How Vision Galveston is Responding to Covid-19

As part of our series on how our clients are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, we sat down with Keath Jacoby, Executive Director of Vision Galveston, to learn how our friends on the coast are adapting to the changes.

Vision Galveston is a nonprofit to help Galveston plan for a better, more resilient future. They aim to bring Galveston’s collective voice together to collaborate on a shared community vision, drive progress, and be a voice of optimism for the future.  

We’ve worked with Vision Galveston on a series of projects and data visualizations, and David from our team calls Galveston home.

Executive Director of Vision Galveston, Keath Jacoby
Image credit: Vision Galveston

Can you describe the work of Vision Galveston?

I look at Vision Galveston as the “Yes and” organization. A lot of the time when we’re faced with problems or challenges people immediately go to the reasons why we can’t do that. They look at what exists currently, not how do we work towards the vision.  If we do nothing else, we will try to operate in a framework of “yes and let’s find the right expertise, let’s find the right people, let’s pull in new ideas and turn them into action.” That’s the way I would describe our ethos on a broad level. 

How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

So much of what we do is rooted in community engagement and rooted in meeting people where they are. Our model is going to neighborhoods, going to civic organizations, and really being present with them. We can’t do that now in the traditional sense.  

Some of the community has digital access, but there’s a portion that does not.  So we’re trying to figure out how to communicate with the entire community. 

It’s interesting because we have to go back to this print model in order to get information to people using delivery access points. We’ve been communicating with folks through meal service programs and nonprofit agencies that work with clients. And also digital media, of course.

Vision Galveston Event
Image credit: Vision Galveston

What is the Galveston County Recovery Fund?

The overarching mission of the Galveston County Recovery Fund is to support nonprofit agencies that are ensuring our neighbors and our community can access basic needs in this time of crisis. There’s a focus on food access, basic services, and nonprofit stabilization. 

We really want to make sure that we can support our nonprofits and keep them going.  It may transform into different areas of focus as this goes on. We’re addressing the needs as we go.

Vision Galveston was funded and born out of this roundtable of foundations as a thought partner philanthropy and a voice for the community. We’re a connector of ideas between philanthropy and the community. 

We’re also helping them build a data infrastructure. We help them think about questions like, “how do we make decisions based on data?” and “what factors or metrics are we looking at?”

Our goal is to connect needs to resources and maximize the impact of philanthropic investment.

Image credit: Vision Galveston

How are organizations in Galveston responding to COVID-19?

For some providers, like Family Service Center, they moved completely to telehealth. But in terms of traditional basic needs, lots of organizations are trying to figure out a new model of service delivery. 

Vision Galveston is hosting a food collaborative.  Traditionally, we aren’t in the business of food, but we saw there was a need to create sector infrastructure around the supply chain.  There’s a lot of people that need food, and there’s a lot of people that have resources, but they weren’t connecting with one another. 

So we’re hosting a call to get everybody on the phone and say who’s got what and who has the data that can tell us where that food needs to go. 

There are some new things that are great. People like Galveston’s Own Farmers Market are pivoting from traditional food pick up points to now taking orders online and also delivering fresh food boxes to families in need.

The hospital systems are really trying to be creative about how to protect their staff. Same with the city. Everyone’s operating differently.

I think the technology aspect of all this has allowed for a different kind of collaboration and a different kind of formalized data approach. Organizations are using things like Zoom or Google Docs or Slack to create more streamlined processes.

One of the silver linings when you have a disaster is that people are forced to work together. Sometimes they wanted to work together before, or they should have been working together for a long time. Now they are in a situation where they have to work together. My hope is that these connections will continue beyond COVID19.

What do you think Galveston is getting right and where do you see room for improvement?

I think our Mayor did a fantastic job shutting things down early. The county really lagged behind. We even shut down the beaches early. I would definitely commend our city leaders and our park board leaders. I think they’re working together very well to keep everyone safe.

Galveston is rooted in tourism. So much of our economy is hospitality driven. It was a very difficult decision to put public safety over economics.

Where I think we have room for improvement is we’ve been here before. We’ve had disasters.  We should know how to respond to this quickly in terms of systems thinking. 

We’ve been talking about this concept of community council and bringing key stakeholders and city leadership together to understand the data we all have. I think there’s some room for improvement there in terms of communication rooted in good data. Frankly, I think that’s really critical and it really surprised me that it didn’t already exist in a more formal way.

We’ve done disaster response and recovery a lot of times but no one created the playbook. They didn’t record the process or the system. Normally the disaster we’re responding to is physical devastation, so you don’t have access to technology, and you’re not documenting in the same way we are now.

I think it’s a huge opportunity because we’re doing all of this disaster work from a very active technology standpoint that can all be recorded. That way, when the next event occurs, there’s a real framework already built out and it’s easy to access.

I think that community council concept is an opportunity. When you have a state of emergency it’s important to know the key people from different sectors that need to come together. What are they doing with one another?  How are they bringing data together to inform how they move forward?

Image credit: Vision Galveston

What are your long-term concerns about the impact of COVID-19 in Galveston? 

I think my biggest concerns are at the individual level with things like food insecurity. We were already experiencing affordability issues in terms of housing because we’re susceptible to not only the cost of the house but also the insurance costs. And now, we’ve just exacerbated food insecurity and technology insecurity. 

My biggest concern is that those inequities will grow wider. People that didn’t have technology before are even further behind now. People that couldn’t afford a house before are even further behind now.

My other concern is that we’re about to hit hurricane season. Are we ready for that?

This crisis exposes the lack of diversity in our economic sectors in Galveston. We need to offer more jobs in more diverse sectors. I think that’s where we can either get creative or we can go back to the same thing. My biggest fear is we would go back to the same thing. 

How do you think the broader region can help Galveston?

For Vision Galveston, I think this has been an opportunity to create some key relationships with Houston agencies. The more that the Houston region can see us as part of the Houston region and vice versa, the better. When we look at data, let’s look at it all the way down I-45.

We’ve been working with Harvey Home Connect. We’ve been talking to the Greater Houston Community Foundation. We’re using their nonprofit survey.

I think the biggest thing is to figure out how we all operate as a whole region. Galveston County all the way up to Houston and Harris County. My hope is that we can be seen as a bigger part of that region and not just this island on its own. 

Let’s make some bold moves as we get out of here. Let’s not go back to the same thing and let’s be connected. 

Carly Sessions

Carly is a social worker turned technologist who is passionate about using data to improve the social safety net.