NeighborUp network works to ensure equitable access to the vaccine

Neighbor Up, an offshoot of the Cleveland organization Neighborhood Connections, is working hard to increase equity and access to Covid-19 vaccine appointments. With the pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution, Cleveland organizations are partnering and actively revising their initiative to continue serving Clevelanders.

NeighborUp, an offshoot of the Cleveland organization Neighborhood Connections, is working hard to increase equity and access to Covid-19 vaccine appointments. 


Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Vaccine Volunteer Network.

Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Vaccine Volunteer Network.

Neighborhood Connections is a small grant making program that’s been around since 2003, said Lila Mills, associate director of Neighborhood Connections. After years of doing that, Neighbor Up, was launched nearly eight years ago as a way to provide some funding to residents of Cleveland, and later East Cleveland, to do projects that improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods, Mills said. 

Christina Keegan is one of two coordinators of Neighbor Up’s PPE program which distributes PPE and hygiene supplies to community organizations who then distribute them in their neighborhoods. Though the number is always changing, at one point the PPE program had distributed 600,000 masks to 450 community organizations in Northeast Ohio, primarily in Cleveland, as well as six semi-trucks full of hygiene supplies. 

“Going forward, we’re just focusing on masks, face shields and hand sanitizer,” Keegan said. “We know the groups in the neighborhood network, and grassroots groups throughout the region, have been really key to responding to the needs of their communities. They’re organizations that have direct relationships in their neighborhoods and, because of that trust they already have, are well positioned to respond to emerging needs and do so quickly with kindness and dignity.”

Ensuring access

Keegan said the goal of Neighborhood Connections is to provide support to these grassroots groups. At first, they did that by providing PPE and hygiene supplies. Then as vaccines became available, they realized there was a need for assistance to ensure grassroots groups could help community members who wanted to get vaccinated. 

Keegan said the first step was to partner with the Greater Cleveland Rapid Response Fund, which provided vaccine access codes to Neighbor Up, allowing them to directly register people for vaccines at the Wolstein Center.

“We are a core partner that can support other community partners in this vaccine access work with the goal of making access to vaccines more equitable, particularly to people who are facing barriers to getting a vaccine,” Keegan said. “Whether that’s the result of long standing mistrust and oppression through the healthcare system or simply tech access or the ability to be online continuously to refresh browsers and try to find appointments.”

Pivoting to meet community needs

Now with the pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution, the group is actively revising their initiative to continue serving Clevelanders. 

“We’ve shifted our energy and resources to providing groups with information, support and registering people with any provider,” Keegan said. “We’re still developing what that looks like. But right now, that is providing information about upcoming events and providing one-on-one support to community leaders to help people register [and] walking them through the process of registering people at those sites.”

Keegan said the group is really excited about it’s new partnership they’ve been building with the new Cleveland Vaccine Volunteer Network, which will be working regionally to match volunteers with people who need support signing up for vaccines, as well as on the ground outreach.

Along with Neighborhood Connections, the network was launched in partnership with Repair the World Cleveland and is supported by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Hillel at Kent State, Cleveland Hillel and Serve the Moment, an initiative of Repair the World, according to a press release. 

“They’re going to be our main partner in supporting these community organizations and walking people through navigating that registration process at any provider, whether it’s a pharmacy, grocery store, mass vaccination clinic,” Keegan said. “Whatever the place is, they’re going to help people find appointments and make sure those barriers like transportation or language barriers can be addressed for each person.”

Keegan said Neighborhood Connections wants to promote the recruitment of volunteers to the Cleveland Vaccine Volunteer Network as well as to let anyone who needs a vaccine know to contact the group. 

Those interested in signing up to volunteer to help and those in need of help registering for a vaccine appointment can connect with the Cleveland Vaccine Volunteer Network on their website or by phone at 216-586-4338.

Maria McGinnis is a senior journalism student at Kent State University and an editorial intern with The Land.

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