Partnerships – The Only Way to Really Make an Impact
By the end of 2021, our COVID-19 vaccine equity efforts had assisted well over 3000 people in getting vaccinated. Not all were vulnerable from a housing perspective, but we were concentrating our efforts in a variety of ways with targeted groups. We definitely saw the demographics of those vaccinated change over time as our efforts accelerated. As importantly, we have formed new relationships and partnerships with service providers, faith leaders and community leaders, which continue to play out in collaborations and other services. For the housing vulnerable, we connected service providers with vaccine providers—to ensure access to appointments when those were hard to come by. In addition, we connected the pastor of a congregation with an overwhelming number of members who are housing vulnerable to a provider who brought the vaccine to them. This phase of our work connected approximately 300 people with access to vaccinations.
Our partners include the River Mission (a congregation that serves those experiencing homelessness), Center for Hope and Safety (an organization that provides support to survivors of domestic violence) and Family Promise of Bergen County (a nonprofit that focuses on families who are housing vulnerable). We also reached out to the various housing authorities to ensure that their building residents had access and those receiving Section 8 vouchers.
What we learned is that we need to go back and teach or, re-teach, community organizing at the grassroots level. It has become a lost art that we need to revive. The Moving NJ Forward Learning Collaborative calls continue to be a highlight of every week. The ideas, support and talent are amazing. We have used those calls to leverage more activity in the community. By sharing what is happening in other counties, we have been able to get decision-makers in Bergen to move out of their comfort zone. At every step of the way, either with providers or with the community, we have leveraged personal and professional relationships to get things done. “Equity” on paper does not really translate into actual equitable access without real champions and doers on the ground. We have to push past complacency and checking boxes, to truly provide equitable access. We are seeing the social determinants in action in this pandemic; they aren’t theoretical anymore. Partnerships are hard, especially if people feel the resources are scarce. And yet, partnerships are the only way to really make an impact. Greater Bergen Community Action is an anti-poverty organization, not a health organization or provider and yet, the providers need us to gain access to the people.
We will be designing our new strategic plan around this reality—that we can serve as a hub in a hub-and-spoke model, at the same time that we are a spoke in other efforts.
Never underestimate the importance of convening multi-sector players to see how and why they can and should collaborate. It is time-consuming, but the results are powerful.