The BUILD Health Challenge® (BUILD) awardees are facing unprecedented challenges as they continue their work to improve community health across the United States. We are proud of the way BUILD communities are leveraging their strong relationships to respond to the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, all while adapting to a new normal and required safety protocols. We know, however, that this work isn’t sustainable without additional, targeted support.

Many BUILD awardees are taking the lead in showing up for their communities in unexpected ways—from adopting new strategies to communicate with community members and link them to critical services to figuring out how to connect virtually. At the national program level, this moment is also pushing us to think about how to best support BUILD awardees. They know what their communities need, and we have done our best to listen to their pain points, requests, and ideas for how we can support them. We are committed to providing continued support through responsive technical assistance, opportunities for peer networking, and the flexibility to adjust work plans and project goals to address evolving priorities.

At the same time, we recognize the importance of additional financial support to respond to unexpected needs. The technical assistance team has been working with current BUILD awardees to understand what unanticipated challenges have arisen for them as they respond to the crisis. Here are just a few examples of critical supports suggested by communities that immediate gap funding can help address:

  • Technology to encourage virtual connection
    • Technology software (Zoom, DocuSign)
    • Technology hardware (tablets and laptops, conference cameras for community partners or staff to participate in video calls)
    • Stipends for internet access for community partners or staff
    • Training for new software or hardware
  • Staff support
    • Protective gear (cloth face masks, hand sanitizer, surface cleaners) for staff or volunteers who continue to provide essential in-person services
    • Stipends for volunteers or interns (in response to potential hiring freezes, reduced capacity, or increased demand on services)
    • Mileage reimbursement for staff or volunteers who are traveling to deliver food or supplies to hard-to-reach populations.
  • Community engagement
    • Education on new COVID-related policies and programs, and their impact on community members (such as rent abatement, eviction protection, or new social service options)
    • Translation services for outreach materials
    • Subscription to communications services such as text message platforms to keep community members informed
  • New opportunities
    • Engagement with new city or state initiatives to address community health disparities

The 11 funders supporting BUILD’s third cohort also expressed their clear desire to get additional support to communities quickly, efficiently, and without requiring awardees to jump through complicated administrative hoops. They have approved a $90,000 Rapid Response Fund for BUILD communities. While it is a relatively modest amount of funding, we hope that it can offset some of the immediate, unexpected costs these partnerships are facing.

In this moment of unprecedented strain on our communities, it is incredibly important that we recognize the key role of public health leaders – our community advocates, hospital outreach programs, health departments, and social service providers – and support them as they come together to address some of our nation’s biggest issues. This includes recognizing both monetary and in-kind needs and identifying ways to address them.

However, we know that it will take much more than funding to truly emerge on the other side of this pandemic as a healthier, more equitable nation. While the work of BUILD awardees might look different in the short-term than what they’d originally planned, their long-term vision for bold, systemic change remains more important now than ever before. BUILD awardees are transforming the way we approach health in our communities so that the next time we face a major crisis – and there will be a next time – we are more resilient and equitable in our collective response. It’s vital that we continue to invest in these efforts. Every bit of support helps.

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Phebe Gibson is the Community Solution Manager at ChangeLab Solutions, the technical assistance provider for BUILD communities.

Melissa Monbouquette is the Deputy Director of the BUILD Health Challenge.