When Members of Their Community Weren’t Getting Public Health Information, These Nonprofits Came Together To Change It

January 18, 2021
Members of RISE host a live video presentation in Spanish to share information on COVID-19 safety precautions with the Latino community of Grays Harbor.

When it’s a matter of public health, getting information out is critical.

So, when Spanish-speaking residents of Grays Harbor County weren’t receiving timely information about the Coronavirus pandemic, nonprofits in the area came together to do something about it.

In the early months of the pandemic, nonprofits serving the Latino community in Grays Harbor found themselves working overtime to provide needed services and support.

“Probably the scariest thing was that there wasn’t a lot of information for the community members,” Astrid Aveledo, executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Grays Harbor & Pacific Counties (DRC) said. “A lot of us found ourselves in the role of having to be the provider of that information.”

Aveledo began hosting weekly Facebook Live videos through the DRC to answer questions and disseminate information coming from public health. After seeing the videos, a staff member from Grays Harbor Public Health connected Aveledo with other like-minded organizations and a partnership was born. Aveledo began meeting with the department and other nonprofit partners regularly to support information equity in the community.

“At the very beginning, it was really just sharing information [and] identifying needs,” Aveledo said. “I remember one of the first calls we were doing was making suggestions to the website about how those things should change.”

The partnership validated the need for a broader, formal coalition in the county to ensure that information was getting to all Spanish-speaking residents. Latino-identifying staff members from Grays Harbor Public Health, Catholic Community Services, Grays Harbor Community College TRIO, Molina Healthcare, and Firelands Workers United joined the DRC to form RISE – Red de Inclusion Solidaridad y Empoderamiento.

RISE relies heavily on collaboration. Their weekly meetings focus on how they can build on the work each of their organizations is already doing.

“We were noticing attitudes around the mask, and so I remember very early on being like, ‘Can we develop a video in Spanish around mask wearing?’” Aveledo said. “So, we would share resources that we had come across on that topic [with each other] and share it on each of our individual platforms.”

Through the coalition, events hosted by the individual nonprofits become more robust and beneficial to the community. When Catholic Community Services hosted a food distribution event in the fall, the coalition knew well enough in advance to bring in a bilingual Census worker to join the event and help attendees complete the Census.

They’re also able to reach more members of the community than they would be able to on their own. Some agencies have more direct contact with clients such as the Catholic Community Services. Others are more effective at reaching members via online platforms. Aveledo gives her own personal number out through the DRC so people can reach her directly when they need assistance.

“What we found is that we are all serving the Latino community, but we’re all connected to different parts of it,” Aveledo said.

While they may not reach everyone, each nonprofit has built something critical through their work: trust. By coming together as a unified group, that trust has extended out.

Having the trust of the community will be essential as the vaccine rollout continues across the state. Latinos represent 10 percent of the population in Grays Harbor, Aveledo shared. But in October, the Latino community accounted for 40 percent of COVID-19 cases.

“I would hope that decision makers would be actively consulting us,” Aveledo said. “[And] that [they] would understand RISE is a resource.”

RISE recently established a website and a Facebook page to get information out online as well as in-person through their respective organizations. Their first post was a video containing information on COVID-19 safety precautions. They’ve had good engagement, but Aveledo said that there’s still a lot of work to do when it comes to information equity.

For nonprofits wanting to better engage with their communities, Aveledo recommends starting by noticing how and why people are coming to you already.

“Oftentimes, we approach it from the other way around,” she said. “We have a concept and then we execute it without thinking about what they really want from us.”

Partnerships are key, she added. But make sure you partner with an agency that has a good track record and that your organization can learn from. If you do choose to partner, approach the partnership with a spirit of collaboration and involve local formal and informal community leaders in that work.

“If you’re doing active listening and are intentional about being collaborative, the rest will come naturally,” Aveledo said.

The Grays Harbor RISE coalition was born out of a desire from agencies serving Spanish speaking and Latinx clients to better serve and communicate with the growing Latino community in Grays Harbor County. Their team is composed of members from each of their member agencies, who identify and are strongly rooted in their Latino heritage.

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