An upcoming MFEE town hall on coronavirus vaccine outreach will feature, from left: Dr. Chris T. Pernel, chief of strategic integration and health equity officer at University Hospital; Dr. Renee Baskerville, a pediatric medicine physician and volunteer medical consultant; Dr. Tyran Mincey, D.C., of Integrated Health of Montclair; and the Rev. A. Craig Dunn, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church

The Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence has hired three community health care workers for its ongoing effort to encourage coronavirus vaccinations.

The effort particularly focuses on reaching communities of color in Montclair, the MFEE has previously said. 

Aminah Toler, Robin Curry and Marlon Bernardez are undergoing 144 hours of training from the Department of Health, and starting to share COVID-19 vaccine information to Montclair residents, the MFEE said in an announcement of its progress.

The health care workers joined Dr. Renee Baskerville — an activist, former Fourth Ward councilwoman and former school board member who serves as a community outreach and medical adviser for the initiative — on April 17 at a newly renovated Montclair Community Pre-K playground at 49 Orange Road. There, they spoke with members of the public about vaccination and provided an opportunity for community members to register for vaccination through Mountainside Hospital, the MFEE said.

The following day, they joined Montclair Mutual Aid for an event offering free food and music at Glenfield Park. Families were invited to pick up bags of food and other supplies at the Wally Choice Center, while listening to music from Parents Who Rock.

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Event April 29: The MFEE is planning further outdoor events and virtual town halls featuring Black and brown health professionals and community members. The next is April 29 at 7 p.m., featuring Dr. Chris T. Pernel, chief of strategic integration and health equity officer at University Hospital; Baskerville, a pediatric medicine physician and volunteer medical consultant; Dr. Tyran Mincey, D.C., of Integrated Health of Montclair; and the Rev. A. Craig Dunn, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church.  Those interested can contact info@mfee.org for more information, or register at bit.ly/MFEECovidVaccineTownHall.

Toler, a lifelong Montclair resident, is a founding member of Montclair Mutual Aid. 

“The purpose of my work in helping to ‘spread the word’ as a community health worker is to ensure people who look like me have the necessary tools available to them to help make an informed decision about getting vaccinated,” Toler said in the announcement from MFEE.

Curry, also a lifelong Montclair resident, has been active in several local organizations including the Montclair African-American Heritage Foundation, the Montclair Celebrates 4th of July Parade Committee, and the Montclair High School All Class Reunion Committee, of which she’s a founding member, the MFEE said. In the announcement, she described being an MFEE community health worker as “the perfect way to utilize my township knowledge, creativity, and dedication to community service to support the people of Montclair.”

The MFEE said Bernardez “rounds out the team with his youth and enthusiasm.” He’s a Rutgers University student, and the group described him as “passionate about the power of diversity and inclusion to create a more prosperous world.”

 “COVID-19 has had a negative impact on many lives, and I believe becoming an MFEE Community Health Worker was my opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of many in my community and beyond,” he said.

In announcing the initiative earlier this year, the MFEE said it was concerned communities of color had been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. It cited a study from UnidosUS, the NAACP and COVID Collaborative that found just 14% of Black Americans say they trust the safety of a new COVID-19 vaccine.

“It is vital to ensure that Black and brown folk in Montclair have access to information that will help them make informed decisions about the COVID vaccines,” the group wrote at the time.

Its awareness campaign is supported by funding by the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey, a regional grantee of the NJ Department of Health.

It has also created the “MFEE Community Health Workers” Facebook group online, and invites residents to join. Residents can reach the health care workers at robin@mfee.org, aminah@mfee.org, and marlon@mfee.org.

— Louis C. Hochman