Perth Amboy is Building Trust in Every Direction

NJHI: Small Grants Raritan Bay Area YMCA Vaccine Access Project

In March of 2021, Perth Amboy was one of the Middlesex County municipalities impacted most by COVID-19. Despite high mortality rates, vaccines were not arriving in Perth Amboy. While residents in nearby affluent communities were already receiving their second dose, Perth Amboy residents were still awaiting access to the first doses. With $50,000 in funding and support from New Jersey Health Initiatives, the Raritan Bay Area YMCA (YMCA) worked with our local partners to advocate for better vaccine access and within months, the vaccines became more accessible to Perth Amboy.

By that time the YMCA realized that some Perth Amboy residents were also hesitant to take the vaccine. These issues combined help explain why Perth Amboy was consistently ranked as one of the least vaccinated municipalities in New Jersey.

To address these challenges and protect our community, the YMCA and our partners created a Vaccine Ambassador program. Four bilingual community members were hired to have conversations with residents about the vaccine, in which they answered questions and debunked rumors and misinformation. The Ambassadors helped residents travel to community events to receive their vaccines. During these events, residents also had the choice to receive a hot meal, a box of food, school supplies, ice cream and a personal care package. We wanted residents to know that they could trust the YMCA and that we were having these events because we cared about their health and well-being. The YMCA partnered with the Ambassadors and local partners to vaccinate over 700 community members within a six-month time frame.

Through this program, we strengthened existing partnerships with the City of Perth Amboy, Renovation House, the American Federation of Teachers, Raritan Bay Medical Center, and the Jewish Renaissance Foundation. We also forged new partnerships with Good Health Pharmacy, Amerigroup, the Visiting Nurse Association and Target. Most importantly, we strengthened our relationships with community members. There could be future emergencies where community members will again have to come together and take important steps to promote public health. We must prioritize relationship-building with residents now so that each time this happens, we do not have to lose precious time convincing community members that taking a vaccine or wearing a mask can help everyone. Building this trust now will allow community-based organizations, such as the YMCA, to efficiently provide information and promote action.

Browse reflections on similar efforts from across New Jersey in a new collection of community stories from the Moving NJ Forward Learning Collaborative.

The Grantee Blog regularly publishes updates from NJHI-supported communities. Bookmark this site to stay up-to-date and share in the work of building healthier communities across New Jersey.
Brenda Crespo
Raritan Bay Area YMCA