A letter from the Executive Director

Last year as I locked up our offices on March 13, 2020, I never imagined we would still be in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic one year later.  As I reflect back on the last year my mind immediately goes to the many losses we experienced.  The devastating loss of life, more than 555,000 people in the United States, many from communities of color.  These are real people, family members, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sons, daughters, friends, and children.  The immense grief and trauma have been relentless for more than a year, often with no hope in site as we moved one season after another.  We have experienced other losses this last year, extraordinary challenges to our daily lives and well-being.  Our daily lives have been completely turned upside down affecting mental health from constant isolation, loss of income, the stresses of homeschooling, lack of parental support, and the effects of racism, violence, and hate.   It is easy to slip into a dark place when really thinking about the last year.

I sit with these feelings and try to really feel them, not to push them aside.  They are real and in order to move forward I believe I have to grieve all that was lost in in the last year.  Inevitably though, the sadness and anger I feel as I reflect back gives way to hope and gratitude.  Maybe I am an eternal hopeful person, as I seem to remember writing of hope throughout my time with HOP.  I have come to understand my privilege accounts for some of my unending hope.  I have much to be grateful for and have not lived in a state perpetual stress and trauma, that so many people in our country experience on a continual basis, particularly those that are subject to structural disparities.  I have also witnessed resilience and creativity this year that lifts my feelings of hope and gratitude to a new level.

I had high expectations for our organization and my work as I began my role as executive director at Health Outreach Partners in January 2020.  Two months later I was overwhelmed by the unknown and how to navigate as a leader in a global pandemic.  Several of our projects were canceled and we needed to take a step back and revamp our work given in-person trainings and technical assistance had come to a halt.  Our team pivoted quickly to a virtual format and created engaging and meaningful programs that filled the needs during the early days of shelter and place.  As the months went on, HOP continued to creatively collaborate and develop work that addressed the structural racism and disparities that came to light as a result of Covid-19 and in the wake of police violence against people of color.

I am so proud of our team and our organization.  In this time of uncertainty, darkness and grief we have grown both programmatically and financially, served many new community health centers and primary care associations, and been quick to create programs that addressed issues related Covid-19.  A tradition in the new year at Health Outreach Partners is to include the places we have been in the last year, and since we haven’t left Oakland, I want to share some of our projects and accomplishments.  This last year we did several webinars addressing Outreach in the Covid-19 Era partnering with primary care associations, including the Idaho Primary Care Association, the Virginia Community Healthcare Association, the Michigan Primary Care Association and the Health Center Association of Nebraska.  We partnered further with the Health Center Association of Nebraska to organizing a virtual convening of PCAs to discuss health equity, enabling services, and structural racism, that included recording a podcast.  We forged two new partners in our structural competency work, planning and conducting virtual retreats for the National Network of Oral Health Access (NNOHA) and New York University.  Locally, we partnered with San Mateo county to launch a virtual group to discuss vicarious trauma for health care providers and outreach workers that work specifically with the farming communities along the coast.  HOP also partnered with the National Center for Farmworker Health (NCFH) as part of a CDC-funded cooperative agreement to design and implement an infrastructure for response to Covid-19 as well as promote the vaccine in farmworker communities. These are just a few examples of our growth, creativity, and innovation.

As spring arrives with news of success with the Covid-19 vaccine, it is hard to stay vigilant in our efforts to combat this deadly virus.  Naturally, we as humans are eager to go back to our lives, see a movie, attend a sporting event or concert, travel, or simply gather with family and friends.  We must continue to prioritize our collective health while looking forward toward hope and a new normal.  Please continue to wear a face covering, stay 6 feet apart, wash your hands, get tested regularly, stay home if you are ill, and get vaccinated.  Please also look for ways to work for lasting systemic change, call out injustice and racism, advocate for equitable health policy, and support one another in the months to come.  The grief and trauma from the last year will be with us for a long time to come, show compassion and kindness to each other, essential for lasting change in our communities.

With gratitude- Cindy