Advancing shared accountability for meaningful community engagement with socially vulnerable communities: Lessons learned from COVID-19 health education and general outreach in an urban region


  • Marcela Nava
  • Caleb Crago
  • Monica Cañizares
  • Gabrielle Scott
  • Christian Vazquez



community engagement, COVID-19, social work, community resilience, human rights


As COVID-19 public health emergency measures come to an end, socially vulnerable communities have reduced access to resources that address social and health disparities created or exacerbated by the pandemic. Social workers must uphold access to healthcare as a human right in the post-pandemic era by reducing social vulnerability and strengthening community resilience to respond to future health emergencies and natural disasters. This paper draws on the experiences of a team of social work researchers, students, and practitioners engaged in efforts to disseminate information on COVID preventive measures and broker access to local health and social resources. This project, based in one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States, formed part of the federal research response to promote community engagement in regions most disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through participation in health fairs and community events that targeted persons with limited access to healthcare resources, we gathered critical insights on how to build community capacity for meaningful community engagement. Drawing on a conceptual model for evaluating community engagement strategies, we describe three main barriers to collaborative community outreach: weak organizational communication and coordination, inconsistent strategies for requesting on-site health services, and low neighborhood awareness of outreach events. We advance strategies for improvement that engage community-based organizations, health systems, backbone organizations, and community members in targeted activities to build community resilience. This includes inter-organizational communication during outreach event planning, formal processes to promote greater use of mobile health services, centralized event communication, and grassroots outreach event promotion.