Serving During the Pandemic
by Zak Hyde, Community Opioid Response Program
AmeriCorps VISTA Member
When I began my AmeriCorps service term during a pandemic, I knew this year was going to be nothing I could have ever expected. I began a new role, moved to a new city, and was thrusted into an entire new way of life. As I began my involvement with Denver’s mental health and substance use community organizations, I realized quickly that getting sick from coronavirus was not the only public health risk elevated during the pandemic. We all were forced to adapt to involuntary changes in our communities and lifestyles, and this transformation only intensified the need for mental health and substance use services.
While I became personally adjusted to Zoom meetings and mask-wearing, I also helped public health community organizations adjust to provide their essential services in a completely new world. I assisted the Tri-County Overdose Prevention Partnership in hosting a virtual Night of Remembrance and Hope for International Overdose Awareness Day, where individuals were able to showcase creative works inspired by struggles with substance use or loved ones lost to overdose. This event united community members to remind us that we are never alone in battles against substance use and provided hope for ending overdose in a year where Denver saw a 62% increase in overdose deaths through May.
Currently, my focus has been on technological innovation to further unite community members and adapt health programming. Through my host site, Envision: You, I have been working on developing a smartphone app for the LGBTQ+ community to conveniently access relevant and affirming behavioral health resources. I have also taken on a significant role in managing the virtual conference platform for the upcoming Colorado Behavioral Health & Wellness Summit in November.
As I continue my service, I cannot help but be inspired by the dedication and compassion of my colleagues in Denver’s behavioral health space. Even though the pandemic demands public health focus, mental health and substance use awareness cannot fall to the wayside. We all must adapt and innovate to these unfamiliar times together.