On May 4, 2021, VaxTogetherAustin became one of nineteen community-based organizations receiving a total of $415,000 in grant funding from United Way for Greater Austin, Austin Community Foundation, and St. David’s Foundation. This grantee cohort shares ideas and collaborates in monthly meetings and day-to-day communications in their grantee Facebook group.
Remember how we said that anyone can save lives in Central Texas? This week we want to introduce you to one of our vaccine equity initiative grantees who is doing just that. Meet VaxTogetherAustin, a COVID-19 health equity organization supporting underserved populations in Austin and surrounding areas.
Starting in January 2021, VaxTogetherAustin began as a loose coalition of volunteers drawn from various grassroots groups dedicated to helping people find COVID-19 vaccine appointments in and around the Austin area. Early efforts focused on serving seniors, the blind and visually impaired, medically fragile individuals, hesitant individuals, and underserved communities, while also assisting anybody who reached out for help.
“Initially I was on NextDoor, helping people in my neighborhood who needed help securing vaccine appointments for their elderly family members,” Sharon Cohan, VaxTogetherAustin Founder, and Executive Director said. “I ended up partnering with Raji Parameswaran, now President of the Board and Strategic Operations for VaxTogetherAustin when we realized we were doing the same thing. The next thing I knew, we had a spreadsheet of 300 people that were all eligible for vaccines and needed help.”
In February, Marcy Gonzalez, a visually impaired Austinite, helped VaxTogetherAustin identify a need for vaccine access in the blind and visually impaired community. Through their partnership with Walgreens, they brought a 300-dose Pfizer clinic to Austin Lighthouse. Austin Lighthouse (Travis Association for the Blind) employs 500 essential workers with disabilities, about half of whom are visually impaired.
“I think the magic in this event was just bringing people together that wouldn’t have normally communicated with each other,” Cohan said. “It feels like each additional person we vaccinate is one more person that we’re helping to heal. And ultimately, because of their healing, they are helping further the healing of the entire community.”
Working with seniors and the visually impaired are not the only areas of Austin VaxTogetherAustin is bringing their expertise to. In March 2021, they formed a partnership with Austin Independent School District and Austin Council of PTAs. With a focus on Title I schools, they began organizing vaccine clinics that bring Walgreens pharmacists directly to school campuses.
“The first school was Navarro High School. I knew through my connections that AISD was really wanting to bring vaccine clinics to Title I schools and I had 1,000 available Pfizer doses. It really just all came into place,” Cohan said. “Navarro provided plenty of staff and volunteers. They really understood what it meant to put on an event at their school – it was seamless.”
On May 4, 2021, VaxTogetherAustin became one of nineteen community-based organizations receiving grant funding from United Way for Greater Austin, Austin Community Foundation, and St. David’s Foundation. This grantee cohort shares ideas and collaborates in monthly meetings and day-to-day communications in their grantee Facebook group.
“We are so excited to be part of a larger network of other organizations that are doing similar work,” Katie Van Winkle, Secretary of the Board and Community Engagement said. “Just the other week Sharon and our new public health education specialist joined with Todos Juntos and several other United Way grantee organizations to film a PSA on Vaccine Education.”
Also in May 2021, VaxTogetherAustin incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit and elected a Board of Directors under the name TogetherAustin. Currently, they are connecting hundreds of people weekly to vaccine appointments at various Walgreens locations. In addition, they moderate numerous WhatsApp groups, a growing Facebook page with 5000+ members, and respond to scores of individual inquiries.
“Together, we can help Central Texas heal and rebuild,” Cohan said. “Please encourage your own communities to get their shots, and tell your own vaccination story!”
Want to learn more about our Vaccine Equity initiative and how you can get involved?
Learn more here.