CHEER Does the Long Branch Festival

The Long Branch Festival ran from September 10–12. The festival featured a variety of vendors and local organizations. There was also plenty of food and music. For Long Branch, this was the biggest in-person gathering since the pandemic began.

Saturday, September 11 was the main day; CHEER tabled all day. The CHEER team included both staff members and volunteers. Aside from general outreach and community-building efforts, CHEER facilitated a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

Vanesa Pinto, CHEER’s Empowerment and Leadership Director, talks about the importance of having community health workers involved in the clinic. “Only they know what it takes to convince and educate those who are still afraid and hesitant about vaccines in general,” says Pinto.

Kelly Umaña, CHEER’s Director of Health Programs, notes that the festival “is a great time to bring diverse families and communities together in one place to share all of our experiences and cultures collectively.”

Here’s Umaña contextualizing the vaccine clinic:

The clinic today was a clear indication that working with community-based organizations can reduce barriers and access to the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as being able to connect with familiar faces from the community to help address concerns about the vaccine. Thank you to Holy Cross Hospital for providing the vaccines. Thank you to the Latino Health Initiative and Por Nuestra Salud y Bienestar; we were also able to give out child-sized masks and care kits that included hand sanitizers. CHEER also gave out digital thermometers with information on how to monitor children’s temperatures. All of this is a result of the advocacy from our community health workers who have been actively seeing gaps in resources in our community. We take a Whole Community approach for our families.

CHEER’s Executive Director Bruce Baker tells me that “[t]he vaccine clinic at the Long Branch Festival was a great way to address immediate needs in the community in a fun and friendly place. It’s another way of being authentic with the community. We can confront the dire public health needs of the community and have fun while we are doing it.”

Here’s more from Baker:

CHEER was out there to support the community. We take a holistic approach to addressing community needs and want to offer everyone the information and opportunity to work together to create a great community that is a great place for everyone. We are grateful to the Long Branch Business League and its very active businesses and also the support that Montgomery Housing Partnership has in supporting and sustaining the Business League and sponsoring events like this.

Building community. Strengthening friends and neighbors. Connecting. Promoting public health and vaccine access. Welcoming people and educating them about the CHEER movement. The festival was a successful event, the celebration of a vibrant community, and another reminder of CHEER’s prominent presence in Long Branch.

*This piece first appeared in CHEER’s blog.

Taylor Dibbert is a writer and journalist. He’s the author of the Peace Corps memoir “Fiesta of Sunset,” and is seeking representation for his first novel.