As employees, neighbors, and family members, we -the staff of PEACE, Inc.- have committed ourselves to helping the most vulnerable in our community. We have worked especially hard the past 3 months. Our paths forward haven’t been clear or easy. The effects of the Pandemic have left us unsettled. So too has Police brutality. Increases in gun and domestic violence. The denial of equal rights to the law and of basic dignity based upon race, gender, and class. All have been experienced nationally and locally. It has left us wounded and divided. We search for answers that we collectively lack.
Author James Baldwin tells us that “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We agree. Below, please find PEACE Inc.’s Community Engagement Team’s first attempt to “make sense” of what we are experiencing, a COVID-19 Community Needs Chronicle and Assessment. We blended national, state, and local documents. We interviewed community leaders and agency staff. We organized and analyzed the agency’s program notes. And most importantly, we listened and responded to our clients.
The key takeaway: “the problems experienced by those in poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic are not new per se. Rather, COVID-19 has exacerbated and intensified long-standing structural insecurities and inequalities.” It’s supported by the disproportionate number of COVID-19 hospitalizations among people of color, especially “Black or African American” populations. In the report, we uncover how those city neighborhoods with the highest number of COVID-19 cases are also those neighborhoods that historically have been underserved and impoverished. Nearly 40% of surveyed clients lack childcare. 3 out of 4 surveyed clients do not possess full-time employment at this time.
PEACE, Inc. Executive Director Joe O’Hara expanded on the morally unacceptable state of our community, stating that “The report validates what everyone has long-known about the structural inequalities in this community, including that the elevated I-81 overpass is a metaphor for racism. It needs to be torn down.” The agency’s mission is ever clear. In response, the agency will continue to develop community partnerships, to champion spaces wherein impoverished peoples can raise their voice, and to deepen a host of basic services that meet the needs of the moment. These will include Nutrition, Trauma-informed youth and family development programs, Economic and Employment Supports, Home Safety (Both physical and emotional for our families), Equity, and Access (To information, To safety net supports, To justice). We’ll also pursue activities that benefit staff and client alike, such as trainings, college/tuition assistance, as well as “model” facilities that meet the rigorous cleaning and safety standards required during the pandemic.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.” We hope that the aforementioned ideas and actions can help us answer Martin Luther King’s famous call. Over the coming months, the community engagement department will be sharing additional information to encourage dialogue, innovation, and healing. Both agency and community must grow through hard and critical conversations. Reach out to us today at firstname.lastname@example.org. Through collective effort, we can spark the “light” of community action in Central New York and live up to its vision of Equity. Respect. Commitment. Excellence. Hope. Community. Caring. Innovation. Opportunity.