From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the state of California have grappled with the virus. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders living in the Inland Empire have not been immune to its ravages.
To this end, Pomona College’s Asian American Resource Center (AARC) has been awarded a $293,781 grant from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) using emergency funding allocated by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help low-income Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander residents navigate and access safety net programs like public health insurance.
The goal will be to create a formal network infrastructure that will support community-driven health initiatives and develop a resource hub to assist community members facing structural economic and health-related barriers.
“We are responding to a community demand in a creative way—we have to be reactive because of COVID-19, but the drive to do something like this has existed for years,” says Mike Manalo-Pedro, associate dean and director of the AARC. “This type of effort is much needed in the Inland Empire.”
Under the leadership of Manalo-Pedro and Assistant Director Asena Taione-Filihia, AARC will disburse sub-awards to staff of local non-profits, including Motivating Action Leadership Opportunity (MALO), Island Grad and Young Samoa, to provide navigation services for income support and healthcare access to Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders affected by COVID-19. This group is also known as Pasifika Inland Empire Coalition of Empowerment (PIECE). It includes families who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19, individuals becoming caregivers for sick family members and people temporarily out of work due to quarantine and isolation.
“Resources meant for those most affected by COVID-19 oftentimes don’t make it to communities like the Tongan or Pacific Islanders in the Inland Empire through traditional pathways,” says Lolofi Soakai, executive director of MALO. “Our families continue to be deeply affected by COVID-19. We’re grateful for the opportunity to lead the effort and inform the process and approach.”
Karla Thomas, the programs operations director of the CDPH grant, added that resources for Pasifika communities in the Inland Empire are not increasing at the same rate as our growing population, so these partnerships come with much gratitude.
In addition, the grant will fund four paid undergraduate student workers who will be placed with the nonprofits to get hands-on experience in the community.
“This grant will allow our vision of creating synergy between the community and our students to come true,” says Manalo-Pedro. “It will help our students get out of their bubble—get off campus and see that the world is much bigger than these four walls.”
The AARC, and campus partner Draper Center for Community Partnerships, hopes to engage 50 student volunteers from the Claremont Colleges to support community programs through the spring semester, summer break and the fall semester.