Chicagoland Community Groups Focus on Neighborhoods to Increase Vaccination

Strategies stress local connections, 'vax plus one' events

Posted on Oct 25, 2021

Something Good in Englewood staff prepare for COVID education and testing event
Outreach workers from Something Good in Englewood, a Chicago-based community organization, prepare for a COVID-19 education and testing event. Photo courtesy: Something Good in Englewood

While he was still a high school student, Devonta Boston founded TGI Movement hoping to create a safe space on the southwest side of town where kids could relax and connect with each other.  Now, Boston’s community-based organization has quickly pivoted to pandemic response, using spaces to help youth better understand COVID-19 and the importance of vaccination.  

 “A lot of youth won’t come out just to get vaccinated,” said Boston. “So, we try to make the vaccine a ‘plus one’ or add on to big things that draw out the youth.” From open mic nights to toy drives and fashion shows, TGI Movement hopes to make vaccination more alluring to youth, sending the message that getting the shot can be part of a larger, more compelling activity.  

TGI Movement is one of 60 Vaccine Community Mobilization grantees funded by the Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership, an organization staffed and managed by PIH-US, that brings together public health experts, government officials, community groups, and philanthropists to focus on equitable vaccine uptake and closing stark health equity gaps that have become more apparent during the pandemic. The latest round of grants aim to expand the range of organizations involved in vaccine outreach; several of these groups recently gathered virtually to discuss their work, and the work ahead.  

With winter on the horizon and vaccination rates hovering around 50% in Chicago's Black and Latinx populations, the Vaccine Partnership took a unique approach to awarding grants.

Funds went to local organizations with a track record of impact in their communities, but not necessarily in the public health sphere; groups include food pantries, youth boxing programs, affordable housing providers and violence prevention organizations.  

“Each of these organizations has gained deep trust within their communities,” said Anand Balasubrahmanyan with the Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership. “Their outreach workers are skilled at connecting and communicating with neighbors because of years of on-the-ground work.”  

GAP Community Center, another grant recipient, hosted a Health and Resource Fair at Cragin Park recently that included a job fair, free children’s clothing, food, and entertainment – as well as a chance to get vaccinated. CEO Angelina Zayas said she wanted to offer families a little fun, and a needed break from the health crisis.  “With everything going on, we wanted to give [families] a sign of hope, that this too will pass,” she said. 

Addressing a Broad Range of Needs

For many people of color on the South and West sides, COVID-19 is just one of many pressing concerns they live with daily; residents struggle to gain reliable access to nutritious food, jobs and housing. That’s why grantees say they are working to attract community members to events that serve a broad range of needs and include vaccination as another free resource. 

As part of the grant process, each organization is offered flexibility to design the type of outreach plan that will best meet the needs of their community. For example, Something Good in Englewood, another grantee, saw that access to food was one of the biggest challenges in the community. They responded by using grant funds to host drive-through food pantries where they also provided COVID-19 safety resources. Their staff also knew how important personal connections are for establishing trust, so they used grant funds to hire community members as outreach workers. 

 “In Englewood we have some of the highest rates of positive COVID tests and lowest rates of vaccination,” said Justin Morgan, Director of Operations for Something Good in Englewood. “We’re putting money in the pockets of the young people in our programs by training them to do vaccine canvassing. Because we have people of the community speaking to the community, it kind of has trust already built in. They talk the talk and walk the walk.” 


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