Past Projects

Gonzales CoLab Projects

GYC Youth Mental Health Action Project

Principal Investigator: Dr. Jennifer Lovell, CSUMB

Funded by: The Claire Giannini Fund & Bringing Theory to Practice

In recent years, recognizing the importance of a fresh perspective and the value that young people bring to discussions about issues facing the community, the City of Gonzales partnered with the Gonzales Unified School District and established the Gonzales Youth Council (GYC).  In April 2020, the GYC took an opportunity to collaborate with the Community Solutions Lab (CoLab) Faculty Fellow and CSUMB Faculty member, Dr. Jennifer Lovell and her team, to develop a survey to help evaluate the wellbeing and mental health needs of Gonzales youth.

Knowing the importance of mental health and access to resources, the GYC decided to make youth mental health a focus for the year. In the fall of 2019, the GYC identified a gap in mental health resources for youth, and when Covid-19 hit, they felt it was especially important to assess how their peers were coping.

The GYC was working on developing a survey however due to COVID-19 their plans to conduct an in-person survey shifted to all virtual and to include COVID-19 impacts. A collaboration with CSUMB began and the survey was reassessed with input and support from CSUMB. The GYC distributed the survey virtually and collected data from 374 Gonzales middle and high school students. Analysis began in June, and shortly thereafter, snapshots of findings were presented to the Gonzales City Council and School Board. This process wrapped up in July, at which point GYC leaders began creating presentations of key findings for other stakeholders.

Results showed that the majority of youth in Gonzales were experiencing elevated levels of stress, anxiety, and/or depression based on a mental health screener. (Note: These results were not official diagnoses.) Data also showed that students’ preferred channels for accessing mental health resources are email and social media. These findings are now being used to inform approaches to remote-learning and as leverage to continue prioritizing youth mental health needs in the community of Gonzales.

Perhaps the most tangible impact to come out of the research thus far has been the decision made by the City and the School District to jointly fund a new social work position within the School District.

After a successful year of collaboration, Dr. Lovell and her research team have committed to continuing to work with incoming GYC members on this important project.

The City of Gonzales is known as a “peaceful, hardworking, and inventive” community surrounded by prime agricultural land in the heart of the 90-mile long Salinas Valley. It’s less than thirty-five miles southeast of Monterey and is described as “a great place to raise a family, run a business, or do business with.”  Last year, Gonzales made headlines when it was selected from nearly 200 communities to be awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Culture of Health Prize. Citing what has become known as “The Gonzales Way,” the RWJF specifically highlighted efforts being made to incorporate youth voice into community decision making.

Realizing the importance of establishing an agreement for working together, CoLab team members (made up of MIIS & CSUMB staff and faculty) and Gonzales leaders recently co-created and finalized an MOU, which will be utilized as a starting point for future collaborations.

“It has been wonderful to be part of this youth-led action research, and I look forward to the next steps. The Youth Commissioners are powerful change agents within Gonzales, and it is exciting to see our research being used as a catalyst for positive and meaningful local change.”    –Dr. Jennifer Lovell

Impact of Current Immigration Policies on K8 Students in Gonzales, CA

Principal Investigator: Dr. Netta Avineri, MIIS

Funded by: The Claire Giannini Fund


This research project sought to answer the question: In what ways is the current political climate impacting immigrant family K-8 students and their families? The project emerged through a series of discussions with Gonzales city officials, the Monterey College of Law, CSUMB, MIIS, and the Community Solutions Lab. 

This research project cultivated partnerships and trust with key contacts in the Gonzales community to investigate the ways that the current political climate impacts immigrant K-8 students and their families. A team of Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) researchers engaged in community-based relationship building as well as data collection through online questionnaires and interviews with parents, school personnel, and community officials. The project yielded important information regarding community perspectives of immigration, safety, and language diversity. Possible future MIIS/City of Gonzales collaboration that this research revealed include providing workshops on immigration, translation and interpretation, and ESL teacher training, as well as other potential future projects that would benefit the Gonzales community.

See the full report/findings