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  • Bruce Baker

Connecting During the COVID-19 Emergency

A local public health emergency is in process and economic challenges are now manifesting, which will require restructuring if we are to avoid deprivation and disaster for many in our community. Emergencies always affect the least connected and those with less resources, wealth and connections. It is essential then, in such times for those with more to share what they can with those who have less.

From where I sit, I am pleased to report that there has been a great outpouring of concern and mutual care. Neighbors have been finding ways to connect safely with each other. People are calling to check up on others, not just their friends and family, but also neighbors and acquaintances. Volunteers are stepping forward and offering time and resources to care for those they don’t even know. I am gratified to see such goodwill.

CHEER is determined to do its part to contribute to this flow of goodwill and has a unique role to play. The first step in such times is to get good information and follow the instructions of our public health leaders to mitigate the immediate public health threat from COVID-19 (aka the novel coronavirus). This means taking care of yourself, washing hands, and avoiding contacts that might spread the virus.

The second step is to check on those with whom we are in contact or with whom we may come into contact. “How are you doing?” becomes a serious and meaningful question. There may be concern and worry underneath a polite answer. There may be unspoken need and disappointment or hopelessness.

It may be good to ask more specific questions. How has this public health emergency affected you? There will be good things and bad things. It is important to hear all of it. The simple act of listening and hearing others is a source of comfort for those expressing bad things and a boost for the good things. If someone is experiencing a difficult emotion it helps to be heard and understood.

Still people may be masking unmet needs out of a desire to avoid appearing weak or vulnerable, or to not burden others. It may be good to be explicit. And ask “What unmet needs do you have right now?” This becomes an essential piece of information, even if there is nothing that can be done about it immediately. When we hear of needs, if we know of ways those needs can be met, we can suggest them. If we don’t know, we can pass that information on to those who could help.

An additional question often not asked is “What can you offer to help others?” It is important to know that we are all challenged and have needs, but it is even more important to know that we have the power and ability to do things to help others. This brings attention to the things that we have that make us feel powerful, even if we are frustrated and challenged. It is important for us to know what gifts we can offer and what others can offer to facilitate mutual caring and support.

Many in small neighborhoods and groups in Takoma Park and Long Branch have spontaneously organized themselves to provide mutual support. CHEER is having conversations with the people we work with who may be more isolated and have fewer resources than most. CHEER is recording and aggregating the information to help us see what people’s greatest needs are, so we can focus our efforts to address them.

We are also providing information on resources and services that are available and making referrals where appropriate. And we will be following up on those resources to make sure they are operating effectively and passing that information along to facilitate an expansion and improvement of the resources and services that are needed. CHEER will be providing regular reports on what we see and hear from our neighbors. Keep an eye out for more soon.

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