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.