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Following the community’s lead on customized COVID support

Let’s go back to August 2020. COVID was still relatively new, stay-at-home ordinances were being extended, toilet paper was a hot commodity, and nobody was certain what the immediate future would look like. During this fearful and confusing time, our Community Engagement Coordinators (CEC) began their tireless work supporting communities across Seattle through partnerships with City departments and community-based organizations leading culturally responsive and people-centered COVID-19 outreach.

“Many folks didn’t know what to expect or how the pandemic would change the way society operates. The resources we were able to provide gave community options,” said Alvin Edwards, Community Engagement Coordinator who serves Southeast Seattle, SODO, and Georgetown. “They could, in some ways, have a part of their lives back and do normal things again like go to the grocery store and still feel safe while doing so.”

Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle vaccine event

Over 21 months, the CEC team invested $323,974 to bolster the efforts of grassroots, community-focused, and faith-based organizations to combat the pandemic and keep people safe. They coordinated the distribution of facemasks and other personal protection equipment, delivered hand sanitizer to local community groups and events, and helped launch testing sites and vaccine hubs in the areas most impacted by COVID. Of the 17 groups the CECs partnered with, 88 percent were led by and for Black, Indigenous, people of color, refugee, immigrant, and other underserved communities. These collaborative outreach efforts helped lower some of the barriers experienced by many families of color when interacting with medical systems.

“We really wanted to lean on a trusted messenger model and connect with organizations that had good rapport with community and could reach farther than we could as a government institution,” Edwards said. “These community groups were essential to the successes of our COVID outreach and engagement work, especially in BIPOC communities who were among those impacted the hardest.”

Collaborations with City departments like Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and Seattle Fire Department and community groups like Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, Fathers and Sons Together, African Americans Reach and Teach Health, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and Southeast Seattle Senior Center helped the CEC’s meet communities where they are and in the ways that work best for them.

A group of attendees at a vaccine event hosted by the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and Boona Boona Coffee

“The best part of working with the City of Seattle was their belief that community knows best what community needs. This gave us the opportunity to get creative,” said Zyna Bakari, Public Health Program Manager at Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. “We hosted fun youth vaccine events, created educational materials, trained Peer Educators, and distributed vaccine after-care wellness kits at our clinics. The flexibility and grace of this partnership allowed us to truly be present for the community.”  

A recent example of this work is the CEC team’s partnership with Roxana Pardo of La Roxay Productions. Her project, Healing and Storytelling in the Times of COVID-19 was a three-day event focused on engagement, education, and community building. The event was held in South Park and included mental and public health officials to answer questions about COVID and vaccinations, as well as artists and community organizations like Villa Comunitaria to facilitate healing and conversation opportunities through art. More than 80 community members of all ages came together to express their feelings, ask questions, and, most importantly, find strength and solace in community.

“Department of Neighborhoods facilitated the meetings that gave way for the planning and brainstorming around the final concept for these events,” Roxana said. “The partnership supported the planning, organization, and success of the gatherings because we were able to compensate for the labor and time of the involved partners on the events.”

This partnership culminated with the production of a short documentary about the project, which you can view on La Roxay’s YouTube channel.

At a time when isolation was necessary and fear was rampant, this collaboration between community and City brought information, protection, and support to thousands of Seattleites and uniquely served the many communities that makeup One Seattle.

Healing and Storytelling in the times of COVID-19 community art event