Chicago’s COVID Response Corps ‘Ready for The Next Challenge’ Ahead of Winter, Holiday Gatherings

As COVID-19 cases rise, some members of Chicago’s COVID-19 Community Response Corps say they’re prepared to handle the winter months.

Earlier in the pandemic, the program began by focusing on contact tracing. But it has since expanded to meet other needs – like scheduling vaccine appointments and working the city’s COVID-19 hotline. 

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The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership is leading the effort. It’s working with 30 community-based organizations in some of the city’s hardest hit areas, and it has hired over 600 residents to work within their communities.

“All of the corps members are residents of [the hardest hit] neighborhoods in the city of Chicago. It is service within the communities for the communities. We are from the hardest hit ZIP codes in the city of Chicago, and so we know the needs of our communities health wise and for resources,” said Cynthia Rodriguez, COVID-19 response project coordinator for the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. She lives in Belmont Cragin.

Karin Norrington-Reaves, the CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, says the community-based approach is important and it ensures the people who are helping address the needs of communities, understand the stories of those in need.

“It’s incredibly important that we have people who are of the community, by the community, and for the community, speaking to members of the community,” Norrington-Reaves said.

Cornelius Chandler is a COVID-19 Response corps member, hired by Breakthrough Ministries in West Garfield Park, which is a community-based organization that is a part of the corps. Chandler said the level focus is one of the reasons he applied for the job. He wanted to help people, and knew it was important for residents to get information from people who look like them.

Chandler says his connection to the community has helped him do his job. He also says active listening has been an important part of the job.

“It builds a level of trust and that’s what it’s really about, trust between the information we are giving them because we really want to help them and their families,” Chandler said.

Some of the corps members are also bilingual.

Dealing With Grief, Emotional Impact of Job

While the formal job description may entail contact tracing, providing vaccine information or connecting residents with resources, corps members also serve as a listening ear. Calls can last anywhere from 10 minutes to hours. Sometimes corps members talk with people who have COVID-10 and don’t know what to do, or have recently lost someone from COVID-19. Other times, corps members are on the phone with people who are in need of food or shelter.

“It’s overwhelming and emotional at the same time… It can be very emotional at times,” said Jasmine Love, a COVID-19 Community Response corps member. She works for the Safer Foundation in Englewood.

Chandler agrees.

“It’s emotional when talking to a senior citizen that don’t have anybody, don’t have any family and they just want to talk to you. It’s emotionally impactful. But, I always remember why I took the job, it’s for situations like this,” Chandler said.

As COVID-19 cases rise and more cases of the omicron variant are identified, Rodriguez says the corps is ready for whatever is headed their way.

“We definitely do expect it to increase, but I can speak on behalf of the whole corps, we’re ready. We’re ready for the next challenge, we’re ready for that next call in. We’re all getting additional training, getting educated on how to educate our community and residents of the city of Chicago,” Rodriguez said.

Note: this story will be updated with video.

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