Virtual Hugs Amid COVID-19
By Dianne Anderson
Virtual hugs and emoji hearts, skip the feet five and no more elbow bumps.
These are strange days, but physical distancing and social isolation isn’t the only thing that concerns Melanie Grant, a lifetime member of NCNW, Inc., Orange County Section.
Having lived in Orange County for years, she is seeing and hearing how some African American businesses are taking the brunt. Everything is shut tight, and sure to impact many small businesses that were just rebounding from the 2008-09 economic crisis.
“Many people are self-employed, or in the gig economy,” she said. “It’s hitting our community in all kinds of ways that maybe other communities aren’t feeling it as hard.”
Last week, Congress passed the $2 trillion coronavirus Relief Bill that allocates $300 billion in payments most Americans with a valid social security number. The IRS says to check their website for more information at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus
The bill also includes additional unemployment benefits for workers impacted by the coronavirus, including part-time workers and self-employed.
Grant said COVID-19 has been a lot to mentally process, even aside from the overall economic impact.
NCNW members also face the same social-psychological dynamic as their peers that serve others. It’s hard to not give or get a real hug, particularly to the at-risk young women that they’ve helped for years at a local youth home.
There, local NCNW members mentor them, celebrate holidays, bake and bring cookies, and guide them through projects year-round. Some teens come from troubled families, or a product of abuse.
“We visit these young ladies once or twice a month, and have a connection with them, like an auntie figure,” she said, adding that most of the girls are African American, which is striking considering the small demographic represented countywide.
“We do month to month, also in the fall,” she said. “Our beauticians go in and do their hair for free, their nails, body products, just for all of their self-care.”
Grant is a retired civil engineer. She said their organization vigorously promotes STEM and robotics, both at the local and national levels.
Looking at these past few years, the transitions in society are experiencing major challenges, both in climate change and now COVID-19. In the future, STEM majors are needed to brainstorm structural deficiencies, not just in America, but worldwide. She doesn’t want to see Black students absent from the opportunities.
Among Grant’s notable projects, she served as the deputy project manager during the design phase of the ARTIC, the hub of Orange County transportation center.
“I was leading the design on the basics, the parking lot, sewer system, water system, reclaimed water system, the traffic signals and street improvement,” she said. “All the basic stuff was under my command.”
Strong infrastructure makes society run smoothly. She feels what’s going on today will be the talk of scientists and engineers for decades to come. It’s all the more reason to get Black students up to par in STEM fields of tomorrow.
The community can also help bridge the gap. Grant is a long time member of the OC Heritage Council Black History and Cultural Faire. Their annual event is expanding its outreach for youth all year long.
“We have the Youth Village, and STEM activities,” she said. “Next year we hope to get more robotics out there in conjunction with the universities.”
They also help students to prepare for college, inform parents and teens directly on successful strategies. Outreach is also a focus for their OC Heritage Council president, Dwayne Shipp, who took over the parade’s founder and the legacy of his mother, Helen Shipp.
Health awareness is yet another ongoing aspect of the OC Heritage Council, especially in light of Covid-19. Those with underlying conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure are more vulnerable.
One way to lessen the blow is to help get relevant and helpful resources out to the community as everyone is feeling the situation in one way or the other, she said.
“People who have never had to file for unemployment, that’s what I’m hearing from people. Oh my goodness, how do I even do this? Do I go somewhere? Do I call somebody?” she said. “This is the story of our generation.”
To file unemployment and learn more about benefits