Avid Fans of: Community Trails

Avid (adjective) – having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something. It’s more than just our company’s namesake. Passion for our work and for the things we love is part of our core values. Each month we’ll share some of the things we’re Avid Fans of with you.

In the era of COVID-19 and social distancing, outdoor walks, runs, and hikes are some of the best ways to spend time. This month we’re sharing the trails we’re loving across the nation and abroad.

Virginia – Andrew Leitch Park Trail, Dale City, Virginia
I recently came to know of a trail that is part of a park I grew up frequenting with my siblings and friends! My husband and I are fortunate enough to live in the same city we both grew up in. A few months into the pandemic, we set out to explore all the trails “official and unofficial” that he biked through the years. Andrew Leitch Park is home to Waterworks Park, a summer staple if you grew up in Dale City, Virginia. It is also home to a beautiful four-mile trail that leads to the main road by my house. Our toddler loves running over the pedestrian bridges and splashing through the creeks. I look forward to running the trail this summer and I’m thrilled to know that there are expansion plans that will provide pedestrian and cyclist access by connecting trails around Andrew Leitch Park and another childhood staple, the Sharron Baucom Dale City Recreation Center. I look forward to enjoying these trails with my family for years to come!

Photo by Virginia Quiambao Arroyo

Amanda – Flatlick Stream Valley Park Trail, Chantilly, Virginia
Flatlick Stream Valley Park abuts my neighborhood and consists of both wetlands and serves as a floodplain. It also includes a paved trail that runs alongside Flatlick Branch. Despite being so close to houses and businesses, the trail is often a place of solitude—it seems like we rarely cross others and that’s perhaps also why it’s been a place of rare (for me) wildlife sightings. We’ve seen water snakes, foxes, moles, plenty of birds, fish, and clams. Recently, beavers have moved in. The trail offers options for foraging (berries, mushrooms, and wild onions), as well as beautiful wildflowers. I consider myself lucky to have access to such a beautiful resource and try to be a responsible steward. My family spent the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service out at the trail cleaning up the litter that ultimately collects from serving as a floodplain, and, just this week, we helped clear the trail after a tree fell blocking the path.  It’s wonderful having this treasure in my backyard.

Photo by Amanda Roberts

Stephanie – Shining Sea Bikeway, Falmouth, Massachusetts
A bike trail with a beach and ice cream shops?! Count us in. After quarantining for five months in 2020, my adventurous family decided we need to explore new trails. We excitedly packed up our bikes, helmets, and gear and headed to Cape Cod for the first time. The 10.7-mile Shining Sea Bikeway follows the route of a former railroad that provided service from the Cape to New York and Boston from 1872 to 1965. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s site provided the background information we needed to plan our day. Bikers of all ages enjoyed spotting the wildlife, going over the bridges, and finding relaxing places to take a water break with a gorgeous view. The trail captured the beauty of Cape Cod and was extremely family friendly. In fact, our youngest sped along on her balance bike receiving compliments from fellow bikers that boosted her confidence. We fulfilled our promise to have lunch on the beach, stack rocks, and dip our toes in the refreshing water.  We also promised to return this summer to enjoy the lighthouse views, yachts, and explore more of the trail. Until then, I’m treasuring my memories from my favorite bike ride and the special rocks we collected.

Ashley – Ensign Peak Trail, Salt Lake City, Utah
In September 2019, I was in Salt Lake City, Utah for a conference where I was running the hosting organization’s social media accounts and promotion efforts. Looking to get out of the conference center and keep my face out of screens for a bit, I decided to walk the Ensign Peak Trail. The actual trail is about one mile to the top of the small mountain, but you can walk through downtown and join up with the start of the trail behind the State Capitol building. It’s a great way to take in the whole city. The trail is well-maintained and features historical markers with information about the peak and the city below it.

Ensign Peak is where Brigham Young and the other pioneer leaders stood when they decided to settle in Salt Lake City. Standing up there myself and taking in the view at sunset, it was easy to see why.  

Photo by Ashley Dobson

Tremayne – Havasu Canyon Trail, Havasupai, Arizona
The Havasu Canyon Trail is a treasure of Northern Arizona. It is truly an oasis, surrounded by towering red cliffs of the Grand Canyon. On the Havasupai Indian Reservation, the town of Supai is listed as one of the most inaccessible cities on the continental United States. It sits along the river and is only accessible by foot, horseback, or helicopter. A few miles up from Supai are aquifers that spring up water rich in minerals and turquoise in color. The river runs through a series of five waterfalls, with the biggest one, Mooney Falls, sending water crashing down from over 200 feet. The 15-mile hike in direct sunlight with temperatures reaching over 110 degrees is all worth it once you dive into the cold, clear water below. It’s an experience you won’t forget.

Hana — Bondi to Coogee Walk, Sydney, Australia
During the spring of my junior year of college, I studied abroad in the most beautiful place on earth (cue the bias). Less than a mile from my dorm was Coogee Beach, the last stop on the famous Bondi to Coogee coastal walk — about a four-mile trail looking over some of the most breathtaking views I will ever see in my life! Within those four miles, you get mountains, beaches, the Bondi Baths, bays, and a seemingly infinite number of dogs whose lives could not get any better. I will always remember how each beach along the walk had its own personality. Tamarama was wild and unpredictable, but surfers there thrived under pressure. Clovelly was calm and peaceful, usually where families with young kids spent their days snorkeling.

Out of all my Sydney adventures, I felt the luckiest having this trail in my own neighborhood. It’s where I connected with new friends, found solitude, explored my new home, and even spent my 21st birthday. There’s no doubt that I’ll be back!

Photo by Hana Chabinsky

Andrew — East Bay Bike Path, Providence, Rhode Island
Growing up in Providence, the East Bay Bike Path was one of those trails I “discovered” as a kid that I keep coming back to as an adult.  Roughly 15 miles long, the path starts in the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence, crosses the Seekonk River and runs south along the eastern coast of Narragansett Bay. The route takes you through some stunning views of the coastline, is well maintained and offers easy access all along the way for cycling and walking.

My favorite part is the Old Bridge Path, connected just north of where the bike path begins, which takes you by the Crook Point Bascule Bridge – an abandoned railway drawbridge that’s stuck in the “up” position. The broken bridge has stubbornly avoided demolition for over 40 years and has become an oddly beautiful and sentimental icon of the city. Maybe you have to be there to understand.

Photo by Andrew Curtin

Happy First Birthday, Avid Core!

It’s been quite a wild journey! While new to owning a business, Amanda and I have known each other and worked together for more than a decade. We launched Avid Core with a solid understanding of our individual strengths and weaknesses and our established working relationship allowed us to have frank conversations and make calculated business decisions quickly. We kicked off our first year eager to endure the growing pains of entrepreneurship, but nothing could have prepared us for the bumpy road ahead.

Virginia Quiambao Arroyo (left) and Amanda Roberts (right), cofounders of Avid Core

With stay-at-home orders in place, our personal and professional worlds collided as we facilitated difficult client discussions with toddlers dancing to “Baby Shark” in the background. We developed and implemented company policies, while managing our own at home to protect our loved ones from the deadliest pandemic of our lifetime. We executed outreach strategies to disenfranchised stakeholders, while our nation continued to grapple with the pain and consequences of institutional racism and social injustice.

Like so many of us, we have done our best to face adversity and recognize the privilege and responsibilities we have as business owners and employers. There are still many lessons to learn through this journey, but this year proved our personal and professional perseverance.

So, what have we learned? What does the next year hold for us?

People and Partnerships

From trying to keep in touch with family and friends, to protecting and helping the most vulnerable in our communities, we have had to get creative to stay connected. Social distancing has taken its toll, yet it remains that there is much more to be gained through maintaining strong relationships, developing collaborative partnerships, and just generally helping others.

While our strong foundation and friendship made the transition to operating a business remotely a bit easier, building our company culture and team has been difficult. We find ways to build relationships with prospective staff in advance of hiring. We have had to tailor our recruitment strategy and rely more on our intuition to determine if someone not only has the right skillset but is also the right fit for our “core”.

Despite the hurdles that come with a new small business being forced to work remotely, we have adapted. It has allowed us to be flexible in the types of work we pursue and is valuable in many circumstances, whether it is a small, one-time project or a large effort with full-time employees. We are exploring long-term volunteer opportunities to help our neighbors and enhance our public spaces. We will also be reaching out to potential partners who share the same creative and collaborative spirit.

Expanding our network has been difficult with not being able to attend networking events and meet new people. Instead, we’ve mastered the various types of digital outreach tools (ex: Zoom, WebEx, Teams, Meet, FaceTime & GoToMeeting) to help us stay connected. Despite the distance, we look forward to hosting more virtual discussions in 2021. Please reach out if you want to connect and do not be surprised if you receive an email or phone call from us!

Certifications

We are close to receiving our Virginia Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and Small, Woman, and Minority (SWaM) certification. This year we will be looking to expand our DBE certifications in other states to add value to projects looking for innovative ways to enhance communications and public involvement while meeting small business goals. At the federal level, we are in the queue to receive the Small Business Administration’s Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification, and we are working toward eligibility for the 8(a) program. We look forward to leveraging new and existing relationships with federal, state, local, and private partners to utilize these certifications. If you would like to discuss potential partnerships under these programs, let us know!

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Over the last year we have witnessed a historic call to action around the world to address the need for real change in unjust practices and policies, to admit that racism lurks within our institutions, and to accept the challenge that comes with dismantling it. As a woman- and minority-owned small business, we take our responsibility and commitment to this call to action seriously. We pledge to create a company culture and workforce that reflects the rich diversity that makes us such a powerful nation. While we have taken steps to fulfill this pledge, we will continue to work with subject matter experts to routinely evaluate and refine our policies and procedures, cultivate a dialogue within our team to openly discuss difficult and uncomfortable issues. We are committed to developing solutions for those issues to be addressed.

In our work, we have always looked to employ environmental justice practices and expand culturally sensitive outreach and communications strategies to communities. We have been working with thought leaders to combine their organizational development and training expertise with our expertise in communications and outreach to create a DE&I program that is reflective of authentic experiences and equips organizations with the communications tools needed to implement their plans. Stay tuned for more on this initiative later this month!

We are ready to build off the momentum of an exciting, yet tumultuous first year. Despite the hurdles, like all of you, we showed up and overcame the obstacles. We grew our existing work. We won new work. We grew our team. And now, we look forward to the road ahead!

— Virginia Quiambao Arroyo & Amanda Roberts

Looking Back on 2020 at Avid Core

Launching a company during a pandemic has come with its own unique set of challenges. 2020 has been such a hard year for so many and we are so grateful for the support you have shown us at Avid Core.

Despite the unique set of circumstances, Avid Core has grown this year as company and put our core values into practice at every turn.

Our team has learned about ourselves and the ways we complement each other. We’ve examined how to continuously improve the work we do, and we’ve started to carve out our niche as a strategic communications and public outreach firm.

We look forward to the years to come and can’t wait to see what’s ahead in 2021!

Beginning My Second Chapter as Avid Core’s First Intern

To commemorate Jenae’s internship with Avid Core, we have donated in her honor to the non-profit of her choice. Jenae selected the Black Women’s Health Imperative, a national organization dedicated to the health and wellness of Black women and girls, and we are proud to support this wonderful organization and the important work they do.

If there’s one silver lining about being an intern during a pandemic, it’s that there’s no one in the office to fetch coffee for. But at Avid Core, even if we were working in person, no one would expect the intern to do a coffee run.

As a 2020 college graduate, my internship with Avid Core was a great opportunity to mark the end of my era as a student, and begin to learn more about myself as a professional. It taught me what I like to do, highlighted my strengths and areas of improvement, showed me how I can hone transferable skills to support my interests, and offered experience working in a remote environment.  I learned something new every day, whether it was about communications consulting or just “adulting.” Either way, it was clear that I was now working in the “real world” that I had been hearing about between the walls of a classroom for the last four years.

Jenae Barnes, Communications Specialist Intern, with her bio on Avid Core’s website.

When I graduated from George Mason University in May, I was scared. The uncertainty of post-graduation is significantly more stressful amid a pandemic and recession. After months of applying and freelancing for work, I was so excited to accept this position as a Communications Specialist intern. As a developing journalist, I wanted more experience in the communications field as a whole and figured working with a woman-owned communications firm based right in my hometown was a unique place to start.

Avid Core’s flat working dynamic makes the company feel like a close-knit team. Everyone is approachable and made me feel welcome right from the beginning. My team made the “real world” less intimidating by making me feel included every step of the way. I was invited to add myself to the team section of the website, which was a first for me. This inclusion and support continued throughout the internship, echoing through every meeting, project, and happy hour.

A screenshot from Avid Core’s virtual Halloween Bingo Happy Hour event.

At the beginning of my internship, I was encouraged to set measurable goals, whether they were job-specific or focused on honing my professional development. Though I had never previously done many of the tasks I did at Avid Core, over a few short months, I steadily built my experience and skillset. It feels rewarding to be able to look back and see how much progress I have made from the projects at the beginning of my internship to now. That feeling is the crux of a beneficial internship and reflects the importance of setting goals from the beginning.

I confirmed that I like working with others, a big part of the Avid Core ethos. Even as a remote office, team projects and tag-ups are part of the daily routine, which is helpful for getting feedback. In addition to collaborating with others, I was also offered opportunities to take on a leadership role. I crafted the company’s first Crisis Communication Plan, managing the project from start to finish and boosting my confidence in my capabilities as a project leader.

I learned the importance of networking and building a good network of colleagues.  As Avid Core is a new company, I’ve learned how those connections become key pillars of support.  I’m proud that I’ll be able to count on my team members here in my own professional network as I continue my career.

As a woman of color, it was inspiring to work for a woman- and minority-owned business, which I’ve never done before. I used to have a mental image of what a “boss” or “professional” looked like, and this idea made it seem less attainable to ever reach that level of success. But the more I worked with successful women, who are also successful parents and wives and business leaders, the more I learned that we had a lot in common. It showed me that it’s as accessible for me as it is for them.

I am so honored to have been Avid Core’s first intern. In my team bio, I wrote about how excited I was to add Avid Core to my story. Now, as my internship comes to a close, I feel confident and prepared to turn the page and begin my next chapter.

Jenae Barnes is a freelance journalist and member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) with bylines in ABC News, Blavity News, and Medium. Read more of her work.

Designing Digital Solutions with Veterans in Mind

In support of our Veterans, Avid Core is donating to the Fisher House Foundation, a non-profit organization that has provided 10 million nights of housing and $20 million in scholarships for military families. We encourage you to get involved and, if you are able, to find ways to give back to the brave people that have sacrificed for our freedom.

“I don’t want to jump through hoops to send my doctor my records,” one Veteran participant shared with a User Experience (UX) researcher. “I’ve called the VA and sent emails. I never find the right form when I need it and then I have to wait weeks for approval. At this point, I just want to send the right information from my phone to my doctor so I can have my surgery.” This was when it hit me. Our Veterans are tired of the legacy processes. They needed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to remove the obstacles and provide direct access to their information. Veterans wanted to control who could see their health information, file a claim from their phone and manage their benefits. Last year, the MISSION ACT provided more than 9 million Veterans with greater access to health care in VA facilities and the community, expanded benefits for caregivers, and improved VA’s ability to retain the best medical providers.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Headquarters, October 2020

The results wouldn’t have been possible without Travis Sorenson. As a Veteran himself, he understood the unique needs and knew the best ways to hear feedback. Sorenson, CEO of Oddball, formed a team of dedicated product managers, developers and customer success experts to develop a digital gateway in support the launch of the new Veterans Community Care Program. The Oddball team worked with Veterans, Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), software developers and members of the community to gather requirements and test application programming interfaces. As a member of the Outreach Team, I was happy to hear the praise about the new ability to visit a nearby medical provider, rather than having to wait weeks to schedule an appointment or drive long distances to be seen at a VA facility. We were helping Veterans save time and receive the medical treatment they needed. The impact was monumental.

Working with Travis and Veterans Affairs opened my eyes to the simple ways we can make a difference in our Veterans’ lives. Travis introduced me to Patriot Boot Camp, which helped blaze his path to becoming one of FCW’s 2019 Rising Stars. The Oddball team and I joined other Carry the Load volunteers to clean tombstones of our fallen soldiers at a local National Veterans Cemetery. Travis has been able to give back to the Patriot Boot Camp community by raising funds and hosting a lunch and learn webinar to launch Veterans’ and military spouses’ careers. I applaud Travis and other Veteran-facing organizations for leading the charge to help Vets become more tech-savvy.

Avid Core is dedicated to finding new ways to serve our Vets and listen to their needs beyond the annual holiday. Members of our team have worked with the following grassroot Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs):

Avid Core’s staff members have the privilege of working side-by-side with representatives from all military branches and understand some of the hardships Vets have experienced over the years. We are committed to helping Veterans find new opportunities and transition back to civilian life smoothly. We listen to Veterans’ needs and make sure their voices are represented through the public involvement processes we manage. And we design digital solutions to improve communications with our Veterans in mind.

Now What? Staying Involved after the 2020 Election

You did it! You voted early, or you’ve made a plan and—come Hell or high water—you will vote.

You probably feel pretty responsible right now, like I did when I vacuumed the floor that one time.

So now what? If you have the time, maybe you can sit back and watch the results come in, or maybe you have to go back to work or class. Maybe you can wear your “I voted” sticker to Starbucks and everyone will say, “Wow, look how responsible that guy is—I bet he owns a vacuum.”

But your involvement shouldn’t end there. Having worked for congressional offices and consulted with federal agencies and state and local governments, I’ve seen firsthand how informed and involved members of the public really do shape policy and governance more than just every two or four years.

Whether you’re a first-time voter, you’re back to voting after a hiatus, or you vote regularly but want to reassess how you engage with politics, here are some tips and resources to help you stay involved:

Find Out Where You Stand

You probably have some idea what you like in a candidate, but can you clearly explain how you reached a decision? If not—or if you haven’t thought about it in a while—there are a number of resources out there that can help you better understand and describe where your opinions land you on the political spectrum, and what politicians, parties or organizations believe the same things you do.

For example, iSideWith matches your answers to questions about the issues with candidates running for office and tells you how similar or how different their stances are to yours. Political Typology Quiz, by the Pew Research Center, will also ask you a bunch of questions and give you an answer about what political “type”—e.g. “Core Conservative” or “Solid Liberal,” etc.—fits you best. Finally, The Political Compass will use issue-based questions to place you at a point on a political spectrum and match you up to current and historical political leaders, allowing you to compare how their beliefs are more or less similar to yours.

Know Your Representatives

You know who’s at the top of your ballot, but do you know who your local, county, state or federal representatives are? Figuring it all out can be confusing—especially given that not every elected office is up for reelection at the same time.

Fortunately, there are a number of resources for finding out exactly who represents you. My Reps will let you plug in your street address and find the names, party affiliations and contact info for all of your elected representatives.  GovTrack is a similar tool for finding out your representatives at the federal level, and OpenStates gives the same info for state representatives.

Once you understand how to reach them, understand how they can help you—representatives can not only be an advocate for you regarding new regulations but they can also help connect you with government services or provide you with more information on government programs.

Read the news – and in between the lines

Media literacy is a critical and undertaught skill. Broadly, it means knowing how to evaluate news sources for credibility, and how to separate fact from fiction. If you’re just getting involved in politics, or want to step up your engagement, you’re going to want not only to keep up with the news, but to change how you read or hear it. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you make a decision based on the news, or share an article or clip:

  • Who is paying for this?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Do other sources say the same thing?
  • What persuasive techniques does the author use? Are they trying to “sell” me something?
  • Am I being told what I want to hear?

It’s up to you to develop the skill to critically evaluate the sources of information you see and hear, but there are a couple of resources to get you started that might help. For information about claims that can be verified based on fact, visit FactCheck.org. For information about what individuals and organizations are involved in funding various candidates and campaigns, visit OpenSecrets.org.

Offer your Input on Federal Rulemaking

At any given moment, federal agencies are writing, rewriting and soliciting public comments on thousands of federal regulations that impact millions of Americans, from who qualifies for various government subsidies and grants, to what federal lands can be open to energy development and what lands should be used for environmental conservation, to whether or not almond milk can legally be called “milk”—yes, people apparently have very strong opinions on this.

Despite the volume of rulemaking initiatives, the federal government has tried to modernize and make public comment accessible to all through regulations.gov. There are plenty of opportunities to comment, and plenty of initiatives to comment on—research and look for trending initiatives, read the docket information and use your background and experience to make a meaningful contribution. Before you comment, understand how your comment is going to be used—often times agencies are looking for information and data, not opinions, in order to inform policies and regulations.

Adopt an Issue, Volunteer and Reach Out

What are the political issues that matter to you most? Research and find people and organizations that will help you use your time and energy in the most effective and meaningful way. If you’re new to politics, start on local issues that matter to you and will help you build the skills you need to research, organize, campaign and persuade. You don’t have to turn away from national conversations, but starting smaller can help you build a foundation to work on bigger and more complicated policy issues.

There are plenty of opportunities to participate both during and after election season. Find a candidate or organization and look for opportunities to volunteer, whether at a virtual event, a voter registration drive, an online forum, a rally or a demonstration.

Did you find out where you stand, find out who your representatives are, research and adopt an issue? Now is the perfect time to reach out. Call, email, or write your representatives. Staff members read and categorize information provided, and representatives get briefed on what their constituents are saying. Some representatives are avid Twitter users and will personally respond via DM. If you don’t know your representative’s stance on a particular issue, just ask. After all—you pay them!

The Digital Pivot

As a child I was always drawn to electronics. Buttons? Yes, I pushed every single one to see what would happen. My non-technical family members took advantage of my interests. It started with programming their remotes, then it was resetting the clocks on the kitchen appliances, and eventually I graduated to purchasing cell phones, laptops, and serving as on-call IT support.

I was very fortunate to find an opportunity that allowed me to blend my passions for communications and IT. My consulting career began at the Department of Homeland Security while it was in its infancy. Post-9/11, our mission was to build an innovative IT biometric security system that would prevent known criminals and terrorists from entering the United States. With my suitcase always packed, I was able to visit 30 ports of entry and speak with people who wanted their concerns to be addressed. As a result, the Program Management Office (PMO) and our Outreach Team was recognized for successfully modernizing and securing our borders.

This experience opened the doors to decades of transforming old-fashioned paper processes into digital services. While the majority of the world is not fluent in coding or technical jargon, I was able to ask questions to help define the new technology’s benefits and then translate that into terms the public could easily understand. I enjoyed hosting webinars explaining everything from how inventors could save time and money by using the electronic patent filing portal to how to bring agencies together to collaborate on one secure network in order to respond to national emergencies. I am constantly impressed by the number of hours, dollars, and trees saved by replacing a paper process with one IT system. It also gives clients more robust data to work with in the future.

My most recent experience is with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Information Technology. I witnessed firsthand how application programming interfaces (APIs) and digital services impact our Veterans. With an innovative mission, VA leadership is laser-focused on removing obstacles and transforming how our Veterans receive healthcare. Veterans now have the ability to share their medical records and meet with a doctor by simply clicking a button on their phone.

When the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way the world functioned, it made many people re-assess priorities. It certainly impacted the way I function as a professional and mother. I wanted to be a part of the solution to help innovate the way our communities respond to emergency crises. The timing seemed perfect when Virginia and Amanda knocked on my virtual door. Learning that two of the most wonderful colleagues launched their own strategic communications firm just made sense. We discussed the opportunity to reunite and grow this small, woman-owned business. My brain excitedly yelled, “PIVOT!” just like Ross from Friends. It was definitely time to pivot for the right reasons.

I am really proud to join Avid Core. This powerhouse team brings together experienced strategists, journalists, facilitators and project managers to redefine how to collaborate with the public and private sector. My goal is to find innovative ways to enhance the digital services we provide to our community. As vice president, I am focused on creating new partnerships with forward-thinking teams looking to improve their processes, communicate change, and deliver excellent products. I look forward to helping others make the digital pivot.

Want to learn more now? Let’s grab a virtual drink and discuss.  

Stephanie Mace | Email | LinkedIn

COVID-19, Community, and the Power of Public Engagement

In support of the Navajo Nation, especially in this critical time, Avid Core is donating to the official Navajo Nation Response Fund. We encourage you to join us to see where you can help—financially or otherwise—and to seek help when you need it.

I grew up in a small rural community on the Navajo Reservation called Birdsprings, Arizona. There isn’t much there – you’ll find dirt roads, a chapter house (similar to a city hall), scattered hogans (traditional houses), and a small church on top of a hill where the community congregates every Sunday.

The Navajo Nation extends into the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, covering 27,000 square miles of beautiful landscape characterized by arid deserts, alpine forests, high plateaus, and mesas. The reservation, roughly the size of West Virginia, has 12 healthcare facilities, 13 grocery stores, and a very limited amount of testing sites. When COVID-19 was making headlines as a novel coronavirus in China in January, I never imagined that my tribe, my home, would soon have one of the highest infection rates within the U.S.

Volunteers unload cases of bottled water at a church in the Navajo Nation

The Navajo people have been grappling with poor socioeconomic conditions for hundreds of years. The absence of vital infrastructure for electricity and plumbing has made this fight against COVID-19 seem impossible. About 60,000 people on the reservation still live without electricity and nearly 10,000 households are without running water.

After the rapid spread of coronavirus throughout Navajo land, our small church shuttered their doors and gatherings have been minimal. The tight-knit community culture has had difficulty practicing social distancing because many of the Navajo elderly don’t understand the necessity. The Navajo President issued nightly curfews, and weekend lockdowns with fines up to $1,000 in response to the rapid spread. Our community-oriented culture largely came to a standstill.

Reaching the community during a pandemic is a daunting task. Limited access to cell phones and even less access to the internet by the population at large has made public outreach difficult. We rely on the community to communicate the needs of each household, which is challenging when you’re not allowed to leave your own home. The supply chain issues that hit stores across the nation were magnified in small communities, and my small community found itself in need of cleaning supplies and food which can still be hard to come by.

In an effort to help, I was able to coordinate a donation from another church in Flagstaff, Arizona. They gathered boxes of essential cleaning supplies and culturally-appropriate food ingredients to share with the community. I helped with the distribution of more than 50 boxes of food and supplies to families throughout the community.

Public outreach and strategic communication are not only methods of informing the community, but a tool to empower it. Working together to coordinate this donation helped bring back our sense of community and gave to those who were most in need.

At Avid Core, we recognize the power of communication and public engagement. The possibilities of empowering communities through the work we do are endless, and we seek to use our skills to equip communities with accurate and transparent information to make the right decisions for themselves.

So often, smaller communities are left out of the conversation when it comes to national issues. We must bring them to the table to affect real change and ensure their needs are met. In our company’s public outreach efforts, we take extra care to seek out a full picture of those impacted or potentially impacted and work to find the best ways to reach them.

Currently, the Navajo people are still fighting. Through resilience and strength of the community we have been able to flatten the curve, but we still see a strain on the fragile healthcare facilities and limited personal protection equipment.

We will never forget these times of uncertainty and anxiety, but it is during these moments that community and collectiveness will keep us strong. As a communicator, I aspire to always use my talents and role to aid my people.

Making a Meaningful Impact through Public Outreach

I started my career in book publicity and celebrity events. On paper, it seemed like everything you could want in a job—cool connections, the chance to be creative, living in the city—everything!

Though I learned a lot, I ultimately discovered that I needed something different to feel fulfilled in my work and I looked toward the public sector. My biggest takeaway from my early work was the understanding that public outreach always has impact. But it is up to communicators to determine if that impact makes a real difference.  

At Avid Core, we believe comprehensive public outreach is our responsibility, and, in the government sector, public outreach is even more important. People often feel disconnected from the government and the choices officials make, even though many of those choices impact their day-to-day lives.

A good outreach strategy should inform, educate, and give the public a voice. Public outreach can even cultivate buy-in and be the difference between a project’s success and failure.

There are three major factors that can influence the success of your public outreach strategy.

Determining Your Audience

Make every effort to engage the totality of people who will be impacted by any project. Too often organizational leaders want to jump into their messaging without doing the research to understand who they are reaching and who they need to be reaching.

Without taking the time to understand your audience and who your audience should be, you can’t create effective messaging. And if you aren’t getting any important feedback from your ongoing outreach, it’s time to cast the net a little wider.

Reaching Your Audience

It is necessary not only to expand the voices involved in your projects, but also to expand the ways that you deliver information. Meet people where they are.

After outlining who you need and want to reach, delve into the ways this audience wants to communicate with you. Are there community leaders that need to be brought in to help spread the word? Will it require a combination of social media, e-mail, and direct mail? These answers will vary from project to project, audience to audience, and you must be willing to shift with them.

Making it Real

It is crucial to create a real option for feedback and give the public a chance to share their knowledge. As the people most impacted by a project, they can help identify issues you may have never considered. 

But this feedback can’t just be lip service. If you want stakeholders and members of the public to trust you enough to offer information, you must prove you will act on their behalf. Showcasing the actionable steps taken after a campaign is critical.

While these are far from the only determining factors in a successful outreach strategy, these are three areas we put a special emphasis on at Avid Core.

A comprehensive public outreach strategy is just one way communicators can play a role in working toward a more equitable society. As we grow as a company, we remain committed to making a meaningful impact in any way we can.   

Black Lives Matter

Our nation’s systematic problems of racism, inequity and injustice are deeply woven into our history and, unfortunately, in some of the hearts and minds that run the systems that govern, protect, hire, and educate us. Many will claim that our problems are behind us, or that we just shouldn’t talk about it.

But for us, as communicators and as people, that was never an option. Speaking out against the senseless and tragic murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others and evaluating our role in being a part of the solution to reform these systems is both our corporate and individual responsibility. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re committed to the collective effort needed to effect change.

As individuals and as a small business, we’re reflecting on how we put our founding values of inclusivity, integrity and equity into practice, and on finding ways we can be better.

Contributing to the Cause

As a team, we’re making available a charitable fund for employees to draw from to support causes that they care about deeply. The organizations our employees have chosen to support are:

Evaluating Our Hiring Practices

We’re making an effort to broaden the way we distribute our job postings, making sure we advertise new jobs and internships in a way that leverages the diversity of our community, such as by including Historically Black Colleges and Universities in our recruitment program and working with subject matter experts to help evaluate and develop our hiring practices.

Promoting Pay Transparency

Talking openly about compensation is a simple, but powerful way to reduce the wage gap for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and women. At Avid Core, we will include a salary range for each new job posting, and we are encouraging current employees to share their own salary range with their fellow colleagues.

Checking up on Each Other & Prioritizing Mental Health

When the news can feel overwhelming, we’re making sure that we regularly ask our team how we’re doing and encouraging all to speak up and seek support when they feel overwhelmed by issues that may deeply affect themselves, families, and their community. We also want every team member to feel as though they have a voice and have the power to speak up if there is an area in which we can do better.

This is only the beginning, and we are committed to making progress as we grow. Join us in starting the conversation with your colleagues, friends and family.