A year ago, we shared the story of Wat Thai Temple and their efforts at “Bringing vaccination to the community.” Then in August 2021, we brought you “Hip Hop and vaccination”: the story of House of Dance and their passion for making Hip Hop and COVID vaccines accessible.
These are just two examples out of more than 160 community-based vaccine events that Hennepin County Public Health helped support between April 2021 and today. We recently sat down with Monica Royston Ruckett, a member of the community vaccine stipend team, to learn what it took to make this effort a success.
Thus far, approximately 10,000 vaccinations have been provided through this effort. The team worked with over 100 different organizations.
Hennepin County started receiving requests from community-based organizations to partner on vaccine events early in 2021. These organizations understood that a culturally welcoming space could ease concerns, and lead to better vaccine uptake in their communities. It was a natural fit with the county’s disparity reduction and community engagement priorities.
It took time and effort to develop the processes needed to make it a success. Monica Royston Ruckett, and the team she worked with, built the process for supporting community vaccine clinics from scratch. The standard application process included: an online request form, an intake meeting, and an assessment of readiness, safety and impact of the proposed event.
Nevertheless, the team customized their approach to the needs of each organization. Monica and her colleagues helped applicants work through all the details. “We did follow ups to address concerns and encourage them,” she said, “to help them succeed.”
This strategy proved both popular and successful. The county offered planning help, $3000-$5000 stipends; and in some cases, staff to give the injections. Thus far, approximately 10,000 vaccinations have been provided through this effort. The team worked with over 100 different organizations.
Each event was unique. Special features ranged from food trucks, and dance lessons, to cultural performances and raffles. The vaccines primarily went to people from communities facing disparities, like communities of color, the LQBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities.
For Monica this work was about more than “shots in arms.” “This work,” she said, “was a lot of relationship-building.”
Many of the organizations who participated hadn’t partnered with the county before and didn’t know what to expect. “Some were wary of working with us,” she noted. Others had barriers to be worked through to ensure a successful event.
It was also about making the county seem personable and welcoming. “I'll be honest,” Monica said, “I felt like I really needed to be there, because sometimes I was the only person of color [from the county team] in the conversation.” Her presence helped create a relaxed environment for organizations serving communities of color.
Monica felt that this support of community-hosted vaccine clinics helped prospective partners see the county in a different light. “We were there. We were present. We weren’t just red tape,” Monica mused. “It was us – the county – being real.”
Monica explained that the team made a point of asking, “What can the county do better for your organization or your community?”
This simple question led to important connections. A great connection occurred while working with Pursuit Hometel: a transitional housing provider that serves adult men working to overcome homelessness and other difficulties. Some of the clients were experiencing mental health crises and staff weren’t sure where to turn. Monica and the team connected them with the Hennepin County Cope program. Cope provides 24/7 help for mental health emergencies and also helps stabilize people longer term by connecting them with other services.
While she admits that the work could be overwhelming due to the volume of applications, it was also personally meaningful. Monica was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the county’s COVID efforts. “Early in the response there were so many losses,” she says. “I felt like anything I could do to help, I was willing to do, because people were suffering.”
In her regular job, Monica provides planning and project management for internal county projects. Having originally trained as a social worker, she said that her time on the COVID response felt like going back to her roots. “I take from this experience that I have a heart for community,” she says, “and that is something I want to explore more.”
Hennepin County will continue to offer stipends for community vaccine events through this summer as supplies last. Community organizations can apply for a vaccine incentives stipend at www.hennepin.us/community-registration.