Key Themes from Three CBO Convenings in California

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This blog was written by Alex Cleveland, who has been working as a Root Change fellow for the last 8 months, supporting with data analysis, content design, and special research projects. She is a recent graduate of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) where she earned a Master’s in International Environmental Policy with concentration in Natural Resource Policy and Management.

The Vaccinate All 58 (VA58) Campaign works to ensure that all eligible Californians (across the state’s 58 counties) are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. To accomplish this, the Campaign works closely with community-based organizations (CBOs). Funded by the State of California, the VA58 Campaign reflects the State’s commitment to health equity.

In September 2022, VA58 hosted three regional CBO convenings that were facilitated by Root Change, one each in Fresno, Sacramento, and Long Beach. Over 200 CBO representatives, along with VA58 staff, reflected on the challenges and successes of working with communities to promote COVID-19 vaccination. 

Convening participants identified lessons learned, created ties to new organizations, and engaged in peer-to-peer learning.  To catch a glimpse of these interactive, high-energy events, please view this short video.

Fresno Convening, Sept. 13-14, 2022

Three overarching themes emerged from conversations that took place during the convenings: the power of working with others; the role of trusted messengers in achieving equity and inclusion; and the importance of building community resilience. Below are key takeaways from each of these themes. For additional examples and details, please check out our full report on the convenings.

The Power of Working With Others

Many CBOs shared a strong interest in developing peer-to-peer learning and collaboration. The connections that CBOs made during the meetings represent a great source of untapped potential for bringing more resources and know-how to the communities they serve. Participants appreciated a facilitation model that blended the introduction of skills-based content with the opportunity to process that content with peers. They also valued that those attending the meetings mirrored California’s richly diverse population.  

CBO representatives voiced appreciation for the relationships they have developed with VA58 Campaign staff. They shared their belief that the Campaign wants their input and values their contributions. At the same time, participants also voiced an interest in having expanded opportunities to use their on-the-ground knowledge to meet the needs of communities they serve.

Many CBOs want to strengthen their connections to youth in their communities. CBOs view outreach to youth as an important means for building a more promising future for their communities.

Long Beach Convening, Sept. 20-21, 2022

Pursuing Equity and Inclusion

Inclusion is a core, animating value for the CBOs that participated in the meetings. “Inclusion” was understood to mean that all members of the community are heard, seen, and engaged in making decisions that affect them. Many CBOs noted that listening is the basis of inclusion, and that inclusion is a prerequisite for achieving equity.

The Importance of Building Community Resilience

The pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on CBO constituents and frontline workers. CBO personnel often felt isolated, under-resourced, and unable to meet the full range of needs that warranted urgent attention. Many participants saw the meetings as a “healing experience.” They valued the opportunities to network, build new skills, and benefit from the emotional support of people who have had similar experiences.

Building CBO resilience. Learning is an important underpinning of CBO resilience. As CBOs learn from one another, they build resilience.

Sacramento Convening, Sept. 8-9, 2022

Next Steps

Several CBOs discussed the need to shift their focus from vaccinations to the broader topic of health equity. As several observers noted, “this work is not over.”

The VA58 Campaign officially ends in March 2023.  A new entity, the Office of Community Partnerships and Strategic Communication (OCPSC), has been created to build on the Campaign’s work. The initial focus of OCPSC will be on COVID-19, water conservation, and extreme heat. Working with its CBO partners, OCPSC will advance California’s commitment to equity by tackling these pressing issues in the state’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities.