Our Pandemic Response

The coronavirus pandemic is unlike any challenge we’ve faced in recent history, revealing life-threatening inequities in communities across the US. 

The West / Southwest IAF deployed a relationship-centered response, shifting face-to-face meetings online to listen, research and strategically act, thus working to maintain the bonds of community and act decisively to respond to the needs of our families and neighbors.  

In each of the stories below (and in the 2020 report at right), leaders turned to their institutions to share stories of pain and loss, and launched heroic efforts to address aspects of the crises that the pandemic created.

For 45 years, the West/Southwest IAF has used the practices and habits of organizing to assert the common good in public life.  In the midst of addressing serious issues, our best strategies have emerged when we work together.  As a network, we continue to employ these same strategies, sometimes with new technological tools, in the coronavirus crisis. 


THE LATEST


[Excerpt]

"When COVID-19 came to California, the California organizations of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s largest and longest-standing network of local faith and community-based organizations, immediately sprang into action. They began organizing virtual meetings at the local level — hundreds of community members gathering every week primarily to share how they were doing....

In the summer of 2021, the California IAF organized an action. Six hundred leaders from over 100 parishes and community-based institutions gathered together virtually to call on the state to extend its eviction moratorium and reform its housing relief program....

The organizing work of the California IAF around housing has revealed two truths that should be held in tension with one another. First, government must do more to address the housing crisis. Public policy and investment are necessary to make housing more affordable.

But, second, government can often be disconnected with how things are working in communities. Effective government depends on the local expertise contained by those who are seeking a decent home. Solving the housing crisis in California hinges on the involvement of our parishes continuously working to ensure that government intervention matches the local needs of our people."

[In Photo: Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Diocese of San Jose.  Photo Credit: Tyler Osburn, CNS]

The Fight for Fair Housing in California, and How the Industrial Areas Foundation Helped ResidentsThe Dialog [pdf]


[Excerpt]

New Mexico – and the world – have just been through a natural disaster. Our children, families and schools are recovering slowly, but recovery will take time. Schools are just beginning to understand and evaluate what was lost during the pandemic, and are moving into recovery mode. Now is not the time to nickel-and-dime school budgets, forcing districts and charter schools to choose between laying off educators or cutting spending for the programs that will bring families back.

Albuquerque Interfaith’s 22 member churches, synagogue, schools and nonprofit organizations call on the Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to fully fund the salary increases approved for teachers and other educators.

We also call on them to allow two more transition years for schools and districts to find the students and families who left during the disaster. The pandemic hit overnight, but it is unfair to families and educators struggling with its impact to expect recovery to happen instantly and without extraordinary resources....

Oped: Governor, Lawmakers Need to Hold NM Schools HarmlessAlbuquerque Journal 


Last Sunday, One LA-IAF leaders from Clínica Msr. Oscar A. Romero and La Placita Church worked together to enroll over 115 low-income residents into healthcare programs including My Health LA and Med-Cal. Many of these undocumented seniors will now have access to healthcare services in Los Angeles County for the first time.

My Health LA is a program that was created with the support of One LA-IAF to allow low-income and undocumented immigrants to access health services in Los Angeles County.


After two weeks of intensive mobilizing by COPA (Communities Organized for relational Power in Action), leaders secured a nine-month, $1.59M extension of the VIDA community health worker (CHW) program in Monterey County.  The 4-1 vote by the County Board of Supervisors extended the VIDA program at current levels to the end of 2022, preventing a reduction from 48 to 18 CHWs by the end of the month.

Prior to the vote, COPA leaders met with their district supervisors, telling stories about the impact of VIDA and asking that they support the extension.

At an online event drawing over 100 leaders, two County Supervisors and allies including the Community Foundation of Monterey County and the Grape Growers & Vintners Association, leaders taught attendees about the effectiveness of the program.  

Fr. Lucas, a priest from King City, shared how he narrowly avoided infecting 200 parishioners at a weekend retreat because Maricela Acevedo, one of the CHWs, and a member of his parish persuaded him to test everyone prior.  When one of the women on the kitchen crew was found to be positive, Maricela went to her house to test other family members.

Another woman, who speaks only Mixteco (an indigenous language in Mexico) got her questions about the vaccines answered only because one of the CHWs, Claudia, speaks both Mixteco and Spanish.  Claudia not only helped the woman register for a vaccination appointment, she came to the house when called weeks later to administer rapid tests and help infected family members quarantine. 

COPA first proposed the VIDA program to the Monterey County Supervisors, who voted unanimously in December of 2020 to allocate $4.9M to hire 100 CHWs.  VIDA is administered by the Community Foundation of Monterey County.

[Photo Credit: Daniel Dreifuss, Monterey Weekly]

As It Heads to the Board of Supervisors to Request Additional Funds, Here's How the VIDA Project has Impacted People's LivesMonterey County Weekly [pdf]

Local Organizations Seek County Support to Extend VIDA Community Health Worker ProgramMonterey County Weekly [pdf]


In Des Moines, Iowa AMOS leaders organized a listening campaign in which they learned how the pandemic was wreaking havoc on the mental health of their children.  They then launched a research campaign with 85 local officials and health system leaders to undergird the creation a new child crisis support system in central Iowa that includes: the hiring of two mobile crisis responders trained to work with children and adolescents by the Broadlawns Medical Center; a new Polk County Children’s Crisis Mental Health System including a warm line, community stabilization team, youth stabilization center; and youth-trained mobile crisis team.  At a delegates assembly, leaders furthermore secured commitments from the Des Moines Police Chief to hire a mental health clinician within 911 dispatch.

Each piece required careful consideration and mobilization of community leadership to demonstrate political support.  For example, 100 AMOS leaders appeared at a Broadlawns Medical Center Board Meeting to support the hiring of two mobile crisis responders trained to work with children and adolescents.  During the hearing, one of the Trustees declared, "Wow, that's a lot of people."  

AMOS leaders followed up on this and other plants of the program, inspired by thousands of Polk County residents who shared stories based on their experiences, conducted research, and organized postcard campaigns and neighborhood walks over 4 years to make new children's crisis support system a reality.

New Mental Health Resources Coming for Children in Polk CountyDes Moines Register  [pdf]

Polk County Unveils New Mental Health Services for ChildrenKCCI Des Moines [pdf]


[Excerpt]

Mary Immaculate hosted a Dallas Area Interfaith meeting in late October where school, police and mental health officials committed to working with one another to better residents’ access to resources by placing a community health worker with the church and communicating better.

“We will not bury our loved ones anymore because of lack of access to mental health services,”

parishioner Natalia Valenzuela said at the meeting. “By getting the services we need and building unity, we will overcome.”

[Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber, Dallas Morning News]

This North Texas Church Lost Six Members to Suicide. Here’s What It’s Doing to Get Families HelpDallas Morning News [pdf]


[Excerpt]

Project ARRIBA has been quietly working with El Paso leaders to help hundreds of mostly Hispanic students from poor families through nursing school and drastically changing their lives since 1998. They’ve been at it so quietly they barely get noticed publicly anymore. But they have been busy.

The Hunt Institute of Global Competitiveness at the University of Texas at El Paso released a study last month that found for every dollar invested in Project ARRIBA, $28 is returned to the region. ARRIBA has added $893 million to El Paso’s economy in earnings by the program’s graduates since 1995, the report says.

The nonprofit recently received a $250,000 Bank of America grant for regional workforce development to address “a shortage of healthcare workers at a critical time.”  The El Paso region has long suffered an acute shortage of nurses, but since the novel coronavirus made its debut, the shortage has worsened. And hospitals in El Paso, like many others across America, are short on registered nurses by the hundreds.

....

El Paso businessman Woody Hunt endorsed the organization in the announcement, saying,

“Project ARRIBA has become a crucial community partner that is helping build the next generation of healthcare workers who come from and understand the unique needs of our region...."

ARRIBA sprang from a social justice organization that El Paso’s Catholic Diocese formed in 1985 known as the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization, or EPISO. It’s now called EPISO-Border Interfaith because churches of other denominations have joined.

[In photo: Roman Ortiz, Executive Director of ARRIBA.  Photo Credit: David Crowder, El Paso Inc.]

Report: ARRIBA Program That Helps Low-Income Students Through Nursing School Has $893 Million ImpactEl Paso Inc. [pdf]

 


[Excerpt]

The one-on-one approach to persuasion isn’t necessarily the most efficient, but it may be the most effective for the vaccine holdouts who have resisted every other large-scale push....

We know it can work because it already has.

One group out there doing the intensive, small-scale work to raise vaccination rates is the Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders Coalition, [an expansion project of TMO] based in Beaumont. Six team members told the editorial board last week that their community, like so many, is awash in vaccine conspiracies. Coordinator Mary Scott said the group has been going directly to apartment complexes with accurate vaccine information, and got approval from some Beaumont businesses to engage with customers about their vaccination drives. The grassroots team got 88 people vaccinated two weekends ago through churches and other centers....

Lamar University student [and TMO organizer] Ricky Mendoza said conversations with Hispanic community members revealed concerns about fertility and the vaccine, which numerous health experts have debunked. (And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a strong recommendation recently that pregnant women should get vaccinated.)

Mendoza said he’s finding that one-on-one conversations with people, in English and in Spanish, are slowly changing minds.

[Photo Credit: Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders]

Changing Minds on the Vaccine, One by OneHouston Chronicle [pdf]

Coalition Brings Vaccines to Beaumont Residents in At-Risk AreasBeaumont Enterprise [pdf]

Organizations Team Up in Beaumont to Spread Word About Importance of Getting Covid VaccineFOX News [pdf]

Putting Our Faith & Commitment to Democracy in ActionSoutheast Texas Faith & Community Leaders


In collaboration the Harris County Pubic Health Department and leaders from St. Leo the Great and Our Lady of Grace Catholic Churches, TMO brought over 790 vaccines to overlooked neighborhoods in unincorporated  and low-income areas of Harris County.  

In Aldine, within the county borders, this collaboration was particularly important for parishioners and neighbors of St. Leo the Great Catholic parish, where over 690 people received their first vaccine dose over the course of two events in August. 

In South Houston, leaders from Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church encouraged parishioners to get vaccinated through a combination of pulpit announcements, flyers and after-mass signups.  Said Sylvia Soria, church secretary of Our Lady of Grace:

Our parish membership is 99% Latino. Many of our families are working families that can not take time off during the week to get the vaccine across the other side of town.  We’re glad to work with TMO, GCLC, and Harris County Health Department to bring the COVID-19 vaccine on a Saturday to our community.

Jornada de Vacunación en Ciudad con Gran Población HispanaTelemundo [en español]


[Excerpt]

Dallas Area Interfaith has been working to help stop the spread of COVID-19 since the very beginning of the pandemic. The group, which has members from all religious groups, particularly saw a need for vaccinations in immigrant congregations.

“They are already fearful, they have a fear of the government, our approach is that you reach people in the institution that they trust most, that is closest to them and their family and those are our congregations,” lead organizer Josephine Lopez Paul said.

DAI surveyed the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 and mapped out where their congregations were located. They found that the nine areas with high rates of infection in Dallas were within their congregations.

“The most need in our membership has been among Roman Catholics, especially those who are undocumented,” Paul said.

DAI so far has had vaccination events at four area churches where more than a thousand people total were vaccinated....

Parishioners of Holy Trinity and DAI took the initiative to set up the vaccination event on June 17, partnering with Baylor Scott & White Health and DAI. Baylor and the members canvassed the area prior to the event to sign people up.

Although vaccines are easy to find in Dallas, [parochial vicar Father Mike] Walsh knew that some of his parishioners would feel more comfortable getting vaccinated at church.

“We just know that immigrants especially will get vaccinated at church even though it’s very easy to find a free vaccine,” Walsh said. “They trust church.”

Many Faith Leaders in North Texas Embracing their Role in Vaccine PushDallas Morning News [pdf]


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