What’s Working? How Civic Capital Improves Pandemic Resilience

The National Civic League has been gathering COVID-19 success stories from communities that have used strong civic capital to respond to the pandemic.

The League defines civic capital as including resident engagement, shared vision and values, authentic communication, collaborative institutions, inclusive community leadership, attention to diversity and equity and a culture of engagement. These ingredients are discussed in more detail in our Civic Index.

Below are just a few examples of how the civic capital of communities has led to an improved response to COVID-19. Additionally, we’d love to hear about your community’s successes; you can send your responses in an email or by completing this brief survey.

Success Stories 

Calvert City, KY
Calvert City has used resident engagement to keep residents calm and upbeat. Through the tagline “We are pulling for you” the city has introduced some fun social distancing activities to get families through this difficult time. Activities have included a virtual photo scavenger hunt, a virtual egg hunt and small biz bingo. Residents and businesses also contributed videos and photos for this “We’re pulling for you” video.

Collaborative institutions have also helped the business community. Calvert City kept in close contact with business owners and answered questions about completing paperwork for potential grants or funding for COVID-19. 

Carson City, CA
Carson City’s response to the pandemic has been both collaborative and equitable.

In partnership with the nonprofit, United Health Fair, the City of Carson was able to open a free COVID-19 test center in April that is open to everyone, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, resident or nonresident, covered by health insurance or without health insurance.

Carson City also provides free grab ‘n go lunches to seniors, meals on wheels, and grocery boxes at a reduced fee in partnership with multiple local nonprofits and corporations.

Everyday Democracy supports civic leadership capacity through the Connecticut Civic Ambassadors Program which recruits and trains ordinary residents from various cities and towns in the state to promote a culture of strong civic engagement and participation locally. Many of the 75 civic ambassadors are engaging with their fellow residents locally to support community resilience through acts such as raising funds, blood drives (whenever possible), donation of food and other items, assisting neighbors, etc.

Some of the ambassadors’ activities have included

  • CT Civic Ambassador Zoë Chatfield of Hartford is working closely with the Board of Hartford Fashion Week on a Mask Mutual Aid effort. They are collecting information and connecting people who are sewing non-medical face masks for those who are in need of masks when they go out in public.
  • CT Civic Ambassador Dr. Darla Shaw of Ridgefield has been performing in Zoom podcasts for several historical societies. Instead of reenacting various characters as a volunteer, in person, she is reenacting them online and getting an excellent response. She is also writing ‘reader’s theater scripts’ and producing YouTube storytelling projects for schools.
  • CT Civic Ambassador Clare Taylor of West Hartford is a STEM Coach in an elementary school. Before the pandemic she was very active, visited classes daily and ran events and multiple gardens. Being home/computer based has been a struggle but she is finding ways to keep the school’s STEM theme alive. She mailed 1,500 seed packets to 380 families and encouraged them to plant them for Earth Day. The theme is: Loving the Earth One Seed at a Time. She is also making masks for family, friends and neighbors and taking weekly watercolor classes.

Learn more about Connecticut’s Civic Ambassador’s Program.

Douglasville, GA
Douglasville is maintaining its culture of engagement with The City of Douglasville Parks and Recreation’s #RecInABag campaign. Each week, the Parks and Recreation team will deliver a bag filled with activities to various neighborhoods throughout the city limits.

To determine which neighborhood they visit each week, they hold a ‘nominate your neighborhood’ competition on the Parks and Recreation Facebook group page.

Each Friday, staff visit the top two selected neighborhoods with 25 bags for each community. Residents of those communities are asked to be in front of their homes or apartment buildings at 11:30 a.m.

This is a great way to include residents from all over the city and provides children with fun and educational activities to work on while at home. To ensure equity, the #RecInABag campaign doesn’t just include neighborhoods or subdivisions, but it also makes sure that apartment complexes are included. Individuals can also nominate neighborhoods that they don’t live in, providing a greater sense of community.

Visit the program’s Facebook page for more information. 

Central Florida
Circles USA supports those experiencing poverty to reach stability while enabling communities to address the service gaps necessary for such success. The 56 U.S. Circles Chapters have continued organizing mutual aid and fostering community connection remotely throughout the pandemic.

Through a creative collaboration with Florida’s Bread for the World, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Poverty Solutions Group, Circles Central Florida, and Circles Winter Garden, a Virtual Town Hall with staff from the offices of U.S. Representatives Soto, Demings, and Murphy was held in early April 2020.

Florida’s Regional Coordinator for Bread for the world prepared Circle Leaders (low-income participants who are moving out of poverty with Circles) and their Allies (middle and high-income volunteers who support Circle Leaders) by sharing updates, clarifying expectations, and coaching the group on presentation strategies. In Zoom breakout rooms based on different categories of interests, community members compiled questions to prioritize and assign.

During the Virtual Town Hall, community members of Circles Winter Garden were able to ask the Representatives’ staff members questions directly. Information that had not been heard from any other previous channel was shared here.

It was a powerful and informative experience that created an invaluable connection between policy makers and the people they serve. The event also fostered effective civic engagement for a diverse and formerly disenfranchised population.

For more information, visit Circles USA.

Gainesville, FL
The city has been working closely with Alachua County, schools and businesses to provide information, guidelines and other resources. One of the city’s more creative measures is the use of a Mobile Testing Truck to increase testing in lower-income neighborhoods with particularly high rates of COVID-19 cases. The truck, which goes out every weekday, is accompanied by a fire department vehicle that plays music and makes announcements to attract attention. All residents over the age of 10 are eligible to be tested, with minimal identification requirements. Dozens of people took advantage of the testing opportunity in just the first few days of operation.

Mason City, IA
Mason City shared that their strong civic capital components of authentic communication and collaborative institutions have helped them respond to the pandemic. The Joint Information Center under the Emergency Operations Center includes business, first responders, city, county, nonprofit, educational, healthcare and human needs professionals working together. This group collaborates and talks daily about how to provide sound guidance to the region. Social media and other communication outlets are closely coordinated to maintain consistent messaging with both the community and the media.

You can learn more about Mason City’s response by visiting its Updates & Information Webpage.

Orlando, FL
Orlando’s response has included several civic capital components including authentic communication, diversity and equity and a culture of engagement.

Authentic Communication:

  • Created a COVID-19 webpage
  • Using social media platforms to share information and engage with residents
  • Hosting Mayoral and County press conferences every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Diversity and Equity

  • Translating COVID-19 information into Spanish and Creole
  • Hosting mobile testing sites throughout the city
  • Providing information and referrals to residents needing help with food, rent, unemployment, federal stimulus, etc.

Culture of Engagement:

  • Promoting what neighborhood organizations and residents are doing to stay engaged with their neighborhoods via social platforms and the city’s e-newsletter
  • Encouraging virtual brunches and happy hours so residents remain engaged with the community

Visit Orlando’s COVID-19 resource page for more information.

Pitt County, NC
Authentic communication has been the name of the game for Pitt County’s pandemic response. From the beginning of the COVID-19 response, Pitt County’s goal has been to actively engage the community through coordinated, unified messaging from the leaders at the county and municipal levels. Following the launch of a Coronavirus Information Page, full response became active on March 13, when the County hosted a Joint Information System Press Conference, including Pitt County agencies, 10 municipalities, public schools, community and university Colleges, and the president of Vidant Health. This open line of communication to the public now occurs twice-weekly.

Additionally, the county has maintained ongoing communication with municipal and community partners, through weekly conference calls. Since response operations began, the county has conducted 16 media sessions, produced 40 press releases, and navigated a 600% increase in online website and social media traffic.

In addition to all media sessions being simulcast on social media, where public comments and questions are received, staff have also participated in several online “town halls” and other forums within local civic groups. A dedicated “COVID-19 Information Request Form” allows staff to answer questions and follow-up concerns.


Providence, RI
The City of Providence’s ongoing and adaptive COVID-19 response was possible because of well- established partnerships and innovative and tenacious city staff who pivot and build new relationships as necessary.

Providence collaborated with state, local partners, and the city council to establish four free testing sites maximized for accessibility. All four sites offer drive-up testing options and two of the four sites offer walk- up testing and multilingual staff.

Recent state-level data revealed Rhode Island and Providence experiencing similar trends of higher rates of infection amongst the Latinx and Black communities. The city activated existing relationships within these hard-hit communities and built out COVID-19-specific Latino and African-American ambassador programs. Providence has also been committed to providing COVID-19 related informational materials in both English and Spanish.

Physically closed schools also left a significant gap in access to healthy foods for the majority of Providence youth. The Healthy Communities Office pivoted their focus to address this urgent need. The Director collaborated with Providence Public Schools, Sodexo, Brown University, and several new food donation partners to design a comprehensive multi-day meal-kit distribution program that serves thousands of families each week.

Providence Emergency Management has continued to recruit volunteers through the response for related activities and to train on the Rhode Island Medical Emergency Distribution System (MEDS) and how to staff centralized Points-of-Dispensing (PODs) should a vaccine or other treatment become available. To date, these volunteers have logged more than 400 disaster event specific hours.

The city is in constant communication with constituents and community leaders to address the needs of the city’s most vulnerable populations. One of the city’s Human Relations Commissioners secured an order of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and essential cleaning supplies to be distributed to the people of indigenous tribes that live in Providence.

With the onset of warmer weather community members asked for increased access to outdoor spaces to safely socially distance, so the city piloted the Slow Streets program. Slow Streets strategically restricts some roadways to only local traffic at a 10 MPH limit to provide more space for walking, running, and biking at a safe distance.

Providence continues to focus on both a day-to-day COVID-19 response and long-term investments in bolstering a more resilient, healthy, safe community.

Visit Providence’s FAQs about COVID-19 webpage for more information.

San Antonio, TX
San Antonio’s collaborative institutions and authentic engagement have helped with their response to the pandemic. Because of the relationships with more than 160 multi-sector partners, SA2020 was able to stand up (and maintain) the We>Me project—a website that celebrates changes in policy, resource allocation, and services to better serve the community. SA2020 is working to archive these strategies and tactics and will advocate for these adjustments long after the crisis.

Additionally, their COVID-19 data dashboard is the only source of information trending the local data, making it accessible, and overlaying policies. And because SA2020 is a trusted source of information they play an important role in the community in sharing out this information during the crisis.

For more information go to the We>Me website and SA2020’s COVID-19 dashboard.

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