Abstract: A Shift in Power: Problem-Solving Community Needs during COVID-19 Crisis (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

A Shift in Power: Problem-Solving Community Needs during COVID-19 Crisis

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Encanto A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Dorlisa Minnick, PhD, Associate Professor, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, PA
Sonja Payne, MSW, SCRC Coordinator, Shippensburg Community Resource Coalition, Shippensburg, PA
Background & Purpose: When the US came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, K-12 institutions and higher education shifted to remote learning with social work internships and community-based research stopping. Effects of the statewide lockdown were felt immediately in a rural town with pre-pandemic poverty levels of 13.6% and 31.2% of residents at 200% of the poverty level (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). This paper describes the pivot of a rural university- community partnership in responding to immediate community needs during the pandemic. Social work educators and practitioners rolled up their sleeves to respond to the crisis.

Methods: Using the case study method (Padgett, 2008), this paper illustrates the process and outcome of a university- community partnership from data collected during weekly community calls and six-month qualitative stakeholder interviews as it pivoted to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in its rural community.

Results: The Community Health Mobilizer (CHM), an MSW, immediately organized weekly community calls composed of human service workers, religious leaders, town leadership, emergency management, social work faculty, and university administration to coordinate COVID-19 crisis response efforts. These weekly community calls have engaged 112 attendees with an average of 25, representing 82 organizations. The needs were widespread and changed weekly. The social worker engaged all hands in the response effort with the university-community partnership becoming the “hub” for resource information and distribution. A corporation gave funds to the university-community partnership to provide financial assistance and to hire a COVID-19 social worker for accessible case management for residents. Increased food insecurity rates was a primary concern. With university-community collaboration, food insecurity was reduced by delivering school meals, increasing the weekend feeding program for youth by 185%, and reorganizing the weekly community meals to a “Grab and Go” format to meet a 50% increased demand. Nineteen hundred face masks made by community members were delivered by social work interns to community volunteers, restaurants, and low-income families. As housing needs increased, the CHM worked closely with local housing authorities to provide renters and landlords with resources. The university-community partnership organized three landlord meetings to share information and created space for conversations between the University and student landlords. To assess the community’s response after 6 months in the pandemic, an intern interviewed key stakeholders and reported results at a community meeting.

Conclusions and Implications: In summary, the case study method enables a thorough examination of a university- community partnership during the pandemic while highlighting macro social work leadership. Power shifted in unplanned ways through the weekly community calls and COVID-19 response. The university administration acknowledged social work’s role in bridging the town-gown relationship and organizing resources effectively. The university-community partnership strengthened through continued and consistent collaboration. Lastly, this case study’s COVID-19 response is considered the “model” in its area for responding effectively to meeting community needs.


U.S. Census Bureau. (2020). Poverty status in the past 12 months, American Community Survey, 5-year estimates. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?t=Income%20and%20Poverty&g=9700000US4221570&tid=ACSST5Y2020.S1701

Padgett, D. (2008). Qualitative methods in social work research, 2nd ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.