"Our mothers, and our friends, and our neighbors are calling and asking us: 'Where can we get the vaccine? Where can we get tested? How can we help?' Well today, we can start answering those questions in a broader way," said Paul Calistro, chair of the Governor's Commission on Community and Volunteer Service.
The vaccine rollout remains a slow and complicated process, dependent at least in part, on federal allocations. But 20 AmeriCorps members are up to the task; they'll be deployed to New Castle County to assist with the ongoing pandemic, including vaccine logistics and distribution, but also with testing and contact tracing. They'll also address health disparities created by the pandemic.
"We've been challenged in the past 10 months in ways we never imagined," said County Executive Matt Meyer. "We have an urgent need to put all hands on deck to assist the state Division of Public Health with vaccine dissemination."
The National Health Corps' expansion into Delaware, as part of a pilot program, is made possible through up to $2 million in funding from New Castle County's share of federal CARES Act money. She touted the program as a win-win for both Delaware and AmeriCorps members.
"We're extremely pleased and excited to add Delaware to our National Health Corps network," said Natalie Levkovich, CEO of the Health Federation of Philadelphia. "Citizens who make a commitment to community service by becoming AmeriCorps members gain practical training, a sense of meaning and satisfaction that comes with making a positive difference, the camaraderie that comes with teamwork, a living allowance, and at the end of a completed term of service--an education award.
Their community host sites gain increased capacity to better meet their mission by extending their reach to address community needs, and the community, as a whole, gains enhanced infrastructure to address conditions that contribute to health disparities and inequity."
Meyer, who is an AmeriCorps alum, also stressed the importance of service and likened this moment to an important question asked by President Kennedy, 60 years.
"'Who among you would be willing to serve your country in the cause of peace by living and working in the developing world?' That one question birthed the Peace Corps," he said. "Today, we ask Delawareans, who among you would be willing to serve your country, your county, your state, in the cause of justice by serving on the front lines of this pandemic right here in New Castle County?"
Senator Chris Coons is pushing for increased AmeriCorps involvement in the pandemic on a national scale.
"This is an absolutely critical part of making sure that we're delivering resources that can effectively meet the moment of this pandemic in the contest of our country and this moment in our history," said Coons.
Levkovich said she'll also be focused on long-term sustainable options that keep the program in Delaware, beyond the pandemic.
"Once established to help meet the current challenge of COVID19, National Health Corps Delaware will be positioned to meet tomorrow's ongoing and emerging public health needs as well," she said.
Karen Dahl, senior advisor on COVID-19 for AmeriCorps, said this group will help meet President Joe Biden's goal of containing COVID-19 and helping America "build back better." Across the country, thousands of AmeriCorps members are distributing food to isolated seniors and hungry families, helping struggling students, and supporting contact tracing and vaccine administration efforts on the local level.
"The American people are our nation's greatest strength, and they are instrumental in helping us tackle this national emergency," said Dahl. "This pilot is a perfect example of the type of creative solutions that will help us get the job done.
New Castle County's share of CARES Act funding towards this pilot program will pay for $15 per hour wages for AmeriCorps members.
"This program is just the start; it's a single step in the right direction," said Meyer.
Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester added this program is about increasing trust at a pivotal point in our nation.
"We will be able to expand more people being able to be vaccinated; we'll be able to deal with issues that we've bene talking about from the beginning--testing, treatment--and we'll be able to build something that will have impact, and lastly, trust," she said. "Vaccine hesitancy is about a lack of trust, trust in a system, trust in healthcare. But we trust our doctors; we trust our community health centers; we trust each other, and so this is also about trust."