It’s Time to Reflect on the Lessons of COVID-19

“It’s hard for someone to care about us coming up to them and talking to them about taking the vaccine, if they are about to lose their housing or are already housing insecure. Housing, food access, public health – it’s all connected.”

As we continue to face challenges and consequences from COVID-19, there is a greater opportunity for leaders at every level to look at the successes, failures and lessons learned. What should we do and how can we use these lessons to define the tangible and intangible gains, like hope, equity and justice in our communities?

Mark Dinglasan and Dr. Monica Lallo

In a recent Op-Ed for NJ Spotlight News, Acenda Integrated Health Senior Vice President of Prevention, Youth and Education Services Monica Lallo, Ed.D., MPM, MPA and CUMAC Executive Director Mark Dinglasan, MBA, shared their experiences as leaders and as partners in the Moving NJ Forward Learning Collaborative. They wrote how they have seen the devastation to innocent lives and have learned to think outside the box, create agile and healing-centered programming, and build unique and forward-thinking collaborative partnerships, while developing immediate intervention strategies to meet the needs of our communities during this pandemic. 

For more than a year, the Moving NJ Forward Learning Collaborative of community-based nonprofits, healthcare personnel, municipal, county and state agencies and housing advocates have come together each week to exchange strategies for providing the most vulnerable communities with improved access to the COVID-19 vaccines. In the earliest phases of the COVID-19 vaccination effort, these partners shared approaches for providing information about the vaccines and the importance of taking the shot to those who could not reach a testing or vaccination site because they do not have access to affordable, reliable transportation, are homebound or experiencing homelessness. Initially named the NJ Vaccination Learning Network, these leaders identified opportunities to collaborate with trusted community messengers, such as barbers, clergy, school administrators, local pharmacies and employers, resident leaders and public safety professionals to take the vaccine door-to-door in senior apartment complexes, to seafarers arriving in Elizabethport and to the indigenous community of the Ramapough Mountains. They coordinated logistics for neighborhood pop-up clinics inside fire stations, bus stations and houses of worship, at food distribution events and rental assistance application fairs, and during hours when the state’s megasites were closed. With funding and support from New Jersey Health Initiatives, some of the partners developed multilingual outreach teams to answer residents’ questions and assist them in scheduling a vaccination appointment. Other partners provided individuals and families with round-trip transportation to vaccination events and distributed aftercare kits to soothe any discomfort from taking the shot.

The Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office, Atlantic City Police Department and Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine partnered to coordinate a mobile COVID-19 vaccination site at the Atlantic City bus terminal on April 12, 2021. Credit: Press of Atlantic City/ Molly Shelly.

In recent weeks, the NJ Vaccination Learning Network renamed itself the Moving NJ Forward Learning Collaborative to better represent the partners’ systems-level thinking and commitment to applying the lessons from the past two years to unlock the doors to opportunity that marginalized communities face. Ensuring more equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine originally connected these thought leaders. However, their focus has expanded to include housing and community development needs, reducing the impact of adverse childhood experiences and other social and economic factors that influence health.

“I get the question all the time, ‘Why does CUMAC, a food justice organization, care about COVID and COVID mitigation strategies?’ said Dinglasan. “It’s hard for someone to care about us coming up to them and talking to them in English, Spanish or Tagalog about taking the vaccine, if they are about to lose their housing or are already housing insecure. Housing, food access, public health – it’s all connected and there are people dying out here.”

“I truly believe building a continuum of care is what is important – not necessarily focusing on just one issue,” said Lallo.

The time is now and the future is at stake, wrote the co-authors. As a community, there must be a continued shift in our mindset. No longer can we shape our efforts based on the struggles or obstacles that we face. Collective impact is paramount to improving our lives; this is the best opportunity to reinvest and become the best version of ourselves. This new frontier will allow for power-sharing and a recommitment to inclusion and equity in the nation and in our Garden State. Read the full Op-Ed in NJ Spotlight News.


  • Learn more about the work Acenda Integrated Health and CUMAC have led with support from the Moving NJ Forward Learning Collaborative and NJHI.
  • The Moving NJ Forward Learning Collaborative also includes NJHI grantees and partners who have not received funding, yet are committed to working together, across communities and breaking down barriers to health and opportunity so everyone can thrive. Get to know some of the partners and their work.
  • Browse an early timeline of the collaborative’s initial efforts following the launch of the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

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