New York Cares is Helping the
NYC Communities Most Affected by Covid-19
An Interview with Associate Director of Community Partner Relations and Evaluation, Glenn Wolff-Eisenberg
A journey across New York City is a journey across different levels of well-being, revealing vast inequalities in access to opportunity among residents of the five boroughs.
This brings us to an increasingly pressing question: How can NYC put equity into action and work towards a Covid-19 recovery that builds a more resilient future? Across the city, human services and nonprofit organizations are trying to answer this question, each with unique perspectives, guidelines, and goals.
What the organizations we feature here share is their commitment to using data to better meet the needs of the people they serve.
A Data-Driven Approach to Confronting Healthcare Access, Food and Housing Insecurity, and Poverty
Glenn Wolff-Eisenberg is the Associate Director of Community Partner Relations and Evaluation at New York Cares, the largest volunteer-management organization in New York City. The organization partners with over 900 nonprofit and public organizations to provide volunteer services to communities in need. New York Cares uses neighborhood-level data to understand the needs of communities across the city and identify where volunteer programming would be most effective.
Using Data to Understand Community Needs
New York Cares regularly uses DATA2GO.NYC and DATA2GOHEALTH.NYC to assess broad geographic patterns in economic, social, and health indicators. Recently, New York Cares also began using the data tools to supplement information they receive from community partners. This is part of a larger transition away from a sole reliance on community organizations to express their needs toward a more proactive approach to identifying and responding to pressing issues for the communities. Wolff-Eisenberg said, “The shift is trying to work more directly with communities, understanding that deeper community change is only possible with deeper community engagement. So we have been able to use the data from DATA2GO to help identify where in New York City we would want to focus those efforts.” After identifying the neighborhoods to focus on, New York Cares plans to conduct interviews and focus groups with community members to understand where there are gaps in social services that they could potentially fill.
Identifying Focus Areas
Locating and Reaching Target Populations
Wolff-Eisenberg uses the source dataset and Maps view from DATA2GO to visualize the geographic patterns of structural inequalities and health disparities in NYC, particularly those related to healthcare access, food insecurity, housing insecurity, and poverty. He also uses Covid-19 case and death rates from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Using this data, the organization has identified Central Queens, the South Bronx, East Brooklyn, Southeast Queens, South Brooklyn, Northeast Staten Island, and the North Bronx as programmatic priority areas. For example, East Brooklyn stood out for its incredibly high rate of food insecurity relative to the rest of the city.
Serving the Hardest-Hit Communities
For Wolff-Eisenberg, DATA2GO was key to identifying neighborhoods in NYC most affected by Covid-19 to prioritize for their immediate response programming. Their latest projects include providing meals for food-insecure and homebound New Yorkers, virtual yoga and Judo for elementary school students, a virtual fitness dance party with students and families, virtual SAT tutoring, phone banking to homebound seniors to conduct wellness checks, virtual citizenship preparation, and an online current events discussion group with adults and seniors who are blind or have low vision. As of July 2020, volunteers had also made more than 20,000 technology support calls to parents and students living in temporary housing. New York Cares will continue to prioritize these communities in their future programming as part of their long-term response to Covid-19.
By considering both the direct impact of Covid-19 as well as long-term structural inequalities that create barriers to recovery, New York Cares can make informed decisions on how to best allocate their volunteer services. “The communities that are affected by this right now are going to be continuing to feel those effects 5-10 years from now as well, so investing in those communities and starting to build those relationships now felt like a good thing to do at this time to set us up to continue our support in the future.” Data helps organizations like New York Cares understand the preexisting structural inequalities across the city, helping them better address familiar challenges like homelessness and poverty, while also confronting new challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic and its disparate effects on marginalized communities.