Community Action of Skagit County’s Latinx Advisory Committee Innovates and Receives National Recognition

Community Action of Skagit County’s Latinx Advisory Committee and COVID Prevention Team has been recognized by the National Community Action Partnership (NCAP), as one of their first highlighted initiatives in their Human Capacity & Community Transformation “Showcase.”

Founded in 1979, their mission is to stabilize lives, equip people to meet their goals, and build a stronger, more equitable Skagit County. Serving a largely rural county of nearly 130,000, Community Action helps more than 30,000 people each year to be heroes for their families: meeting basic needs such as food and housing, as well as building skills in education and employment.

But serving people experiencing poverty is just one part of Community Action’s charge. “Even more important than the services they provide,” our national founding documents state, is changing bias, stereotypes, policies and budgets for anti-poverty purposes. “In Skagit, that means listening to and taking the lead of people with lived experience,” says Elizabeth Jennings, Director of Community Engagement. The NCAP Showcase recognition highlights one way they do that.

Community Action of Skagit’s board of directors first convened the Latinx Advisory Committee (LAC) over 15 years ago. The county is majority white, but due to the agricultural industry, it also has a significant population that identifies as Hispanic or Latino, and/or who speak Spanish or languages indigenous to northern Mexico and Central America. While just 15-20% of the county population, the Latinx community is 40% of the agency’s clients.

This LAC has grown to include over 150 stakeholders ranging from service providers, community leaders, and community members. The LAC hosts bilingual monthly meetings, public policy listening sessions, and works to fulfill its mission to build relationships, develop leadership among the Latinx community, and to advise decision makers.

In addition, the LAC nominates at least one participant to join the Board of Directors every election cycle. In 2022, the 12-member board included two LAC nominees, as well as other board members with lived experience in poverty, homelessness, immigration, and migrant work.

In March 2020, the Latinx Advisory Committee stepped up to address disproportionate impacts the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the deep relationships and trust built in the LAC, the county Public Health Department asked Community Action of Skagit County to help gather community leadership to advise and help take action to address the high rates of COVID-19 infection.

By May of 2020, the Latinx and Hispanic population accounted for 75% of the positive COVID-19 tests in the county while only accounting for 19% of the population. A large number of the Latinx residents in this area are essential workers that are unable to work from home to avoid the contracting the COVID-19 virus. Moreover, due to the unaffordability and literal lack of housing in this area, Hispanic and Latinx families have had to live in overcrowded living conditions. Skagit County has the lowest apartment vacancy rate in the state, less than 1%. “That’s functional zero,” says Jennings. “There is literally no place to go if someone gets an eviction notice or a rent increase.” Families are doubled up, and often living in unhealthy environments.

Similar to many areas across the country, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID tests and testing locations were scarce. The Skagit Latinx COVID Prevention Team met weekly for nearly a year, hosting more than 25 public policy listening sessions.

To reality-check what the community needed, Community Action staff worked with the CCS Farmworker Center, Northwest Agricultural Business Center, school districts and others to document what was actually working to get community members to wear masks, practice social distancing, isolate when sick, and take other prevention measures. The community organizing model documented by the group is here:

Listening to people doing organizing on the ground, many of whom were directly impacted by COVID, Public Health expand testing site hours and establish mobile testing clinics to target farmworkers, who are work long hours. Prevention Team partners independently collaborated to create videos in Spanish and Indigenous languages such as Mixtec and Trique to improve the distribution of critical information from the CDC to their community members. The COVID Prevention Team worked with their partners to expand access to the COVID-19 vaccine, with Skgit Transit partnering with other nonprofits who had computers and bilingual volunteers to schedule vaccinations.

Perhaps most importantly, the Latinx Advisory Committee and COVID Prevention Team has been able to connect their local elected officials with community members to highlight the issues of unavailable and unaffordable housing access and the critical, community health inequities in Skagit County.

Community Action of Skagit County offers many programs and services based on their triannual Community Needs Assessment. In 2006, CASC’s Skagit Food Distribution Center became the county’s first centralized Food Bank Distribution Center. This distribution center maximizes the efficiency of the county’s hot meal programs and food pantries. The center provides a coordination hub for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides food boxes to low-income seniors in the area. Additionally, Community Action of Skagit County offers intensive one-on-one support to provide families experiencing homelessness with the tools they need to become self-sufficient and works hard to aid them in finding safe, secure shelter. Community Action of Skagit County is one of several Community Action Agencies (CAAs) in our network that manages housing for their clients whom qualify. CASC leads the William J. Shuler Family Development Center, which has 10 furnished apartments along with household items for their residents. Finally, Community Action of Skagit County’s WIC program has received the “Gold” recognition from the Washington State Department of Health for their Breastfeeding Friendly Washington initiative. Congratulations to the hardworking staff, leadership team, and Board Members of Community Action of Skagit County for their amazing work and this national recognition! Click here to learn more about the full range of programs and services offered at CASC.