COVID-19 exposed the scope and the magnitude of structural racism illuminating mental and physical health disparities, housing instability, food insecurities and the widening gap in education inequities all which paralyze socioeconomic advancement.
Our response to the challenges of the pandemic were manifold. We provided COVID-19 educational efforts on the basic virology, CDC recommended mitigation efforts including social distancing, hand washing, the value of effective mask wearing, while addressing misinformation, disinformation and validating the mistrust of the healthcare system stained by Tuskegee and Henrietta Lacks amongst other challenges in race and health.
We have an ongoing grassroots effort with providing masks to neighbors who are not social distancing but willing to wear them, educational outreach efforts and dissemination of hand sanitizer. We provide COVID-19 housing relief education, mental health tips and food pantry locations.
In January 2021, NWF was asked to host a start-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at our center on Clay street to serve the Del Paso Heights community who are disproportionately impacted with high rates of morbidity and mortality. In February 2021, in partnership with Dr. Carter and her team of volunteers, COVID-19 vaccination clinic opened to a small group of seniors, high risk neighbors and multigenerational families. Within the week, the clinic expanded to include the Twin Rivers Unified School District.
The COVID-19 education and vaccination helps to mitigate the spread, provides protection for our neighbors and district teachers and allows our students to safely return to in-person learning while concurrently returning to the process of decreasing the gap in educational disparities and reducing social isolation.
We hosted eight clinics at the NWF Center serving 2,166. When the volume increased, Twin Rivers Unified School District opened up the school parking lot to accommodate the exponential increase in individuals and families lined up to be vaccinated. Since moving to the Grant High School campus, NWF continues to support the clinic with educational outreach, workforce development and on-site clinic support. At Grant High School, over 3,500 people have been vaccinated. Neighborhood Wellness Foundation continues to support the clinic which serves our the neighborhood families every Saturday until June or beyond.
Unable to return to in-person school in the fall of 2020, NWF created a social distance space for our Twin River Unified School District students to address the social isolation and to improve academic engagement and achievement. We provide positive outdoor educational experiences to relieve trauma and cultivate new prospective.
We continue with our healing circles and conduct individual assessments to work with the student, their counselor, teachers and their parents to provide full support that would address the barriers to achievement and a pathway to improvement.
COVID has magnified the conditions and raised awareness to the health and socioeconomic inequities we face daily: poor health conditions, access to food, access to healthcare, efficient public transportation and healthy mental wellness tools to manage another crisis. Home for many is not safe to “shelter in place”, access meals nor allow for distance learning without access points. Confined to small, crowded living areas increases the anxiety of our students who are already surviving in chronic toxic stressful environments.
NWF will remain connected to our neighbors to provide food and other essentials, mental health support, delivery of accurate information, and other resource needs.
2 months into the pandemic, social isolation was coming to a head. With support from Sacramento County, California Mental Health Services Authority and partnerships with other women organizations, we restarted our weekly Sister to Sister Healing Circles, virtually and via COVID-19 CDC compliant in-person “Teen Talk” Healing Circles with our Innovator’s Academy students. We discussed individual and family challenges and the surge in neighborhood violence. We offered protective factors, coping skills and wellness tips. We engaged in various forms of mental wellness activities such as quilting, journaling, praise dancing and spoken word. Social distancing and distance learning necessary to help mitigate the spread of the virus, resulted in isolation, mental anguish, a massive divide in the educational disparities and a surge in domestic and neighborhood violence. Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center provided crises support for two major incidents which resulted in the stability of a teen girl and the mother and child who survived the park shooting as well as the domestic abuse of a teenager.
We provide app transportation for our families, women and teens to safely pick up medication and other essentials and for our teens to avoid areas identified as danger zones during the surge in neighborhood violence.
In addition to the having the highest cases of COVID-19 in Sacramento County per capita, two staff and a few program participants and their family members were hospitalized secondary to COVID-19 and some lost family members to the disease. Our neighborhood families also experienced a surge in violence that included shooting of one of our program mothers, her daughter and resulted in the death of her nine year old Niece at a park in Del Paso Heights. She remained isolated in a hotel room following hospital discharge and we worked diligently to help with housing stability, food and counseling to help lower her level of toxic stress.
Our youth participants and staff experienced shooting at the Arden Fair Mall on Black Friday and adjustments were made to the program to address the mental health challenges they all were experiencing.
NWF closed down our center out of abundance of caution before the Governor’s mandate from our acute awareness of the health disparities endemic in our Del Paso Heights and surrounding neighborhoods. It was paramount to protect them from exposure to COVID-19.
With many partners, including Sacramento Community Region Foundation (Disaster Relief Fund), Raleys, Grocery Outlet, CCM D2 Warren’s office, NWF continued to support our neighborhood families with food, toilet paper, disinfectant and masks. With a grassroots approach, NWF mobilized our staff and many community leaders to identify and deliver boxes to the isolated seniors and multigenerational families in greatest need including our program participants. Other partnerships resulted in a delivery of 500 Trifecta organic frozen meals and the development of a NWF link on “Just Serve” and “Hands on Sacramento” websites that resulted in many donations of food and other essentials that were delivered to neighborhood families.
NWF received hundreds of mask donations, we purchased masks made by neighbors to provide financial support. We designed a Sister to Sister face mask and delivered 200 masks to Health First/Black Mother’s United and the Kenya Program for their teen mothers. In addition, we provided a virtual educational session on COVID-19 where they learned how to help mitigate the spread and protect themselves and their newborn babies.