Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township's robust neighborhood watches and associations are developing new ways to stay in touch with their communities and respond to changing needs while observing social distancing protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.
New West Willow Neighborhood Association (NWWNA) president JoAnn McCollum has been making phone calls and posting notes on NextDoor and Facebook to check up on West Willow neighborhood residents.
"I'm doing my best to reach out during this craziness," McCollum says.
In addition to phone calls and social media postings, NWWNA is serving as a clearinghouse for household goods that Washtenaw County distributed to residents of the 48197 and 48198 ZIP codes, the areas of the county hardest hit by COVID-19.
McCollumn says that in some neighborhoods, Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper is serving as the point of contact. But in the West Willow neighborhood, NWWNA is distributing goods like cleaning supplies, gloves, toilet paper, and possibly masks in the near future. McCollum requested enough goods for 100 households.
NWWNA put the seasonal opening of its tool lending library on hold, but it is undertaking other programs to help the neighborhood, including allowing Ypsilanti Community Schools to use the association's resource center as a food distribution site every Tuesday.
Additionally, NWWNA members, with help from Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley, are converting the Little Free Library in front of the resource center into a little free food pantry. A West Willow resident has also applied for a $20,000 United Way of Washtenaw County grant, with the backing of NWWNA and Ann Arbor's Journey of Faith Christian Church, to help the community with COVID-19-related needs.
Township officials conducted an online Zoom meeting April 16 to meet with a few neighborhood association leaders and Derrick Jackson, director of community engagement for the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.
Robin Castle-Hine, quality assurance specialist with the township's human resources department, called it a "trial run" to see how virtual neighborhood association meetings might work. The township is organizing neighborhood associations into groups of three or four for combined videoconference meetings since not all those who normally attend the meetings will be interested or able to join virtually.
Castle-Hine says township and sheriff's office staff are posting notices on social media and also deciding how to get the word out to those who might not have reliable computer access, whether that's through a bulk mailing or sending home flyers at food distribution sites around the township. Updated information about these meetings will also be posted to the township's website soon, she says.
Maurice Stovall Sr., chair of the Gault Village Neighborhood Association, says he plans to make and post a video to the group's Facebook page sometime in the next week to let residents know about the change to monthly meetings.
McCollum says neighborhood groups will have to adjust to "a different format and a different time" but that the meetings will still cover "basic neighborhood watch kinds of things."
"Some good things have happened from this [COVID-19 outbreak], and one of the things that's good is that neighborhood watch coordinators are trying to meet up and talk to one another online," McCollum says. "I've been wanting that for some time. This has just given us the opportunity to do that."
Castle-Hine says any residents with concerns about neighborhood association business during the COVID-19 outbreak can direct questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photos by Sarah Rigg.