As my colleague Emily Yu noted in her end of year post, “Hindsight is 20/20.” As the flip of that statement would imply, we had no way of knowing at the start of this year what it would bring. At this time last year, I doubt any of our plans included all of what took place – a global COVID-19 pandemic, a racial justice movement, an economic downturn, and a U.S. election like no other.
However, the tinder that led to such an explosive year was well known to BUILD partners. They had been living the reality of injustice and how it impacts health, long before the issues were amplified to a devastating level in 2020. And perhaps more importantly, they had already committed to working together towards a more just, collaborative, and equitable vision, building relationships based in trust and shared goals.
While BUILD communities faced incredible challenges, they also came together to meet the needs of their communities in innovative and transformative ways. Their investment in cross-sector and community-driven partnerships supported responses that helped their communities throughout the unprecedented events of this year. Below, I’ve included ten examples of achievements that BUILD communities made over the last 12 months.
- They increased food access. In BUILD communities that had identified food justice and access as an existing issue for their residents, such as Gastonia, NC; Dallas, TX; and Marion County, SC, they immediately scaled their work to ensure that residents had access to healthy, fresh foods even as the economy tumbled and jobs disappeared.
- They advocated for and helped pass housing justice policies. In Vallejo, CA, as residents faced increased housing insecurity, the BUILD team came together to advocate for public health actions that would protect residents from eviction and homelessness.
- They fought for children facing new barriers to education. As schools across the country shut their doors, the Washington, DC, BUILD team spoke out about the equity issues exposed by the pivot to online education platforms – from unequal internet access to unhealthy physical environments – and the long-term impact on children they would have.
- They connected isolated seniors. As the most vulnerable demographic, senior communities have faced the strictest isolation requirements. In Reno, NV, partners shifted their connectedness programs to virtual platforms to ensure that residents could maintain the social interactions that support mental health.
- They launched forward-thinking ways of supporting residents in need. In Milwaukee, WI, the BUILD partners were inspired by mutual aid networks and are mobilizing new micro-grants, providing credit cards with emergency funding that allow residents the autonomy to address their needs.
- They leveraged technology to stay connected to their fellow community members. In a year which saw a dramatic increase in virtual connections, partners in Sunflower County, MS, and New Orleans, LA shifted their breastfeeding support classes for new and expecting mothers to virtual platforms – in some cases, even expanding their reach.
- They connected residents and health agencies to respond to COVID. BUILD partners benefit from existing relationships. In New Brunswick, NJ, community health workers connected residents to services, and informed not only the established partners about resident needs, but an extended network of agencies and social service partners who were able to fill in the gaps.
- They brought new partners and stakeholders to the table. In Vancouver, WA, the BUILD partnership continued to assess who was at the table – and who needed to be there. With new partners from Latinx-led advocacy organizations, they adapted their campaigns around Census engagement and COVID-19 support to include more residents.
- They received federal recognition and support for their innovation. Food production and access received unprecedented attention in 2020, due to COVID-related disruptions in the supply chain. The Camden, NJ, partnership’s focus on building the economy around urban farming received accolades, including an Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- They persistently moved the work forward. In Kerrville, TX, stakeholders from the residents to the mayor came together to rehabilitate the Doyle Community Center, with a vision of a central hub where residents can access everything from COVID testing to community gardens to car seat safety courses. New services and new conversations across agencies and residents ensure that the Center is responsive to community needs.
We are proud to say that BUILD communities have always driven forward the conversation around social determinants of health and equity, conversations that have been taken on renewed urgency against the backdrop of a turbulent year. Looking forward, we continue to listen and learn from this work – all in the hopes of continued resilience, a more peaceful 2021, and a more just future for communities across the country.