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June 16, 2020 editor’s note: The webinar series “COVID-19 and Vulnerable Communities.” is complete. A new series “COVID-19 and Our Evolving Social Service Landscape” will run from June 12 through July 17.

Communities in Hawaiʻi are not impacted equally by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the unique challenges faced by vulnerable populations, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work office of Continuing Education and Professional Development is offering the free online webinar series “COVID-19 and Vulnerable Communities.” The series provides information and resources to support providers in serving and engaging communities to meet their immediate needs and the potential long-term impacts of the pandemic.

The online webinar series will last for five weeks from May 8 through June 5, every Friday at 12–1 p.m. Each session covers a community group starting with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, people with co-occurring disorders, people from the geographic region of Micronesia, older adults and survivors of domestic violence.

While the series offers credits for licensed social workers, it is available for anyone who wants to learn more about how the pandemic is impacting specific communities. People can register online for individual sessions.

Rebecca Stotzer, a professor and director of distance education in the School of Social Work, and Robin Arndt, coordinator of field and continuing education in the School of Social Work, have helped pilot the new series, and each session already has more than 100 registered participants.

“We want to ensure that providers are aware of the challenges various populations are facing and are equipped with the tools to better serve them,” said Arndt. “As they better understand the problems, they will be able to assist their clients to overcome the negative impacts of the pandemic.”

The series aims to better educate and equip people who work with these vulnerable communities. Some communities, such as Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and older adults, have unique challenges, like a particular health vulnerability to the virus. Others have specific legal or social challenges, such as immigrant communities or those who experience interpersonal violence.

“Many social services have adapted online technologies to provide telehealth options, have retrained staff and volunteers in how to keep people safe while still providing food, access to resources and finding ways to expand their capacities to serve,” added Stotzer. “As the pandemic continues to change, along with our response to it, the training series program can help provide education and training for where we have been and where we are going as a state.”

Speakers highlight three specific areas when discussing a particularly vulnerable community. They discuss current challenges faced by the community, longer-term impacts into the next one to two years, and provide resources and additional information to help people better serve these communities.

“It was really important to us that people see beyond the immediate crisis and start anticipating how the current crisis will have long-lasting effects,” said Stotzer. “It is also critically important for people to recognize that we are not all being impacted equally—some people and some communities are facing unique challenges that need to be seen and understood in order to best serve them and help them overcome the impacts of the pandemic.”

—By Sarah Hendrix

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