One day, while sitting on the stoop of their Ansel Road apartment building, Selena Hope and some neighbors spotted a car and several trucks emblazoned with the words “A Vision of Change.”
They chased the vehicles down the street to learn more. That’s when Hope met Delores Collins, a certified Community Health Worker and the founding executive director of the Cleveland nonprofit A Vision of Change (AVOC).
Miss Dee, as Collins prefers to be called, explained that AVOC provides residents with healthcare visits, information and advocacy, as well as food and other important supplies during the pandemic. To date, Collins and her crew have furnished more than 15,000 masks, 5,000 bottles of sanitizer, and approximately 3,500 boxes of food, along with diapers, cleaning supplies, soap, candles, and other items.
“She explained to me that they help with food, and they started us out with a program for chronic pain and exercises we could do like how to make housework exercise,” Hope recalls. “They campaigned a little more in our building, so maybe seven or eight of us got involved in A Vision of Change.”
Hope continues to take advantage of AVOC’s exercise and healthy nutrition textbook, workbook, and CDs, including one for muscle and mood relaxing to help with chronic pain issues. During the pandemic, Miss Dee also offered Zoom calls to help residents improve their diets and master exercises to address chronic pain.
“My lower back is terrible,” Hope said. “It’s bad if the weather’s bad, and it does badly if my grandkids jump onto the bed with me. Then I’m done for the next day.”
“When we saw Selena and her friends leap up from the stoop and run after us, we went back and talked to her,” Collins recalled, adding that she also connected with other seniors in Hope’s building. “That’s when it all just started to grow and grow, and I thought, ‘We need more people!’”
Direct deliveries to neighborhood residents
This is the second year AVOC has been making deliveries. Food deliveries in particular commenced in March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Michael Matthews, a development consultant with AVOC who doubles as a delivery truck driver, the group currently serves 146 households across 18 zip codes throughout Cuyahoga County. AVOC is approaching its 29th week of deliveries this year, and each week it makes about 60 deliveries.
Collins, aka Miss Dee, says a primary focus during visits is performing health and wellness checks to determine if any additional support is needed.
“When we take food to a resident, we always ask about their health and their needs,” she says. “It’s about listening to the people and being there as that bridge to connect them and be with them throughout the process as their advocate.”
Their health-related follow-up activities have included picking up and delivering prescriptions, scheduling and taking residents to doctor appointments, and identifying community organizations to help with rent and utilities.
“In one specific case, we purchased an infant seat for a woman who would not have been allowed to bring home her newborn from the hospital without the infant seat,” says Matthews, the volunteer truck driver.
One of more than 100 community partners involved with the Health Improvement Plan or HIP-Cuyahoga (see The Land’s companion story), AVOC also provides academic empowerment, intervention, and prevention services. Collins’ goal is to break the cycles of illiteracy, poor health, high school dropouts, youth incarceration, and poverty.
History of AVOC
Collins started her organization in 1993 in response to the number of children in her community with parents behind bars, including her own. “I wanted to do something to break the stigma for any child that had a parent who was absent due to incarceration or rehab or whatever,” she says.
She attended the Neighborhood Leadership Institute program in 2003, where she met Matthews, and learned about the prevention work NLI was doing for families. She also connected with the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods.
“They had some initiatives going on called Good Food Here and the Shared Youth Project,” Collins recalls. “I was intrigued because we do have food deserts, and this was a group of individuals that wanted to help address that situation.”
Collins met and became involved in HIP-Cuyahoga in 2016. Soon after, she was asked to serve on its steering committee. She quickly grew to appreciate the honesty and trust she felt in the relationship she developed with HIP-C, neither of which she had experienced in working with larger healthcare and community systems and hospitals.
“Delores [Collins] is phenomenal,” said Heidi Gullet, director of HIP-C. “She has created a network of community health workers throughout the county who have sustainable funding and employment through community health activities. They are part of our continuum of healthy eating/active living, and they are focused on addressing chronic disease self-management.”
Christopher Johnston has published more than 3,000 articles in publications such as Christian Science Monitor, Scientific American and Time.com. His book, Shattering Silences: New Approaches to Healing Survivors of Rape and Bringing Their Assailants to Justice (Skyhorse) was published in February 2018.