CHEER Empowers Local Communities and Promotes Vaccine Access
The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most challenging public health crises that has devastated and affected our Black and Brown communities. Many members of our community have faced economic losses, unemployment, food scarcity and many other socioeconomic adversities that have hit our communities the hardest. Through the pandemic, CHEER has continuously stepped up to the plate to address social determinants of health through a community-oriented effort – not just by asking what is needed, but delivering services that address each individual in a holistic manner. CHEER has continued to do this through the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Maryland, which the organization has identified as a major challenge in our communities.
Jenifer Alvarez, a Community Health Worker and Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment specialist said“[m]any people wanted to get the vaccine but they did not have the resources to do so.” The registration process has created inequities in our communities given their lack of language translations, and they often request information that many community members cannot provide, such as medical insurance cards, social security numbers and emails. CHEER has also identified the major internet access barriers that our community faces. CHEER has consistently seen this digital divide as schools have gone to remote learning.
CHEER volunteers and trained Community Health Workers came together during the organization’s food distribution – which is held at New Hampshire Estate Elementary School every Wednesday – to assist our community members to register for their vaccines that were being administered by Safeway at Clifton Park Baptist Church.
As families came to pick up healthy food, they were also registered for COVID-19 vaccines. Our Community Health Workers also addressed concerns that some families had about the safeness of the vaccines. CHEER continuously meets our community where they are. Through these efforts, more community members and their families came to register for a vaccine the next day at our office. Community members heard that their brother, sister, mother, father, grandmother, etc., registered for the vaccine so they wanted to as well!
Allison Gonzalez, a student at Silver Spring International continued by saying that “not only were they able to register themselves but their family members too.” In two days, CHEER registered over 140 community members and their families for a vaccine. CHEER has been a trusted organization and family member in the Long Branch community for over 10 years, and the organization hopes to continue to partner with local community and county efforts to bring more vaccines to our communities and reduce vaccine-access barriers by giving community members the opportunity to talk to CHEER, who are community members too. Jenifer Alvarez said “I was able to connect and create a relationship with community members in less than 15 minutes. It was touching because they were all so grateful.”
How can we best serve our communities? By creating systems and infrastructures that represent the diverse communities that are in Maryland. Only through that can we address inequities that have been systematically built against people of color.