When United Way of Greater Atlanta was asked to lead a COVID-19 testing (and now vaccine) strategy as part of a national effort, there was little known of how the community would respond. We certainly knew to do this work, we would need the help of trusted partners to assist with engagement and outreach – and ultimately to be a bridge to access.

Across Greater Atlanta, more than 45 percent (2,721,291 individuals) have received at least one dose, and approximately 41 percent (2,448,248) are fully vaccinated. And although progress is steady, hesitancy and disinterest are common themes we encounter – we are seeing that beliefs, historical distrust in the healthcare system, and economic circumstances are leading factors to vaccine resistance.

In predominately African American, Latin X, and other underserved communities, we are seeing that COVID-19 test positive rates are nearly double that of affluent communities. These are also communities where vaccination rates are low. Additionally, we are seeing the health disparity gap widen, particularly for those managing chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and heart disease. There are other contributing factors: technology has played a significant role in how communities access information. For many underserved areas, access to reliable internet service is a challenge. Also, a large percentage of residents in communities of color are front-line or shift workers, which presents a barrier to access – if vaccine sites are operating during traditional work hours.

The Choose Health Life Initiative centers partnerships with faith leaders, Black and Latin-X led community-based agencies, and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) to advance equitable access to testing and vaccines within the City of Atlanta, and communities in Clayton, South DeKalb, and South Fulton counties. The initiative utilizes a community health worker (CHW) model to deliver health education and supports in hopes to reverse opinions about seeking out health care, as the nature of the pandemic is ever-changing.

To date, the Choose Healthy Life Initiative in Atlanta has helped more than 4,000 individuals receive COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. In the coming months, we will continue to expand our partnerships in communities to promote education, outreach, and access to health services. We are so grateful for the work of partners like Black Child Development Institute in Atlanta have done to recruit, train and support faith partners throughout this initiative. We are also very proud of the work our health navigators are doing to help improve the lives of people of color in underserved communities.

Together, we are tackling the vaccine hurdle in Greater Atlanta – one Brighter Future community at a time. For more information on the Choose Healthy Life Initiative, go to choosehealthylifeatl.org.

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Partnering for Health Equity

Local churches are partnering with United Way of Greater Atlanta as part of a faith-based initiative to expand testing, education and other resources for communities of color across South Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties.

Choose Healthy LifeTM (CHL) is a sustainable, scalable, and transferable approach to public health. The initiative partners with Black faith-based organizations to offer education, outreach and free COVID-19 testing, as the church is considered one of the most trusted institutions in community. Read about Choose Healthy Life at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Choose Healthy Life aims to raise awareness and educate the Black community on COVID-19 and other health disparities; and proactively engage the community in a COVID-19 testing campaign to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives.

Learn more about the Choose Healthy LifeTM initiative.

Register for an upcoming COVID-19 testing event.

 

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Upcoming COVID-19 Testing Events
Date of Event Hours of Event Name of Participating Church Church Address
3/14/2021 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Impact Church 2323 Sylvan Road, East Point GA 30344
3/17/2021 2:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam 560 Fayetteville Rd SE, Atlanta, GA 30316
3/20/2021 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Gateway Restoration Church 4981 Phillips Dr. Forest Park, GA 30297
3/21/2021 9:00 a.m – 1:00 p.m. Impact Church 2323 Sylvan Road, East Point GA 30344
3/23/2021 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Ebenezer Baptist Church 101 Jackson Street NE Atlanta, GA 30312
3/25/2021 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Salem Bible Church 2283 Baker Rd NW Atlanta, Ga 30318
3/27/2021 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Debre Bisrat Saint Gabriel Church 3518 Clarkston Industrial Blvd Clarkston, GA 30021
3/28/2021 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Impact Church 2323 Sylvan Road, East Point GA 30344

 

This story was originally published Feb. 26, 2021, and it has been updated as of March 30, 2021.

 

Rev. Bronson Woods was planning to send 35 people to Ethiopia on behalf of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on March 1, 2020. That date sticks out to him for obvious reasons.

During that trip, the team was honored at the Royal Palace by the first woman elected president of the country, Sahle-Work Zewde. But back home, news of the rapid spread of the coronavirus around the world forced massive shutdowns and self-imposed quarantines by local leaders to stem the spread of the disease COVID-19.

Woods and Ebenezer ultimately halted in-person services at the church in Sweet Auburn—led by Reverend and current Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. While Woods, the Assistant Pastor for Young Adults and Outreach Ministries, couldn’t physically interact with crowds from the former church of pastor and civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he knew the work of the church was just beginning. The pandemic wasn’t going to stop Ebenezer’s ministry.

“By March 1, the pandemic was in full effect, and as soon as it hit, we immediately knew we needed some sort of response,” Woods says. “We were able to get ahold of about 54,000 face masks and hand sanitizer, and in a few short weeks we were able to assemble those to provide that to the community.”

The church started off providing masks and sanitizer, but once testing had expanded, Woods says they were able to connect with a lab that could do COVID testing on their campus starting in early summer 2020.

“Since then, we have been testing every week,” he says. “We developed a relationship with the Fulton County Board of Health, and we now have what we call ‘Testing Tuesdays.’”

Ebenezer Baptist Church tests each Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition to this, they’ve partnered with local food banks to provide food to the community as well.

 

Partnering for health equity

Woods’ church has also partnered most recently with United Way of Greater Atlanta as part of a broader faith-based initiative to expand testing, education and other resources for communities of color across South Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties.

Ebony Johnson, director of Place-Based Initiatives for United Way, says this Choose Healthy Life initiative kicked off on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021. Choose Healthy Life was spearheaded in New York City roughly a year ago by Debra Fraser-Howze, who is widely recognized for her leadership work in communities of color regarding public health issues, is a former Senior Vice President of Government and External Affairs at OraSure Technologies and Founder of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. Fraser-Howze is widely recognized for more than three decades of global leadership to communities of color regarding teenage pregnancy, social welfare and HIV and AIDS. She also advised two U.S. Presidents while serving on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

COVID-19 has spread throughout the U.S. and devastated the Black community, and this program is centered around churches in communities of color and their ability to provide vital information as a trusted source in their community.

“I came into the project with the goal of recruiting and onboarding church partners to serve in this initiative and help them identify community health workers to do health education and outreach,” Johnson says. “Our goal with community health workers is to make sure as many as possible come from the church in that community where it’s located. They are going to be extremely important in providing that peer-to-peer trust within the community.”

Choose Healthy Life has testing events in March at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Impact Church in East Point, Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam in Atlanta, Gateway Restoration Church in Forest Park, Salem Bible Church in Atlanta and Debre Bisrat Saint Gabriel Church in Clarkston.

Helping children and families in Greater Atlanta gain access to information and testing is one of the ways we can help address regional disparities and improve conditions in South DeKalb, South Fulton and Clayton Counties. We know that every person whose life we change or positively impact, will go on to change the lives of countless others. When we work together—pooling our resources, our time and energy—our community impact grows exponentially. United, we can do more for our community. This is important work—work that is never over.

But we can all achieve more if we unite for more.

This work is particularly important in “communities of color that are very hesitant to get testing,” Johnson says. Community health workers and trusted members of the church can help clear up misinformation and misconceptions about the virus, testing and, when the time comes, the vaccine.

“People trust people who look like them,” Johnson says. “Historically, the church has always been the cornerstone for the community. Anything and everything you need—information was shared at churches. That was where you got married, other important moments in life—all that happened at church. Faith-based institutions play an important role in the center of the community.”

Woods agrees.

“There’s something about coming to a house of faith,” he says. “It soothes your doubts and calms your fears.

“The pandemic has charged us to get to work, provide resources and be of assistance right now in this time of need. We’re not just testing folks, but we’re educating folks about the pandemic, what the masks are doing and how important these measures are.”

This effort, though, has done a lot to help people buy in to the importance of testing and vaccination, Woods says. Ebenezer took steps to provide pamphlets, have doctors on site to answer questions and the work has paid off.

More people are getting tested, taking advantage of the resources Ebenezer can provide. This is what Johnson and United Way know can happen in other communities where the number of positive test cases have been significant.

“A big part of this that’s really important to us is the equity piece,” she says. “We had a particular drive to have [Choose Healthy Life] grantees come from our Brighter Future communities… Churches represented as part of this initiative are in South Fulton, South DeKalb and Clayton counties. Data has been an important tool, and we continue to use that to make investments where we do.

“I’m really proud that we have an interfaith approach to this work.”

When we Unite for More, everyone can climb. Work this important is never over or done alone. Can children, families and Greater Atlanta communities count on you? Unite for more today.