It has been nearly a year since the coronavirus pandemic first hit and changed life for us all. Studies show that communities of color have been hit particularly hard by this health crisis. 

Each week, the city of Holyoke is consistently listed as a high-risk community on the Massachusetts COVID-19 map. Nayroby Rosa-Soriano, Director of Community Engagement and Resident Services at OneHolyoke CDC, spoke with Zydalis Bauer about a new COVID-19 community grant the organization recently received. The grant funds will be used to provide education and resources to Holyoke residents to reduce the spread of COVID-19 cases in the Paper City. 

Read the transcript

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: It has been nearly a year since the coronavirus pandemic first hit and changed life for us all. And studies have shown that communities of color have been hit particularly hard by this health crisis. Each week, the city of Holyoke is consistently listed as a high-risk community, according to the state’s COVID-19 map.

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano, Director of Community Engagement and Resident Services at OneHolyoke CDC, spoke with me about a new grant that the organization recently received to help provide education and resources to Holyoke residents to reduce the spread and rise of COVID-19 cases in the city.

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano, OneHolyoke CDC: Going back from the beginning and up until now, the changes in a lot of community events, in decreasing a lot of the community supports that are around for residents to be able to have some type of an outlet. I mean, that has been a huge effect, I know for our residents, especially in our elderly building, not being able to have events in our community room.

You know, they’ve been isolated. They’re feeling a little bit of depression and just feeling really down. And then for those families have been affected personally, like, you know, I’ve had deaths in my family for COVID, and I know a lot of our residents in Holyoke that have had family members that they’ve lost to COVID.

So, I think it’s been a huge effect emotionally, a huge effect financially, you know some families that have lost their income, lost their jobs. I know in the very beginning I helped a lot of residents do unemployment claims. And at the beginning, I mean, trying to get a hold of unemployment was difficult.

So, I think that, you know, COVID and Holyoke has affected a lot of residents in so many different ways. Financially, emotionally and just really and just in the physical aspect as well, you know, trying to do things that they no longer, you know, that they no longer can do.

Zydalis Bauer: And in order to address some of these issues that are affecting the residents in Holyoke, OneHolyoke recently received a COVID-19 community grant. What is this grant? What’s the goal of it?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano: Well, the grant is awarded through the Department of Public Health and Health Resources in Action. And the goal of this grant is to be able to promote and provide education and outreach to families in high, disproportionate-rated COVID diagnoses.

And so, we’re trying to make sure that all of our families within the community, especially the Latinx and Black communities, to have resources and information that they need to be able to understand COVID. Know how to be safe around this situation and, and really just try to get out as much information into the community as possible.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, there have been a number of national reports with data showing that these minority communities are being particularly affected by COVID.

Working in Holyoke with the residents as closely as you do, why do you think some of those reasons are for this disproportionate cases?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano: Some of the reasons are large families. You know, the fact that Holyoke does have lots of buildings and lots of congregated areas within those building.

And so, lots of multifamily leads within apartments, you have grandparents, children, grandchildren, all living together. And so, some children that might have COVID and not really have any symptoms, but then their grandparents are living with them and they’re affected. So, I think that is something that could probably be related to it.

I think also just really having a community where people are used to congregating together in different events and doing things in the household. I think culturally in the Latino family, you know, we are used to — I know that for myself, we’re used to coming together for different activities and different things, and not being able to do that is a little different. And so I think that increases that rate of exposure.

Zydalis Bauer: What type of work is this grant going to allow OneHolyoke to do in the community?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano, OneHolyoke CDC: So, a lot of the work that we are planning to do is going to be a good social media and media outlet. It’s putting out key messages.

You know, the five key messages.It’s wearing a mask. It’s washing your hands consistently. It’s you know, if you’re feeling that you’re sick and you have some symptoms, getting tested; it’s staying home while you have some symptoms.

It’s those five key messages that we’re going to promote using a lot of the funding and we’re going to get the information out there in any avenue that we can. In radio stations, in local supermarkets, kind of like some of the work that OneHolyoke did with the census.

Zydalis Bauer: Holyoke has a large Latino population. Will there be ways for this community to get information in their native languages?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano: Yes, absolutely. Most of or hopefully all of everything that we’re going to be promoting will be in English and Spanish.

We’re going to be doing some events via Zoom, and that has an interpretation application that can be added. So, folks would be able, in any language, to tune in and have that information available in their in their native language.

But a lot of the information that we’re going to be sharing, whether it’s fliers, whether it’s information, it’s going to be in English and Spanish.

Zydalis Bauer: Do you see, working with the residents in the community, have you seen a need for this information in their language? Is there, is this something new that they haven’t really had access to before?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano: I think that there’s a lot of information out there in different languages. And I think that as it applies specifically to Holyoke, I mean, we have other organizations that have been promoting testing sites in English and Spanish, that have been promoting just where, you know, where they could get potential protective equipment.

We have different associations that share or give out and face masks and stuff. And those fliers and that information is really displayed or shared in English and Spanish. I think that doing more of it would obviously benefit the community.

But definitely I think that we are doing, in Holyoke especially because of the population being so largely Latinos, that definitely it is something that is shared in English and Spanish.

Zydalis Bauer: Beyond just getting sick and worrying about those issues with COVID, COVID has taken a toll on mental health and businesses on a number of things.

Are there any other ways that you’re going to support the community during this time through this grant, beyond the mask wearing, hand washing, those types of things?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano, OneHolyoke CDC: I mean, we are going to be distributing things or supplies that we might need. We’re going to be distributing them. So we’re going to get actual equipment in the hand of families, if they need it.

We will continue to provide information and resources around what’s available for families that are with limited income or that their income has changed.

And so, we will be doing a lot of that as well. I know that for our tenants and for OneHolyoke, we have shared in our website and in our social media just the eviction information. And if they were to be approached around eviction, what their rights are.

And our Executive Director, Michael Moriarity, has shared that information so families can become aware of what their rights are and how they can protect themselves from eviction and things like that.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, for you personally, what would you love to see the outcome of this grant be?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano, OneHolyoke CDC: I mean, my goal would be to reduce the COVID rate. Right now, we’re in the red in the city. And in just trying to really have as many families, you know, promoting safe usage and not trying not to congregate, trying to stay within the household families.

I think I’d like to see Holyoke get out of the red. I’d like to see that we are, you know, that our numbers are decreasing, that people are maintaining that safe distance, that people are wearing their mask to reduce the risk of COVID, you know, diagnosis and all of that.

Zydalis Bauer: This time has been challenging for all of us in many different ways.  How does it feel for you to be part of this work, this community work that you’re doing?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano: I mean, for me, it’s inspiring. It’s rewarding. It’s how can I get information out to my community?

The fact that we have a team supporting us, believing in what we do for community engagement, believing in that, we have we’re out there, we’re in the community.

I mean, we did a lot of work with census. And so now it’s COVID. And it’s like, what else can we get involved with? How else can we share information to families to reduce risk and and to increase education and increase access?

Whatever OneHolyoke can do to be able to meet those needs, that’s what we’re there for. So, I think that for me, it feels so rewarding to be a part of an organization and to receive certain grants that can really make an impact directly to families that either we serve, because they are our tenants or they live in our apartment buildings, or that live in the area where we are.

We’re in Holyoke. And so to be able to impact families right within our city, I mean, that makes it very, very inspiring and very rewarding for me.

Zydalis Bauer: What should residents of Holyoke be on the lookout for, for this campaign?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano: We have created a new logo for this campaign where it’s Holyoke: Stay safe. So, you’ll be seeing that badge in our social media. You’ll see it on our website. We also are going to be creating a link to our website, a new kind of direction page that will have a lot of the resources and things that we’re sharing on there.

You’ll see us in the different outreach events that we will be doing. You’ll see us being able to provide some supplies, and some of the information with this new logo. So, look for that. Once you see those that logo, you know, that that’s part of this grant and trying to get that information out there and share it! Share with your family members and share it with other community organizations, so that we all have one place to know where a lot of this information for Holyoke is going to be.

Zydalis Bauer: And what are some of the resources that will be available to community members through this grant?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano: Some of the resources that we are looking into having are: face mask and gloves and face shields and goggles and cleaning and disinfecting things.

And just really trying to keep our city and our residents with as much supplies as possible to be able to be safe around each other, whether it’s their own household or whether if it’s at work or in their buildings. And so, just really being able to get as many things to the residents of Holyoke as possible.

Zydalis Bauer: And are these resources free for residents of Holyoke and are all residents — do all residents have access to the resources?

Nayroby Rosa-Soriano: Yes. All the all the resources will be free, and all the information will be free. And all residents have access to it through our website, through our social media pages. They can follow links to our website, which will tell them exactly where we’ll be or what we’re doing and what’s next for this information surge that we’re trying to get to everyone.