Social capital work during COVID-19

This article was originally published in Community Voices. Check out the 2021 issue here.

For years, University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) has dedicated its efforts to building intercultural and linguistic connections to integrating incoming populations, disenfranchised community members, first-generation students, university faculty, staff, students, community-based organizations and government agencies around the development of a local model of mutual understanding and benefit. These efforts are evident in the wreath of partnerships UNP connects with and the diversity of its staff’s gender, racial, ethnic, cultural and age backgrounds.

This year, UNP drew on this social capital, built through nearly 20 years of presence in west side neighborhoods, to help everyone stay connected and respond to COVID-19 emergency needs. Through interconnections among people in different positions within different institutions, people were able to share information on resources such as testing, housing and rental assistance, schoolwork support and support with mental health and citizenship status.

The Glendale Community Learning Center has provided food and basic needs supplies to residents. A partnership with Salt Lake City Library is allowing us to support families in navigating the digital divide. The Wellness Bus, the Salt Lake County Health Department, the Utah Partners for Health Mobile Clinic and the University of Utah Health have provided COVID testing in the neighborhoods.

Funding from the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs and the Utah Office of Heath Disparities allowed the assembly of a team of Cultural Navigators to reach individuals and families regarding their most pressing needs. Collaborations happened in multiple languages including Spanish, Nepali, Somali, Burundi, Arabic, Swahili, Samoan, Tagalog, Karen, Bhutanese and more. Connections happened via phone calls, emails, social media, zoom meetings, Google apps and home visits.

The west side is a fascinating microcosm of multicultural strengths and a willingness to understand, respect and support each other with spiritual needs, basic material needs and connecting with institutional resources. Moving from isolation and surviving to integration and thriving has been the 2020 challenge for all of us. We have all suffered the loss of friends and family. We are navigating through sickness, unemployment, housing and school difficulties, emotional and mental health disturbances, fear for the future and much more.

Yet, we have also stood together to work toward eradicating division, racism and any kind of hate or separation discourse. We joined the city and community in large efforts to innovate, reimagine nature and protect the Jordan River, and we will continue striving toward a community coming together in mutual benefit.

Media Contacts

Morgan Aguilarcommunications specialist, University of Utah Communications