The Rev. Donna Vanhook ’07, health and social justice class at Elon partner to support elderly population

The local minister formed a community partnership with Elon’s Assistant Professor of Philosophy Lauren Guilmette and the Alamance Resiliency Coalition to provide resources to help the older populations of East Burlington during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rev. Donna Vanhook ‘07 had many community outreach plans for the year, most of which focused on bringing information to older populations in East Burlington in North Carolina. Remote learning, however, didn’t stop Vanhook from pursuing these plans as the COVID-19 pandemic only emphasized the need for an informed and resourceful local community.

“Right now, we’re in crisis,” said Vanhook, an associate pastor at the Union Chapel United Church of Christ (UCC) and a community organizer for the Alamance Resiliency Coalition (ARC). “I knew I had to pull a plan together using the resources we have here, which are many in the county. I needed to put a plan in place that would be to address some type of inequity. We’ve been working with two issues: the digital inequities and various types of inequities for older populations.”

Vanhook teamed up with Elon’s Assistant Professor of Philosophy Lauren Guilmette in the beginning of the spring semester. Guilmette was looking for local activists to present lectures to her Health and Social Justice academic service-learning class. The course was cross listed with public health, poverty and social justice, peace and conflict studies and women’s gender and sexuality studies. Guilmette was looking to form a partnership with an organization that focused on inequities in older populations in Alamance County as she wanted her students to develop a sense of place and connectedness to the world outside Elon’s campus.

When Elon moved to remote learning in March, Vanhook and Guilmette decided to continue their original plan and further develop their partnership to include the ARC. Their plan had always been to reach out to persons 50 and above at North Park in East Burlington and to host an in person resource fair for those residents. They decided to move forward with that plan. The only difference now was that it would be entirely virtual.

“Now that we’re remote and also living in a pandemic we could not have imagined in February or even in early March, the issues of the class are all the more vital and our concern for the local community is all the more acute,” Guilmette said during the virtual resource fair.

The partnership between the ARC, the Union Chapel UCC and Guilmette’s Health and Social Justice class, began to bring local Alamance County residents’ virtual resources and assistance during the COVID-19 outbreak. Together, the team reached out to local community members who were age 50 and above through online platforms and conference calls. When reaching out, they were making sure that local residents knew what resources were available to them and knew the most up to date coronavirus related information. If there were resident needs that were not being met, Vanhook and her team wanted to be able to provide the residents with a way of communicating that information, so that necessary help could be provided.

“It’s a big community coming together for this one issue and modeling what can be done in other communities. This will show how people can affect change in their own neighborhoods just by sharing the information and checking in on one another, so we want to model that,” Vanhook said.

As information began to circulate, Guilmette’s students began planning the virtual resource fair event. For this, the students conducted research on various local agencies and organizations that are locally available to East Burlington residents. The mission was to provide local residents with the best assistance possible during these rather difficult times.

“For our purposes during this pandemic we hope to circulate resources, facts/myths and tips geared towards the local community especially to those 50 and above,” Guilmette said during the virtual resource fair.

Guilmette’s students found information on resources to manage through stressors, COVID-19 hotlines, local food pantries, mental health resources, shelter and housing assistance, child care resources for essential workers, domestic violence services, general COVID-19 information/guidelines, etc. Most of this information was included in the virtual resource fair Facebook Live event that took place on April 24 on the ARC Facebook page.

“Donna has been an amazing community partner for our students,” Guilmette said during the virtual resource fair.

Guilmette’s class also produced their own “zines,” short for magazine or fanzine that related to various coronavirus topics. “Zines” are small handmade publications that are utilized by marginalized communities to circulate necessary information. This was another way for the partnership to continue their mission of reaching out and providing information/resources to older populations in East Burlington. More on these zines can be read here.

The resource fair was originally part of a mission of the Union Chapel UCC to complete a third event obligation with the Center for Outreach in Aging, Alzheimer’s and Community Health (COAACH) program at NC A&T State University. In 2019, the first two events occurred at the church and featured topics of later in life challenges in collaboration with the Elder Justice Project as well as the “ABCs of Dementia,” in collaboration with Therapeutic Alternatives.

“What we’re really trying to do is set some things in place, so that when we do come out of this pandemic we will be able to address some issues, specifically in East Burlington,” Vanhook said.

For more information on this partnership and local available resources, you can visit the ARC Facebook page as the ARC continues its outreach efforts during the pandemic. Many Elon alumni have been collaborating with the ARC to continue this outreach and build community resilience. This includes Donna Vanhook ‘07, womanist community organizer ARC; Tyronna Hooker ‘09, Alamance Achieves executive director; Rebecca Carlson ‘17,  chair of ARC; Mariatu Okonofua ‘19, Alamance Achieves Kenan Scholar; Sally Gordon ‘18, United Way of Alamance County; and Elon University Alumni Engagement Officer Ashtyn Foddrell ‘19 (community organizer).