood Indicators Project; work begins on Boston Indicators Project.
Boston Community Building Network replaces Persistent Poverty Project.

Project Directors

Anna Faith Jones, President, The Boston Foundation
Tony Wagner, Boston Persistent Poverty Project Director
Wendy Puriefoy, Boston Persistent Poverty Project Director / Chief Operating Officer, The Boston Foundation
Charlotte Kahn, Boston Persistent Poverty Project Director / Boston Community Building Network Director / Director, The Boston Indicators Project (as of 2007)


20.5 cubic feet (20 containers, 3 flat file folders)




The Boston Foundation was created in 1915 as the Permanent Charity Fund by brothers Charles E. and Charles M. Rogerson to relieve hardship in Boston brought on by World War I. After the war, the Fund expanded its scope of activity to include community activism and involvement on a wider scale. In 1964, Albert Stone, Jr., left the Fund $20 million in his will, allowing the Fund to support special projects in Boston neighborhoods in addition to its other grant-making activities. In 1985, the Fund, now called the Boston Foundation, received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and became one of the partner organizations in the Rockefeller Foundation's Equal Opportunity Project. The Boston Foundation conducted one of the first comprehensive surveys of the multi-generational poor in Boston in the early 1980s, and the Persistent Poverty Project built on that work. The Project ran from 1987 until 1997, publishing several reports and holding seminars, focus groups, roundtables, conferences, and briefings to involve the general public, politicians, and other community organizations. The Project was also involved in initiatives, such as the National Neighborhood Indicators Project and the National Community Building Network, and it created the Boston Children and Families Database and the Boston Community Building Curriculum. The Project continued after 1997 as the Boston Community Building Network at the Boston Foundation.


The collection documents the activities of the Boston Foundation's Persistent Poverty Project in its attempt to create a comprehensive picture of multi-generational poverty in Boston. Records reflect the day-to-day administration of the Project and document its outreach activities, including data-gathering on poverty through community roundtables, focus groups, and surveys. The collection also reflects the Project's attempts to disseminate its research through Boston College Citizen seminars, press briefings, and multiple publications. Topics documented include poverty in Boston, the effects of poverty on various communities in Boston, including African American, white, Asian American, and youth; community building; and the Project's involvement with larger organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Community Building Network. Records include committee minutes and agendas; staff correspondence and notes; conference packets; seminar, conference, and meeting transcripts; publications; reports; and research data.

System of Arrangement:

Organized into four series: 1. Administration; 2. Projects and Publications; 3. Outside Organizations; and 4. Audio-Visual.

Physical Location

58/4, 57/1, FF6/D8


  • "Strategy Development Group: History," M127, Box 2, Folder 54.
  • The Boston Foundation Website,, accessed November 2006.
  • "The Boston Children and Families Database: History," M127, Box 6, Folder 50.
  • "Rockefeller Foundation: Equal Opportunity Program: Community Planning and Action Program: Conceptual Framework," M127, Box 16, Folder 14.
  • "Rockefeller Foundation: Equal Opportunity Program: Overview," M127, Box 17, Folder 52.
  • "Poverty Seminars: Transcripts," M127, Box 6, Folders 56-57.
  • "Charlotte Kahn: Correspondence," M127, Box 1, Folders 39-48.
  • "Wendy Puriefoy: Correspondence," M127, Box 2, Folders 14-16.
Finding aid for the Persistent Poverty Project Records
Finding aid prepared by Hanna Clutterbuck with the assistance of Britta Abeln, Marietta Carr, Tamara Gaydos, and Gena Pliakas
December 2007
Language of description
Script of description
The processing of this collection was partially funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Repository Details

Part of the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections Repository

Snell Library
360 Huntington Avenue
Boston MA 02115 US