Winston-Salem nonprofits partner to build trust and decrease health disparities
Winston-Salem endures some of the most detrimental economic and health disparities in the nation. In the East Ward alone, where the Innovation Quarter sits, almost one-third of residents live below the poverty line—compared to 17.6% in Forsyth County—and nearly one-fourth are uninsured.
On top of these disparities, due to a historically rooted mistrust of the medical system, vaccine hesitancy, and often, a lack of access, many Black Americans, who the virus has disproportionately impacted, are being vaccinated at rates lower than white Americans.
The COVID-19 Pivot: A Nonprofit Adjusts Its Mission
Local nonprofit organization Greater Gift, housed in Bailey Power Plant, facilitates vaccinations and meal donations to children worldwide as a way to give back and thank the volunteers and professionals who participate in clinical trials. The organization was founded in 2010 by Jennifer Byrne, a local clinical research businesswoman and Innovation Quarter tenant.
While Greater Gift has a global reach within the clinical research industry, the nonprofit knew it must use its expertise to make a local impact when the pandemic hit.
Now, it is also dedicated to educating disadvantaged communities of color on COVID-19 safety and the role clinical research plays in citizens’ lives.
According to executive director Lilly Bunch, Greater Gift has focused “on patient engagement and celebration” since its founding, and “now it aims to build on to that success and make a real impact on the enrollment and engagement of underrepresented groups in research.”
A Partnership to Build Trust
To better connect with the community, Greater Gift called upon an Innovation Quarter neighbor and a trusted health disparity advocate within Black and Latinx local communities: the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity.
Founded in 2002 and based at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, MACHE’s programming centers around promoting health equity and diversity in research areas ranging from diabetes to mental health. It is a dynamic partner for engaging communities of color.
MACHE works with the COVID-19 Community Research Partnership, a research study funded by the NC State legislature and the CDC, to encourage people to track their daily symptoms and participate in at-home COVID-19 testing. MACHE disseminates COVID-19 education and resources to groups that are hard to reach through traditional communications channels by using their combined years of knowledge on how local communities best receive information.
MACHE held numerous events to educate residents about the spread of COVID-19, including a town hall event where Grammy award-winning singer Anthony Hamilton spoke and urged people of color to get vaccinated.
Greater Gift knew it needed to leverage any cultural inroads to get more people of color involved in clinical research:
“We are hopefully building trust in clinical research; we want residents of the community to understand how clinical research works and what the purpose is. We want to build bridges with the Black and Latinx communities and not assume that they are going to automatically be on board with getting vaccinated,” says Bunch.
COVID-19 Community Leadership Council
With infection numbers rising throughout 2020, both organizations knew there was more work to be done. MACHE developed a council to join local community organizations into a collective to expand their efforts.
In the summer of 2020, the partnership united with local nonprofits including, among others, HUSTLE W-S, Alpha Pi Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, The Twenty, The Hispanic League and Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina to form the COVID-19 Community Leadership Council. The council sought to create a space for community stakeholders, especially within Black and Latinx communities, to collectively strategize how to engage and educate community members about COVID-19 precautions and vaccines.
Dr. Allison Mathews, a former Associate Director of Integrating Special Populations for MACHE, recently named Executive Director of the Gilead COMPASS Faith Coordinating Center within the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University, was instrumental in organizing this coloration and its events as well. She emphasizes “Together, we are providing information so people can make educated and informed decisions about receiving the vaccine.”
Each organization is an influencer in its respective community, and together they are the perfect couriers of this message. Burch reflects:
“These organizations are crucial to our work because they serve as a trusted resource in their communities. Each of them provides information to citizens they interact with, so they can make educated and informed decisions on receiving the vaccine.”
For iQ community member HUSTLE Winston-Salem, sharing messages with the community is not new. HUSTLE has done this throughout the pandemic through eNewsletters. The nonprofit, founded by Black entrepreneurs, noticed a divide between the resources available to the Black community of East Winston-Salem and the rest of the city. Its popular eNewsletter features resources and events that shed light on recent and upcoming community happenings.
“We want to go to the community instead of expecting them to come to us,” notes Magalie Yacinthe, one of HUSTLE’s co-founders and its interim director. With a subscriber base in the thousands, the newsletter became a critical conduit of communication for the partnership’s programming—as a member of the Council.
Another organization that has played a significant role in this partnership is Winston-Salem’s Alpha Phi Alpha chapter. Alpha Phi Alpha is the oldest fraternity for Black male college students. It is committed to improving the community in various ways, including finding solutions for health and social issues through building trust. The fraternity has reached community members during the pandemic by meeting basic needs, such as providing masks, hand sanitizer and COVID-19 education.
Allan Younger, Director of the Forsyth Tech Small Business Center, another iQ partner, is the chairman for local chapter’s Communications Committee and a HUSTLE board member. He shares, “We got involved because it was the right thing to do. We have a voice in the community, and we wanted to share our voice to educate and build trust with residents.”
A Greater Gift to the Council
To honor the community partners that have worked tirelessly to reach underrepresented communities, Greater Gift awarded $2,000 grants to the five aforementioned ally organizations for their work to dispel misinformation around the virus’s spread within marginalized populations.
The good work continues as the nation strives to vaccinate more people and as citizens and organizations alike begin to address other disparities in these communities collectively. These fostered relationships will continue during the COVID-19 pandemic and far beyond as these partners are eager to continue the work it has begun.
Yacinthe reflects, “One of the greatest things that has come out of this, and I hope it continues, is the collaboration. This partnership has highlighted how healthcare organizations and community organizations can, and should, work together for the betterment of the people in communities, especially those that are marginalized.”
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