Utica, N.Y.. - Several local organizations are banding together to help get more people of color vaccinated in Utica and Rome.
The effort is being called the Mohawk Valley COVID Community Navigator Program.
Various navigators from numerous agencies will be going out into the two cities in the coming weeks to try to get more people of color vaccinated.
The program kicked off Wednesday morning in Utica in the green area of Oneida Square, an area of the city where so many people walk by, or drive by, each day.
That's where an outreach center was set for the day on Wednesday to offer educational information about the COVID vaccine as well as giveaway incentives to encourage vaccination participation.
More of these types of pop-up outreach centers will be popping up in different parts of the city in the coming weeks.
The navigators will also be going door to door to talk to people about getting vaccinated.
The organizations involved in this effort include MVHS, The Community Foundation, the Utica and Rome chapters of the NAACP, Mohawk Valley Frontiers, Mohawk Valley Latino Association, Compassion Coalition, the Rescue Missions of both Utica and Rome and The Center in Utica which serves our local refugee population.
The new effort is thanks in large part to a large monetary donation by a local couple, Ron and Sheila Cuccaro, who have donated the funds to the Community Center, just as they have made large donations numerous times in the past to The Community Foundation to help our community.
Sheila Cuccaro herself was on hand on Wednesday at Oneida Square to help kick things off. She says some of the navigators are actually paid for their work, "They hired facilitators that were part of neighborhoods so that the trust issue would be somewhat mitigated."
Shelly Callahan, Executive Director of The Center, says the idea for this new program came out of a workshop held earlier this year in Utica, "It all started out of conversations with MVHS, work group conversations about communities that we weren’t reaching with regard to vaccine information and availability. The program's 'navigators' have been recruited by our organizations to reach Utica and Rome's most diverse neighborhoods to make sure residents, especially those who might be hesitant, have information and equal access to the vaccine. Nationally and locally, people of color have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic, so this effort is critical to our community."
One of the navigators is Lolita Oguguo, a Peer Specialist wih the Rescue Mission of Utica, "I will be doing whatever is required of me, whatever is needed of me I will be doing. If that means door-to-door, car to car, face-to-face."
Callahan says the data is clear and this is something that is definitely needed, "We know that black, brown, refugee communities have been impacted far greater than some other communities and that they also have less access to accurate information and to vaccination clinics."
Callahan says this program is actually more than just about getting people vaccinated, "So this is really important in terms of COVID and the vaccination rate for the city in our community, but going forward I think this is going to help us combat diabetes and high blood pressure and all sorts of things that our communities are impacted with."
So expect to see more of these pop-up outreach centers in Utica and Rome in the coming weeks and maybe even longer, as well as people going door to door.