New Agency Helps Us All

As a city, New Orleans is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. Our location on the Gulf Coast makes us primed for climate disasters. The pandemic took its toll not only on our residents but also on our economy.  The hospitality industry was to shut down. And countless employees found themselves suddenly out of work. But one organization stepped up. Resilience Force created a jobs program that many believe can serve as a national model.

                                Resilience Force, founded by Saket Soni in 2018, is the national voice of the rising Resilience Workforce.  Millions of people work and develop the expertise to make it possible for people to return home after disasters. Resilience Force works on the frontlines of climate change and COVID-19 relief. They advocate for the creation of good, stable jobs. They make cities and communities more resilient and adaptive in the face of worsening climate disasters.

                                As an early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Orleanians were at the forefront of an unprecedented public health and economic crisis. Seeing the critical need presented by COVID-19, Resilience Force and the City of New Orleans partnered to design and launch the New Orleans Resilience Corps.  NORC is a culturally competent and accessible health care and jobs program designed to support immediate and long-term recovery for communities most impacted by the pandemic. Soni recruited long-time labor leader LaTanja Silvester to launch the NOLA Resilience Corps.

Resilience Force

                                The Resilience Force leveraged support from The Rockefeller Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and Ford Foundation. Also they collaborated closely with the Louisiana Department of Health,  the New Orleans Health Department, and Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development to unlock federal funds. These funds started a program to train local residents to be community health workers. These jobs served as crucial public health infrastructure for the City of New Orleans. The jobs pay a living wage and create pathways to further professional opportunities.

                                The programs focus on support for the communities that have the greatest need including Gentilly, New Orleans East/Michoud, Hollygrove, The 7th Ward, and Algiers. The Resilience Corps performed critical functions in limiting the spread of COVID-19. They coordinate with contact tracers, conduct door-to-door canvassing and wellness checks, deliver food and hygiene kits, connect residents with city and state services, and more.

                                “We’re proud to be building the first Resilience Corps in New Orleans. The Resilience Corps creates a path to long term careers for those hardest hit by COVID-19 and unemployment—and those who will be impacted by the climate disasters to come,” said Soni.

                                The Resilience Corps model is designed to be replicated in communities across the country. It aims to bridge the “resilience divide” – economic and racial inequalities. These inequalities exist because of the lack of support and resources local, state, and federal governments give to Black and Brown communities to prepare for and recover from disaster. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted these communities. The pandemic is the most recent and dramatic proof that the resilience divide is an urgent national crisis.

Local Women Leads A Great New Program

                                Spearheaded by New Orleans native, LaTanja Silvester, the program has been well received by community leaders and residents alike. Ms. Silvester draws upon years of experience.  As the former head of the SEIU, Silvester knows our community.  She works daily with New Orleanians across town. Silvester has developed community leaders. She trains and motivates her leaders to listen to our people.  Her network has a pulse on the needs of the community because they are actually in the community.

                                “It’s been incredibly rewarding to see both the opportunities we’re able to create with jobs, and the ways in which we’re impacting people’s lives through our work,” Silvester stated. “Because we’re working with members of each community we’re able to not only gain access but also trust almost immediately. Our community health workers know these people because they are their neighbors, friends and family. That personal connection has made all of the difference when it comes to moving the needle and enacting change.”

                                The New Orleans Resilience Corps has been able to support 15 community health workers through the first 6 months of the pilot. In those initial 6 months, they have reached over 10,000 door-to-door contacts since October. Since December,  they delivered over 1,200 hours of food and supply deliveries to COVID exposed households .  And our work has increased trust and accessibility for testing sites amongst Black and Latinx communities.   61% of the total community members were tested in key areas.

                                “This pilot is an example of how communities facing disaster can get those who have been economically impacted back to work by providing them with the good paying jobs that are essential to recovery – whether that’s as Community Health Workers who can address the public health needs of COVID-19 or rebuilders who fix homes after hurricanes,” Soni added. “Programs like this one are crucial to recovery as they compensate and protect workers, an important first step to building a more secure and resilient America. The New Orleans Resilience Corps is an example of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors joining forces with local governments to step up and take action.”

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