Trust Update: Being Responsive and Advancing Equity During Covid-19

As the Covid-19 pandemic and social unrest remain at the forefront of our state and nation, the Trust continues to respond to basic needs on the ground, such as food, housing, and child care, while simultaneously advancing equity and systems change.

We asked our program officers to reflect on our grantmaking since the pandemic first hit, and share what they’ve learned from communities across the state.

Q: How are we working with grantees to meet immediate needs while advancing equity and systems change, during these challenging times?

Working for equity as an outcome.

“We keep a few things in mind: We know that equity is an outcome, not just a process. First, we look at data—what the disparities actually are, who has access to testing, treatment, health insurance, and who does not. Next, we support community empowerment and mobilization by listening to local voices, so folks have the autonomy to address their needs. Then we work to get funding to organizations who can meet local needs and make demands on the system, so the system better meets people’s needs in equitable ways.” – Adam Linker, Director of Programs

Restructuring projects so communities lead.

“We are flipping the model to build community and raise their voices. For example, for a project to design an effective approach to health service delivery in Rockingham County, we recently funded four separate entities: one large health system, and three grassroots organizations that have deep connections with people of color and with low incomes. Previously we might have funded the health system to connect with communities, but we’ve learned that working directly with all of them can lead to greater impact. The community can test ideas, determine what they need and how they want it delivered, which in turn will change the system.”  – Jason Baisden, Senior Program Officer, Health Improvement

Adjusting funding to be responsive, while impacting the system.

“We converted funding for some of our existing grantees to general operating support. For example, our investment with the Family, Friend and Neighbor Care pilot (FFN) focused on building a strong education support system for home-based caregivers and was originally intended to support caregivers with in-home visiting. But, Covid-19 required a shift in how they interacted with people, so we’re now using that grant money to support things like virtual learning with videos from teachers reading to kids of different ages. We’re also addressing how to reduce the learning slide that typically happens in the summer, which is now exasperated by Covid-19. We’re doing what we need to do to support the community, providing immediate interventions, and changing how the early childhood education system works.” – Shenell McClurkin Thompson, Senior Program Officer, Local Impact in Forsyth County

Supporting data collection that activates policy change.

“We’re funding data collection and advocacy efforts to understand what is happening, especially to Black and Latinx communities in Eastern North Carolina, with COVID infections and the deployment of treatment and resources.  We’re trying to understand the disparities and link inequities in insurance coverage and COVID infections with policies and systems like the lack of Medicaid expansion and weak workplace protections for farmworkers and migrant workers in processing plants. We’re helping communities disseminate the data, so people can advocate for changing policies to address the gaps in Covid-19 safety protections, testing, and equipment.” – Adam Linker

Addressing immediate issues by investing in community empowerment and forming new partnerships.

“In McDowell County, we have made investments in community engagement and empowerment, specifically for communities of color. For example, West Marion Community Forum, Inc., and other community engagement groups, have been working with the Foothills Food Hub to deliver thousands of pounds of food a week to those losing their jobs and becoming food insecure overnight. Since this came at a time when local nonprofits had to cancel their in-person fundraising events, the flexible capacity support the Trust provided enabled the organization to deepen its relationship with Gateway Wellness Foundation who provided $50,000–$150,000 in food purchasing ability.” – Jason Baisden

Q: What are we learning?

How systems are broken, and how local networks can lead the way to fix them.

“Covid-19 is showing us how broken a lot of our social structures are. And how local networks on the ground are resilient and showing the way to build from the grassroots up. We’re learning how a community responds to crisis. This is providing an opportunity to rethink how our state systems are structured and how they should be rebuilt. We’re looking to local networks and grassroots communities to see the way forward.” – Adam Linker

How to have courageous conversations.

“We’re in a period of heightened social unrest, more so than any other time in my lifetime. As a new staff member at the Trust, it’s exciting to be part of an organization that’s not afraid to have courageous conversations and be in community to ask those questions. It’s an honor to be able to say to local organizations who are working for equity, “We see you, we value the work you’re doing, and want to make sure you’re whole.” There is true value in grassroots organizations, and when we support them, we give them a boost that they are being seen.” – Shenell McClurkin Thompson