Salem calls for neighborhood ambassadors to help during pandemic

Dustin Luca, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.
·3 min read

Apr. 17—SALEM — Officials are launching a neighborhood ambassadors program to better reach residents during the coronavirus pandemic and connect them with resources from vaccine appointments to job opportunities.

The program expands Salem Together, a pledge-based program that launched last June to establish community health standards and to connect volunteers with residents who need help. In this case, a team of ambassadors will serve as conduits for access to programs and information, according to Benjamin Shallop, coordinator of the program.

"We'd like to think we can reach everybody in this amazing modern information age, but the reality is we don't," Shallop said. "We're looking to get different neighbors together who live specifically in the neighborhoods we want to do outreach to."

The program has a long list of goals ranging from working "to help spread information about how to get a vaccine" to "connecting with folks around housing assistance, job training if they need to rethink their career, food assistance, whatever folks might need that there's a program for," Shallop said. Ambassadors will also receive a $250 monthly stipend.

"We're going to be making a lot of this up as we go along," Shallop said. "The first thing is we want to identify the areas of the city where we aren't getting as much of a response from."

City efforts have shed light on areas where services haven't been as accessible as in others. For example, a survey done earlier this year on Salem's COVID-19 response lacked participation from non-White residents and those who speak Spanish. In fact, with 2,459 survey responses tallied, only two came from a Spanish version of the survey.

"That's one of several segments of the population that we just don't hear a lot from," Shallop said. "We're looking at trying to find or reach out to those segments of the city where we're not getting through with the normal, online communication that's getting out there."

Shallop said the ideal "neighborhood ambassador" is a local expert of sorts. What that looks like changes from neighborhood to neighborhood.

"I don't have the answer for what's going to work in each situation and each area," Shallop said. "But if we can identify somebody in that neighborhood who knows the neighborhood, who knows the neighbors, I can work with them to develop a neighborhood reach-out plan to make sure that nobody gets left behind."

The pandemic is now more than a year old, so a lot of its parts are routine going into year two. But with each passing week, the city's battles still change, Mayor Kim Driscoll said.

"On Monday, 5 million more people will become eligible for vaccination," Driscoll said. "We want to ensure that vaccines are being distributed as equitably as possible in Salem. That means we have to bring our efforts directly to community members, connecting them with not only vaccine information, but if you need a ride to the vaccine, if you've been impacted by the pandemic and have food or housing challenges, job training. We have resources to connect you with."

But the first step, Shallop said, is to identify ambassadors.

"Neighbors always look out for each other, and it's one of the things I love about living here. Now, we need to harness that energy to make sure all of us get vaccinated and none of us get evicted," Shallop said. "Things might change as this develops more. Right now, we just want to get people going in the community so we can start assessing what we need to do and how we need to do it."

Those interested should send their resumes to bshallop@salem.com or see the job posting on the City of Salem's website at www.salem.com/jobs.