Dearborn's ACCESS supports vulnerable members of community through pandemic

As a nonprofit offering a comprehensive slate of social, economic, health, and educational services in Metro Detroit, ACCESS did some heavy lifting to adapt its operations to the "new normal" of COVID-19. But over the past four months, the Dearborn-based organization has simultaneously worked to rapidly respond to numerous new community needs that have emerged as a result of the pandemic.


ACCESS' first big COVID-related change was moving its entire staff of nearly 500 to work from home in March. Staff continued to offer services to clients through virtual platforms.


"It was really challenging because you have so many moving parts in the organization," says Hassan Jaber, ACCESS' president, and CEO.


The organization moved quickly, getting the entire staff set up for remote work in the space of just over a week. But then, Jaber says, ACCESS "faced some emerging needs as a result of the pandemic, and sometimes magnified needs."


"This crisis really exposed inequity in the community," he says.


Providing COVID-19 testing was one of the most crucial and immediate needs that the nonprofit filled. In partnership with Wayne State University and Ford Motor Company, ACCESS tested over 15,800 people for the virus, initially focusing its efforts on health care workers and then expanding to test nursing home residents and other vulnerable populations. It also served over 47,000 prepared meals to schoolkids in Dearborn and Detroit, filling the need for school lunches.


ACCESS also played a major role in helping to support struggling small businesses in the Dearborn area. It obtained funding from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan to provide small grants to business owners in need.


"In this Arab-American community, a majority are small business people," Jaber says. "But they don't have a very established relationship with banks or lenders, and they really missed opportunities to apply for any help."


In addition to those emerging needs, Jaber says ACCESS has also seen a "tremendous spike" in demand for many of its existing services. Since the pandemic hit, the nonprofit has provided over 14,500 telemedicine services, encompassing medical clinic, therapy, psychiatric, and case management services. It's also assisted nearly 20,000 individuals in applying for unemployment.


Hassan Jaber. Courtesy photo."We are seeing a large uptick in substance abuse," Jaber says. "We've seen a large uptick in domestic violence. We really are seeing almost double or triple in some areas."


ACCESS is now moving staff back into some of its facilities to provide services like in-person doctor visits and unemployment assistance by appointment. Jaber says that's a slow process though, as the organization prioritizes staff and clients' safety.


Unlike many businesses and nonprofits, ACCESS hasn't experienced any major revenue or staff losses as a result of the pandemic. A large portion of its budget comes from a state allocation that has not yet been affected. However, Jaber says operating costs have risen as a result of the pandemic, and he anticipates long-term increased demand for ACCESS' services.


"I think we're going to have a lot of [increased need] in many areas, including health, including substance abuse, and including employment," he says. "I think employment is going to be a major challenge for years to come."

Those interested in supporting ACCESS' work may visit the Center for Arab American Philanthropy's or ACCESS' websites.

Read more articles by Patrick Dunn.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @patrickdunnhere