Connecting with the community during COVID-19 means finding new ways to serve our neighborsThe Nonprofit Journal Project

I work for the Live6 Alliance, and we are the community development organization that works specifically along the McNichols corridor and the Livernois corridor in northwest Detroit. We work very closely with neighborhood organizations surrounding those two corridors--Fitzgerald, Bagley, Martin Park, and the University District. Last year, we opened up our stores and our community center that we call Neighborhood All Day, and we've been a place of community gathering for the past year. We host block clubs and free community association events.


And so when COVID first hit, we were watching pretty closely because we had an upcoming festival. There was so much misinformation surrounding the severity and how it spread. We decided pretty early on that we were going to close our doors, in advance of the governor's executive order, for the safety and security of our constituents which are mostly residents, a lot of which are over or in their 60s. So we decided that it would be best for us to limit our in-person programming.


And that's just taken a huge toll on the work that we do, given so much of our community planning and strategizing is contingent upon meeting people where they are and having face-to-face interaction and building trust. Before we had our community center we were operating out of coffee shops or meeting people on their porches, or in their businesses. And for a while, we couldn't do any of that. But as time progressed and I think people began feeling more accustomed to the precautions, we began meeting people outside of their business, or outside on residents' porches.


Since the pandemic, we’ve had to pivot our focus. For the month of May, we did a giving Tuesday series, where on the first Tuesday of the month, we are supporting and uplifting as many local businesses as possible, and so we sponsored lunch at Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles on Livernois. We did a sort of “feeding the frontline” with the fire station on Livernois that we've worked very closely with to ensure as many people as the fire department was able to receive free lunch.


The next Tuesday, we did small business care packages. So we gave out over 75 gallons of hand sanitizer and about 800 maps. We gave those to a lot of essential businesses that we don't normally work with, but we knew were open and really powering the neighborhood-- so like liquor store owners, grocery store owners, and the dollar stores. Normally we work with smaller entrepreneurial businesses that are getting up and running, but we found the need to connect with those businesses given the fact that they were the ones still open and operating.


And then the next week we did a laundromat takeover. We knew that money was tight for a lot of people and that a lot of people don't have washers and dryers, so everyone was still going to the laundromat within our area. So we just picked a time slot and purchased laundry for close to 50 customers. We're really interested in promoting and uplifting and supporting as many local businesses as possible, but also providing another essential service, especially given the virus, like having access to clean clothes clean, household sheets, comforters, things like that, it's just really important.


Normally we do a bunch of summer programs. Summer is sort of our time to shine. We really go all out for barbecues and events in Ella Fitzgerald Park. A lot of that won't be able to happen, but we're trying to figure out how to still, for example, do the fish fry that we normally do but have people just pick it up in their vehicles as opposed to getting out of their cars and congregating in the park and having the potential for that exposure.


We're really slow because our neighborhood has lost a number of people due to the virus and we know it's affecting African Americans disproportionately, especially if they're older and have underlying conditions, which we know that many of our neighbors and friends do. And so we can't go back to normal.

So we're really just trying to figure out how we can offer the same quality of connection and programming so that we’re able to continue to build relationships but not put anyone in danger or at risk.

Caitlin Murphy is the Civic Commons Coordinator for the Live6 Alliance in northwest Detroit. Stay tuned for her next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.
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