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  • Writer's pictureIvette Guillermo-McGahee

How we faced one of our most challenging years at AIC-ConVivir

We were ready. Hammonton’s Mayor was scheduled to cut the ribbon, invitations were sent, and the press release about the Soft Opening of our new Con-Vivir Wellness Center was out. Then the Covid-19 pandemic started, and because of it, we could not open our new center this year.

It was time to make new plans. This pandemic was affecting our people in so many ways. Community support networks were getting weak as the social distance measures were put in place. There was a general feeling of loss and not so many available ways to cope with it. We needed to find creative ways to support our community.

In collaboration with the Hammonton Health Coalition (HHC), we decided to prioritize three lines of our work during the pandemic:

1. Inform community members about available resources in English and Spanish

From the beginning of the pandemic, we have been sharing information in English and Spanish about available resources for people affected by the pandemic using our websites and social media channels. We hosted webinars on workers’ rights, tenant’s rights, Covid-19 testing, mental health care, and job search support. We translated into Spanish communications from the Hammonton Coronavirus Task Force. Additionally, we co-organized a resource fair for essential workers and low-income families to bring information to affected communities.

2. Lead initiatives to reduce barriers to accessing food and other resources for our at-risk population, including Latinos and undocumented immigrants

Together we multiplied the available resources to the entire community. We partnered with ARH, Goya Foods and the Rancocas Creek Farm to donate food to families in need. We collected and distributed diapers, masks, hygiene products, formula, art & crafts supplies, toys, gingerbread houses, and Christmas trees. Last month we organized a Christmas Toy Drive and fundraised $1,500 to buy gift cards to help undocumented families.

3. Promote Mental Health Care and work on creative initiatives to keep community members connected

Since March, we have been offering a Free Counseling Helpline (609-878-2007) to anyone experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19. This service is available in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language. We organized several campaigns on social media and in-person events to create opportunities for our community to be connected and help each other. Among them, “Fiesta Hammonton” and “Let’s Build a Community Altar Together” were an excellent opportunity for community members to get together and show support for each other.

To learn more about AIC’s work in 2020 in collaboration with the HHC, please click here.

This year our Founder and CEO, Ivette Guillermo-McGahee, was invited to share our work and impact on communities in different webinars and conferences throughout the year. Last month she was a panelist at the RWJF Webinar: Health Equity in New Jersey During and After the Pandemic. She was also invited to present at the NJ Center for Non-Profits Annual Conference.

Even if things did not go as planned, 2020 was an important year for us. We were able to see how the Asset Based Community Development's approach, is remarkably successful in empowering people to take care of each other and focus on shared interests rather than differences. We were also enormously proud of how quickly we got organized to support our community members when they need us the most. Finally, it was a great year to get closer to our communities. Now more than ever, people in Hammonton, NJ, know they are part of our big Familia.

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