Finding Strength in Community

by Melissa Nix

Amizade’s Director of Health, Safety and Security Rachel Helwig reflects on the impacts of COVID-19, in both her professional life, personal life, and her community. 

Hi, everyone. My name is Rachel Helwig — I’m the Director of Health, Safety & Security for Amizade. If you’re a community partner or a participant who has traveled and learned with us recently, you’ve heard from me a lot lately. February, March and April were busy months for me, with lots of late-night phone calls and last-minute flight arrangements. As COVID-19 began to make itself known in our program locations, we worked hard to ensure all of our program participants and community partners had the support and resources they needed to stay safe and healthy. I had a clear understanding of my job and felt proud of myself and our organization for acting quickly and responsibly.

Now, though, as COVID-19 realities have settled into our personal and professional lives, I’m less sure of my role. How do you direct health, safety and security when no one is traveling? Or when the same things that often help me in my job, like staying hyper aware of world events and scenario planning, now create more questions than answers?  Like many of us, I struggle with the uncertainty and inability to plan for the future (hallmarks of my anxiety as well as my type-A personality. Quite the combination, right?). This uncertainty lives in all aspects of our lives and feels big and heavy. This year’s timing of Mental Health Month (recognized in May) feels especially timely as we work to protect our physical health, with increasing stress on our mental, social and emotional health.

I am lucky to work for an organization that understands jobs and community broadly. Part of my work right now is to help ensure the participants and partners that engage together in Virtual Service Learning feel supported and safe in their new virtual community. But another part of my work is engaging with my community closer to home — and to make sure my family, friends and neighbors feel safe and supported too. Here’s where I feel lucky again: I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and I’ve been proud of the ways our city has come together to support each other right now. While some of this support has come from established non-profits and philanthropic foundations, a lot of it has come from outside of these established systems. Mutual Aid organizations and Solidarity Funds have been created — even a bunch of Star Wars nerds have come together to create a new homeless shelter (Rebel Cause Lancaster).

Some of my favorite reminders of our community strength and connection have come through the public service murals around the city. Lancaster’s Office of Public Art, also known as Lancaster Public Art, commissioned local artists to create these murals to share essential COVID-19 messages with the community. For me, these murals embody what makes Lancaster cool — diversity in languages and perspectives, celebration of our neighborhoods’ unique histories, creativity and color, and a desire to make sure each of us are healthy and safe.

These are the same things I want most in my role as Director of Health, Safety & Security — to help our participants and community partners feel welcomed, valued, and safe. COVID-19 disruptions may have changed the ways I do that, but not the need to continue to take care of each other. We’re all in this together. (And since it is National Mental Health month, I encourage you to visit the Lancaster Public Art website and download the mural coloring pages for your own coloring and stress relief).

Here are some additional mental health resources, some national (US) and some Pennsylvania specific, for anyone who might need some extra support at this time:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (English) 1-888-628-9454 (Spanish)
  • Crisis Text Line: text Hello to 741741
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 This helpline provides counselors specially trained in supporting people experiencing mental health needs based on natural or man-made disasters, including pandemics.
  • Guide for taking care of your mental health during COVID-19


Support our community partners around the world by making a donation to Amizade’s COVID-19 Relief Fund.