Alumni Opinion: When Communities Unite During COVID-195/15/2020
This reflection by Jonathan Alvarez ‘19 is part of the Community Voices op-ed series for the BPI Public Health Journal. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, BPI alumni, staff, and faculty and Bard Microcollege students will be posting reflections about their work, studies, and response to the virus here on the BPI Blog.
Prior to this COVID-19 pandemic, I worked with the Yonkers My Brother’s Keeper initiative as a Youth Mentor and Program Administrator. At the same time, I was organizing my nonprofit corporation 914UNITED (pronounced 9-1-4). Life was moving in the right direction, until the madness happened. COVID-19 hit New York. Everything changed. The streets were empty. The death toll spiked. People panicked. Social distancing and quarantining became our new reality and life as we knew it, seemed to stop.
Initially, I was nonchalant about it all. I swore everything would return to normal, but it didn’t. Yes, I was concerned. My contract was halted. I didn’t know what was to come next. All I knew was that the state had mandated nonessential workers to stay home and I had to follow protocol. I did, but not for long.
I couldn’t sit passively watching my city suffer. I wanted to help and be proactive in the community. Since my best friend shared the same sentiment, we decided to organize a relief effort team in support and appreciation of the essential workers serving on the front-line of this disruptive pandemic. Our plan of action included collecting funds from the local community to donate food, beverages, and PPE (i.e. surgical masks and gloves) to healthcare providers, first responders, and everyone sacrificing their health to serve the public. We received support from all over. BPI alumni donated money. People contributed food and water. Jed [Tucker, Director of Reentry] connected me with a national organization supplying free PPE to support teams like mine. With this network, in a month we raised over $7000, accomplishing 34 donations and servicing 29 locations. Certainly, our mission continues.
The underlying message here is that we must adapt to change. A reality-shift can transpire at any moment. Our worlds can turn upside down beyond our control. What do we do? Be passive or proactive? In times like now, taking initiative defines the meaning of the change. A negative situation can be turned into a positive one. My 914UNITED movement has been catapulted throughout this difficult time, and now I realize, there are blessings hidden in dark situations. Only rising to the occasion will help you find them.
Jonathan Alvarez ’19 is the founder and director of 914UNITED.