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.

In the News

As we move forward with our digital launch, we’re thankful to our friends and colleagues who have made introductions, set up Zoom meet-and-greets, joined us for virtual happy hours and provided us with guidance on starting a new business. While we’re focused on growth, we also hope to make an impact on our industry, the small business community and the community of minority women entrepreneurs in Northern Virginia and the Greater Washington, DC area. It’s been just over a month, but it already feels like we’re making great strides! I’d like to take a moment to share with you a few highlights of the media attention we’ve received from area news outlets and industry publications:

DCist | For Owners of Newly Opened Local Businesses, ‘A Little Thing Like A Pandemic Cannot Stop Us’

“A digital strategy was the only option available for Avid Core, a communications firm based in Northern Virginia that launched this spring…. Avid Core has already made that digital jump with video conferencing tools like WebEx, but there are some aspects of starting a new business that require a personal touch.” Read more.

Capitol Communicator | Avid Core Launches in Northern Virginia

“Avid Core has launched in Fairfax, Virginia.  According to a release, Avid Core is a new strategic communications firm focused on responsible and sustainable development of large infrastructure projects… ‘Avid Core is launching as a small, nimble team working on big, complex issues, and we’re hungry to sink our teeth into new challenges,’ said Virginia Quiambao.” Read more.

PRovoke | News from M Group, Avid Core, RooneyPartners, FiComm Partners, Tickr, Matter Communications

“Washington-area communicators Virginia Quiambao and Amanda Roberts have launched an agency, called Avid Core, focused on all aspects of communications and public outreach.” Read more.

Balancing Motherhood and Management during a Pandemic

In support of families who are parenting in a time of unprecedented crisis, we are making a charitable donation to the Greater DC Diaper Bank, which works to provide resources for Washington, DC-area parents in need. We encourage you to join us to see where you can help—financially or otherwise—and to seek help when you need it.

Balancing Motherhood and Management during a Pandemic

Around this time every year, we start reflecting on motherhood. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, the joys and the trials, what it means to be a mother, and the privilege of having a mother still around are all dissected and mused upon.

This year, motherhood—and parenthood in general—has been on even greater display. No matter your circumstance, it’s no secret that parenting during a pandemic is unbelievably difficult.

As we try to balance the new world order, the launch of our company, and our roles as mothers, we thought we would share our perspectives, some insights we’ve gained, and words of wisdom we’ve received.

Amanda Roberts, Avid Core Partner and Chief Marketing Strategist, eating lunch with her children Miles (right) and Ava (left)
Amanda Roberts, Partner and Chief Marketing Strategist, with her son Miles (left) and daughter Ava (right)

Amanda Roberts, Mother of Ava, 3, and Miles, 7 months

I love my kids, but I’m counting down the days until they are back at school. It’s impossible to stay patient when you are on a conference call and your toddler is pulling your hair and screaming in your ear while your baby is fussing to be held. It’s hard.

On the other hand, I’m fortunate that they are an endless source of entertainment. I’m never bored in quarantine! It’s been wonderful watching my son, who could not even roll over before this began, hit different growth milestones—he’s now starting to crawl.

I feel like I’m falling short in every aspect of my life—as a mother, as a consultant, and as a wife—and I can’t wait to get back to some semblance of normal. In the meantime, here are a couple things I’ve been doing to get by:

  • I began this with what I called a “parenting sandwich with work buns.” Start the day early, before the kids are up, and get work done. Take time off throughout the day to watch the kids, and then put in more hours after they are asleep. I ditched this pretty early on, because I found that it’s not easy to take off during the workday when there are a lot of scheduled calls. So I’ve been finding out ways to combine the two—feed the kids breakfast during my morning team check-in, take a walk with the kids during other calls, and get a lot of work done during the children’s afternoon nap. 
  • I try not to dwell on what I can’t do right now and rely on the resources that I do have. My team here at Avid Core has been crucial for helping fill in the gaps at work. At home, my husband is often stepping in at a moment’s notice when an unexpected call pops up. I bypass the closed playgrounds and take long walks on the trails that are still open.
    When all else fails, I put on Disney+ to entertain the kids for a few brief moments.

I also recognize, as hard as things are right now for me, it’s a lot harder for others who are struggling without the resources that I have. I have a job. I have a healthy family. Things are different, but they aren’t actually all that bad.

Virginia Quiambao, Avid Core Partner and Chief Operations Officer, with Husband Roberto Arroyo, daughters Vanessa and Selena, and son Nico
Virginia Quiambao, Partner and Chief Operations Officer, with her family: (from left to right) Roberto Arroyo, Virginia Quiambao, Vanessa, Nico, and Selena

Virginia Quiambao, Mother of Selena, 18 months, and Bonus Mom to Nico, 13, and Vanessa, 19

I’m feeling incredibly fortunate, even in the midst of so much chaos. I became a bonus mom before my toddler came along. Blending families isn’t easy, but Vanessa and Nico make the heartburn worth it. And while they are old enough to be self-sufficient and even help me out with Selena’s care, they are having to handle the emotional and mental impacts of COVID-19 as a teen and a young adult.

I’m also working to find the silver lining in all of this. As I started to prepare Selena’s Montessori-inspired play area for her to use while she stays home with me during the day, I realized how out of tune I was with her development needs. Having the opportunity to spend this crucial time with her may not have happened if not for the COVID-19 crisis. I’ve learned so much about her during this six-week period. For me, it has served as a reminder to mindfully prioritize my family because I am so often consumed with the day-to-day.

These days at home have taught me a couple of shareable lessons:

  • Be more deliberate with your time. Maintaining flexibility is important, but prioritizing is essential.
  • Lean on your team. Delegating is important for everyone’s growth, and it’s ok to ask for help. This scenario is NOT normal.

Your Best Advice

We lean on our team and community—in and out of the office—and we welcome all advice from our fellow mothers and parents out there striving to do their best. These are a few of our favorite tips we’ve received over the past few weeks:

  • Go outside! Taking some time for a change of scenery and fresh air will do you a world of good.
  • Be patient with your children, your co-workers, and yourself.  
  • Keep it light! If gets to a point where you are frustrated with your children, get silly. Do something to lighten the mood and distract from whatever is causing the frustration.
  • Communicate with your co-workers and clients about your situation. If they aren’t receptive and understanding, it might be a sign to consider a professional change.

Despite the challenges we face as we work to balance motherhood and management, we have so much to be grateful for this Mother’s Day.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. We’ll certainly need one to get through this crazy time.

Announcing Avid Core

We are so excited to announce the launch of our new strategic communications company, Avid Core. We’re launching as a small, nimble team working on big, complex issues and we’re hungry to sink our teeth into new challenges.

Most importantly, we’re launching as the kind of company we are proud to be a part of. A lot of people start businesses out of necessity. We had other options in our field but realized that we could create more opportunities for others and create the kind of firm we have always wanted to work for by starting it ourselves from the ground up.

When we decided to establish Avid Core—more than six months ago—there was no way we could have predicted the environment we’d be launching into. We always knew it would be a challenge. Both of us have young kids (three years, one year, and six months old) and balancing our families, our regular workload, and the nascent stages of a company was a formidable task from the start. Adding the COVID-19 pandemic on top of everything makes the idea of launching a company seem crazy. But we think it would be crazier not to launch.

In times of uncertainty and crisis, it’s important to take control of the things that you can. For us, this means launching Avid Core and introducing ourselves to the world. While we planned to host a launch party, to set up introductory meetings with potential clients and partners, and to attend a flurry of networking events to get Avid Core’s name out there, now it seems that the tried-and-true sales practice of “knocking on doors” will be replaced by the dings of web conferences and the Muzak of conference call systems.

Our launch looks a little different than we originally intended, but it has inspired the type of creative and out-of-the-box thinking that we hope becomes synonymous with Avid Core.

We are passionate about helping our clients achieve their goals and about serving as reliable partners who balance process and progress to strategically move projects forward. These founding principles guide all our work and decisions.

We’re confident that we will get through this challenging time as a community and that we will rebuild in a way that is better than before. Our hope is that Avid Core can help with that.

— Virginia Quiambao Arroyo & Amanda Roberts