LBJ alumni on the frontlines of COVID-19 response | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin
LBJ alumni working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis
LBJ School alumni are working all over the country and the world to help communities and individuals cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Top row: Sarah Eckhardt, Rodney Ellis, Marti Bier, Gene Wu, Vikki Goodwin, Jeffrey Travillion. Middle row: Holly Buttrey, Bee Morehead, Peter LaFountain, Rudy Metayer, Salimah Jasani, Lauren Rose, Erik Paulino. Bottom row: Erol Yayboke, Christine Gendron, Kym Olson, Justin Thompson, Kevin Caudill, Shelby Carvalho, Eliza Brennan.

 

As policymakers, public servants, nonprofit leaders, members of the private sector and more, LBJ School alumni are playing a critical role in contributing solutions during the COVID-19 crisis. Their training from the LBJ School is being put to the test: They are approaching complex problems and finding innovative answers, from building ways for students to learn better online and protecting the homeless population from the virus to coordinating emergency response efforts, LBJ School alumni are doing immeasurable good on an international scale.


Abigail Aarons (MPAff '11), internal medicine-pediatrics resident at UCLA
"I was working in the hospital until the end of [March], at which time I was pulled from clinical rotations to help coordinate UCLA's strategy for testing/quarantining/tracking COVID exposed health care workers."

Robert B. Abbott (MPAff '17), fire chief, Travis County ESD 6 / Lake Travis Fire Rescue
The fire department is working with local, state and federal agencies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The operational side of Fire and EMS has been overhauled to ensure we continue to safely respond to emergencies in a safe and calculated manner while keeping our team members safe. Out of this crisis has come a great deal of collaboration and innovation that will be continued in the future; even beyond COVID-19.

I am sure all our alumni are making tough and impactful decisions for the greater good understanding that it all has a rubber band effect. We use data, scientific-based evidence and stakeholder input to lead in a challenging time. Some will say it is too much or not enough. It was too delayed or phased in too quickly. It is up to us as LBJ'ers to lead and be led. The pandemic has provided an opportunity for our team members to engage in unchartered territory and work (and excel) in a sea of ambiguity — a true trait of a leader.

During this time, I have reached out to other alumni and LBJ staff to provide me with their perspectives and to help me view things with a different set of optics. I work daily with a number of other alumni and their teams to ensure we continue to keep the community safe during unprecedented times.

Marti Bier (MPAff '07), chief of staff for Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flanigan
"Our office has taken the lead on writing an emergency COVID-19 resilience policy that will be on the City Council agenda."

Britin Bostick (MPAff '16), city of Georgetown's downtown & historic planner
"Local governments in Texas have no waiver of development permit review timelines, and state officials continue to advocate for economic health in the face of a massive public health crisis. At the local level, development permit applications cannot be paused, and neither can public hearings on the applications categorized as "shot clock" applications unless we want to have de facto approval of applications that do not meet our local requirements because a denial decision was not made by our Planning & Zoning Commission within 30 days.

"My department is shifting rapidly around half the staff shifting to working from home overnight, most staff using their own resources to facilitate the teleworking request we were not prepared for, our customers' and community's concerns about attending public hearings and the current prohibition on public gatherings. We are working with developers facing overnight loss of contracts and seniors whose only means of doing business has ever been in person and over the phone, and our lobby is now closed and many of us are not connected to our desk phones to take those concerned calls and answer the pressing questions. Instead our voicemail message advise that we are currently working remotely and to please send an email or call the main office line.

"As the city of Georgetown's downtown & historic planner I support a review commission that for the first time in history will be operating remotely. I will make a staff presentation and facilitate application review and decisions with commissioners who are participating remotely, and since this commission's meetings are not broadcast and participation has only ever been in the traditional in-person method, we are adapting so rapidly to social distancing and public health requirements.

"And this is the new normal. This is the event that will force local government to adapt quickly to using every tool available to continue the essential services we provide to the community so that through these times and in the recovery ahead we keep the spirit and purpose of democracy alive, provide the transparency and public participation that is so desperately needed to the best of our abilities and help build the framework for a recovery that I dearly hope will be needed by fewer than I currently anticipate."

Eliza Brennan (MPAff '15), senior program officer for education & migration, International Community Foundation
"As senior program officer for education & migration at the International Community Foundation (ICF), my colleagues and I have been doing outreach to our donor community to secure funding to support the efforts of our 50+ grassroots nonprofit partners in Mexico (particularly Tijuana and Mexicali) through rapid-response grants. So far we have deployed approximately $75,000. Many of these grants are going to migrant shelters that have been housing thousands of people, including asylum-seekers awaiting their asylum court dates (now indefinitely postponed) under the U.S. government's "Remain in Mexico" program. They have already experienced outbreaks of chicken pox and other infectious diseases over the past two years, so we know these are highly vulnerable populations with limited or no access to the Mexican public health system. Here is our webpage about these efforts

"Additionally, due to lack of Mexican federal response and support, we are currently assisting the state of Baja, California's secretary of health authorities to fund and secure preventative supplies such as masks and antibacterial gel that will be used by the secretary of health employees at checkpoints throughout the city including the Tijuana Airport, the U.S.-Mexico border, local university campuses, malls, etc. And we're serving as a primary source of information for various San Diego authorities, other funders across the country, and California Gov. Newsom's office to help inform policy and funding decisions related to the border and immigrant communities."

Holly Buttrey (MGPS '19), senior assistant dean of admissions for Carleton College
At Carleton College, Holly Buttrey is focused on international student recruitment and retention, as well as the visit experience for all on-campus programming for prospective students, their families and college counselors. Since March, she has also been serving as an admissions office liaison to Carleton's Infectious Disease Response Team. Who knew that the crisis simulation would be so useful so quickly?

Shelby Carvalho (MGPS '15), Ph.D. student and Presidential Merit Fellow at Harvard University
"I'm an education researcher (MGPS '15) and am working on how COVID is impacting school closures and education globally. Today, more than 80 percent of the world's children are out of school due to school closures.

"I recently published three blog posts for the Center for Global Development ("School's out: Now what?"; "More from our database on school closures: New education policies may be increasing educational inequality"; and "How are international donors responding to education needs during the COVID pandemic?") and an open access database attempting to track school closures and responses in real time."

Kevin Caudill (MPAff '19), policy analyst at Colorado Hospital Association
"Upon graduation this past winter, I started work as a policy analyst for the Colorado Hospital Association (CHA) in Denver. CHA works on behalf of over 100 member hospitals across the state. I help to provide policy research and analysis, legislative advocacy, and regulatory work with government agencies to craft and implement policy that can improve hospitals and the health care system. Hospitals and governments both play essential roles during public health battles like the one our world currently faces against COVID-19. I am thankful to be working at the intersection of both during this moment in history. I thought legislative session would be busy, but due to COVID-19 the Capitol is closed, and I am working all seven days of the week to ensure we confront this pandemic effectively. Seemingly endless streams of new emergency rules and regulations are being released constantly. We also work with Congress as they try to pass legislation to get our hospitals the protective equipment they need, important medical devices, as well as financial support to keep them running. Thankfully, there are fellow LBJ alums working in Colorado, including at the Department of Health Care Policy and Finance, the governor's office, the state legislature and more. Classes like Professor Pat Wong's policy development course on the American welfare state, and Professor Todd Olmstead's advance policy economics course on methods for the economic evaluation of health care programs — along with many others — have proven to be so valuable to me.

"On a personal note, I have two autoimmune diseases and a history of past second-hand smoke exposure from a parent, causing pediatric asthma. Although I am only 25, I technically fall in the "at-risk" population AND as an "essential health care worker" at the same time during this crisis. Someone I know has already tested positive for COVID-19, and I am working from home as much as possible to protect myself and others. It is critical that everyone do the same, so we do not overwhelm our hospitals with patients, as we have seen in Italy and Spain. Our nurses, doctors and other health care workers sacrifice their safety every day for us, but if we overwhelm the system, we force the crisis standard of rationing care. During those times, it means our health care workers must triage patients and will have to make decisions regarding who gets what care and when based on prognosis. This can be avoided if we #FlattenTheCurve and STAY HOME."

Sarah Eckhardt (MPAff '98), Travis County Judge
Judge Sarah Eckhardt has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis, making the early decision with the city of Austin and other parties to cancel SXSW, a display of great urban leadership. Travis County is battle-tested, having lived through wildfires, two deadly floods, bombings and hurricanes. With experienced emergency preparation, along with a strong city/county health apparatus, Travis County was ready to respond swiftly to this crisis.

The city and county are working in close collaboration, and as a Travis County Judge, Eckhardt is reaching out to other urbanized county judges as well as county judges statewide to coordinate response efforts. She is working hard to disseminate quality information via social media and other platforms so that her constituents are well-informed.

From an economic stability standpoint, Eckhardt is looking for new ways that the county can circulate money through the local economy without putting people in harm's way. Social distancing will open up new opportunities for our workforce, and help us to digitize and rethink the way we approach certain professions.

Rodney Ellis (MPAff '77) Harris County Commissioner
"As a county commissioner in the third-most-populous county in the nation, I have worked tirelessly to disseminate accurate information to constituents and assist Harris County, city of Houston and medical officials in halting the spread of the potentially deadly Coronavirus/COVID-19.

"With the help of my knowledgeable and dedicated staff, I have focused heavily on putting out information to keep constituents updated on relevant matters related to health care, food insecurity, compassionate release and evictions and transportation, among other things.

"In early March, I hosted a tele-town hall meeting that featured presentations by Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of Harris Health System; Brian Greene, President and CEO of the Houston Food Bank; and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

"Of course, health and prevention are extremely important during this public health disaster. However, the earlier run on food at grocers coupled with the thousands of people losing jobs created a food-insecurity problem. As a result, Commissioners Court passed an item I placed on the March 24 agenda that allowed the county to enter into an agreement with the food bank to help the nonprofit agency continue its mission to provide food to low-income people and seniors during the pandemic.

"In addition to the food bank providing approximately 440,000 pounds of food to Harris County residents each week during the pandemic, the agency will make up for its shortage of workers by temporarily employing county employees who will continue to serve the community since their jobs have been suspended because they cannot work remotely. Also, the agency will hire other people who lost their jobs in the service industry.

"To inform constituents about the food bank agreement and other essential information, we developed a resource guide, posted on social media and sent out numerous email blasts. The information addressed topics such as social distancing, reliable resources for virus-related updates, transportation, health care, mental health, immigrant issues and county closures.

"In addition to keeping the public informed, I've steadfastly supported county and city officials' bold decision to close bars and limit restaurants' services to take-outs, drive-through and delivery. At the same time, I also recognize the long-term financial strain these tough decisions will have on business owners and their employees. Once we get through this, I have pledged to do everything in our power to assist all those who are sacrificing for the greater good.

"I also agree with Harris County's decision to halt evictions through at least the end of March. Everyone deserves a roof over their heads, especially during the worst global pandemic in our lifetime.

"Finally, I have backed Sheriff Ed Gonzalez's proposal calling for compassionate jail releases amid the coronavirus outbreak. Confined spaces filled with large groups of people are the perfect storm for spreading the virus, which would lead to thousands of people flooding our hospital beds and overwhelming the health care system.

"My decisions were made despite growing opposition to some of the measures, including the shelter in place that was implemented to halt the virus spread. As a public official, often times you have to stand firm in your position, especially when it will save thousands of lives."

Bob Farley (MPAff '77), director of economic development, city of Grapevine, Texas
Exploring what statutory authority is available and how 4B sales tax funds (targeted for economic development) can assist local businesses.

Sarah Farley (MPAff '77), communications & strategic lead, Seton Health Alliance
Messaging physicians in Seton Health Alliance's clinically integrated network about COVID-19 protocols and resources.

Nicole Fillion (MPAff '17), policy analyst at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission
Nicole Fillion works on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) policy at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. She is contributing to HHSC's response to COVID-19 by implementing the agency's decision to extend SNAP certification periods by six months. The agency also suspended its employment services program, and Nicole is working to ensure those who would normally be subject to participation requirements to receive benefits are able to receive SNAP and TANF during the pandemic.

Aaron Gellhaus (MPAff '12), state partnerships for Granicus
Aaron Gellhaus (MPAff '12) oversees state partnerships (in Texas and the surrounding states) for Granicus, the civic engagement platform that is helping governments design, implement and execute omnichannel communications strategies through software and digital services. In today's landscape, with misinformation abound, it's more critical than ever to empower government leaders with the tools and strategies to ensure all citizens receive the facts. Moreover, during a crisis that affects everyone like COVID-19, leaders also need to be concerned with communications equity and accessibility to ensure the truth is reaching every person and driving the policy outcomes recommended by our health care professionals.

Over 20 agencies in Texas rely on Granicus for their communications engine, including the Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC). In addition to the communications piece, Aaron is also overseeing efforts by agencies to digitize services (the demand for which is accelerating during the anticipated, prolonged period of "social distancing"). For instance, any license or registration renewal needs to have an easy-to-use online option now more than ever. Finally, he's helping ensure government stays open and transparent with remote board meeting capabilities, including livestreaming.

Christine Gendron (MPAff '08), TNOYS executive director
Lauren Rose (MPAff '10), TNOYS director of public policy
Ann-Charlotte Proffitt (MPAff '18), TNOYS program manager
Kym Olson (MPAff '99), member of TNOYS board of directors
The mission of TNOYS is to strengthen services and support for Texas youth and families to help them overcome challenges to achieve healthy development. TNOYS members provide services across the state of Texas and across the continuum of care, ranging from prevention and early intervention services that keep families together, to community-based services such as shelters and drop-in centers for young people experiencing homelessness, to residential and aftercare services for youth involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

TNOYS member organizations are experiencing or are concerned about many challenges as a result of COVID-19. For example, shelters and other residential operations need cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep clients and staff healthy and safe. They also need increased groceries to provide meals that would normally be provided at school, supplies for entertainment and recreation, and laptops for remote learning. Additionally, providers are facing increased workforce expenses, including overtime and hazard pay, and are facing challenges with meeting staffing ratios. There is a threat of reduced residential capacity for youth in foster care, due to homes and facilities closing their doors. Community-based programs are having to quickly transition services such as family counseling services from in-person to virtual formats, as well as to find new referral sources now that schools are closed.

TNOYS speaks daily with representatives from state leadership and the philanthropic community and is utilizing its established role as a cross-system convener to facilitation information sharing and coordination of resources. To date, TNOYS has launched an online Emergency Response Resource Center with guidance for youth-serving organizations on plans and protocols for responding to COVID-19. TNOYS is facilitating peer-to-peer learning opportunities for providers to troubleshoot challenges and share best practices. TNOYS is also convening state regulatory agencies and other key stakeholders to share information and coordinate on supporting young and families who are homeless or at risk but who are not connected to services. TNOYS is also distributing supplies to its member organizations, including masks and hand sanitizer.

Vikki Goodwin (MPAff '91), Texas State Representative District 47
"My office is fielding a lot of emails from constituents who have specific concerns from the ability or lack thereof to be tested for COVID-19, the ability to continue work as an essential business, particularly for the construction industry, to the request for the state as a whole to be in the 'Stay Home, Work Safe' order, rather than just specific counties that have made the order. We are forwarding the requests to the governor and agencies, and are on daily conference calls in order to learn the latest news and to spread the word in our communities. When high school students from Lake Travis were stuck in Honduras in March, I added my voice to those calling on U.S. Rep. Roger Williams and others at the federal level to work to bring the students home. They were successfully brought home on March 23. I have also started a volunteer network of people calling on their neighbors to check in with them, particularly those who are 70 and older and who may be at home alone. I've been reminding my constituents of things they can be doing at this time, from filling out the 2020 Census to volunteering at the Central Texas Food Bank, to donating blood. We are all figuring out ways to stay connected via Zoom and other platforms, and soon we will be hosting virtual town halls. Work is continuing in our office to ensure constituents are getting responses, and we are helping in any way we can."

Richard Hanson (MPAff-MA '07), general director, Tejiendo Alianzas
I graduated from the LBJ-LLILAS dual degree program in 2007. A few years ago, I started a nonprofit in Oaxaca, Mexico, that partners with rural community businesses to put them on a path to economic sustainability while creating a local social impact. One of the businesses we work with hand-makes shoes and sandals using indigenous textiles. Since COVID-19 hit, we've worked with them to pivot their production to making face masks, among other products. We just started a project in which people can purchase these face masks to be given out here in rural communities where they don't have the resources to purchase them.

Gregory Harrick (MPAff '99), Department of Housing and Urban Development
"I am providing the chronically homeless people in my neighborhood, Haight/Ashbury, with information on new shelters in San Francisco, as well as on COVID testing. I give each person a ziplock bag with $1 in it. It helps to hold attention to the information.

"I'm working with an activist group, the Coalition on Homelessness, to acquire and setup tents.

"My job is with HUD and we are currently providing grant funds to all of our homeless/low-income grantees in California, Nevada and Arizona.

"Thanks, LBJ, for me teaching me how to approach this tough problem in strange times."

Salimah Jasani (MPAff-DC '19), Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Early Intervention and Special Education Services
"All schools in Maryland are closed for in-person learning during the COVID-19 crisis. My role in this crisis is supporting and providing technical assistance to local directors of special education, who are working on plans to ensure that students with disabilities receive their special education services as districts move toward continuous learning. My team has also been working on studying research and data on best practices related to implementing individualized education programs when students are not in physical classrooms."

Anna Koons (MPAff '18), investment associate at David Weekly Family Foundation
"I am not on the frontlines of COVID-19 response efforts, but I work at a foundation that has many grantees, both domestic and international who are in various stages of crafting a response to this crisis. We are attempting to be thoughtful and helpful partners to organizations facing very different realities in the face of COVID-19, from domestic nonprofits who are trying to understand what the looming financial crisis will mean for their income streams, to NGO teams doing critical health work in countries like Madagascar, Togo, and Liberia.

"Fortunately, we have a wise principal who has led his company through multiple economic downturns, and is reminding us that leaders need to "define reality, then give hope." Calling on my experience and training in global policy and public health, I am spending a lot of time right now understanding the reality — listening to our partner organizations who are preparing to go to war against the virus in settings that are under-resourced at the best of times. It is humbling to be even a small part of resource-sharing in service of those teams who are already feeling, as Paul Farmer said, "the dread of responsibility." I am reading, watching and listening to everything I can in an attempt to stay abreast of best practices so that we can deploy the foundation's resources well. Some moments are full of the beauty of shared humanity, some are full of tears and fear, but I am grateful to be able to use my skills in any way right now. The brave partners we work with are giving me hope."

Peter LaFountain (MPAff '14), policy advisor with BlueGreen Alliance
"During this crisis, we've been working to advocate with our partners and allies to ensure that working people don't get left out of coronavirus relief bills. We've seen what happened before when worker interests were not prioritized in policy — prolonged stratification and economic uncertainty. In this national emergency, we have been clearly making our case to Congress to ensure fairness for those we represent in the labor and environmental communities."

Anthony Martin (MPAff '14), city councilor for the city of Hillsboro, Oregon (population ~100,000)
The COVID-19 crisis has impacted every aspect of life. The crisis has changed how I listen to and interact with constituents. I have attended countless town halls, made phone calls, and paid attention to social media more than usual. I see so many needs in my community.

From a policy perspective, we acted quickly as one of the first cities in Oregon affected by COVID-19. After declaring a state of emergency and closing all city facilities, we passed a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions (before the state's moratorium). We allocated $1.5 million in relief for small business (mostly grants), renters and our houseless community members. We started a food delivery service for the most vulnerable members of our community and opened a temporary homeless shelter that complies with social distancing. We also created a list of business that are open for residents.

On the city government side, we offered 80 hours of emergency leave for employees that were unable to work remotely after city facilities closed. We also expanded the number of paid volunteer hours from eight to 40 for employees that are volunteering during the crisis. COVID-19 showed how fast government can adapt and change under pressure. I am discussing lessons learned with my city manager so we can make government work better after this crisis ends.

Finally, I am proud of my fellow city councilors and know that this is not a battle any of us can fight alone. Clear and open lines of communication with our county, state representatives, League of Oregon Cities, National League of Cities and the governor have been crucial in disseminating information. We are in this together and we must act accordingly.

Ross McKinney (MPAff '19), project manager, Dell Seton Medical Center, UT
"I work in administration at Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas, Austin's Level I Trauma Center. Serving as a project manager, I've developed processes and policies initially around PPE conservation, and now decontamination and sustained reuse. I've also used modeling to project/adjust for supply use and staffing demands as we alter our services. Another COVID response my work has focused on is the development of policies and protocols for our enhanced screening for all staff and visitors.

Lance McNeill (MPAff '15), city of Austin Economic Development Department
"I'm helping local small businesses understand what resources are available to them, including SBA disaster loans. COVID-19 is having an immense economic impact on Travis County. The chart above shows the size of some of the selected industries in Travis County that are most likely to suffer a negative impact from COVID-19. We are going to have a lot of work to do for a long time to come."

Sarah Melecki (MPAff '14), senior adviser at Texas Health and Human Services Commission
"The Texas Medicaid/CHIP team working on COVID-19 has multiple LBJ alums working overtime to make sure that the people we serve can get the services they need and the providers in our program can get paid to deliver services in this new environment. We are actively working with our federal partners at CMS to get waivers of federal policies that, under normal circumstances, would prohibit remote delivery of some services, prevent providers coming out of retirement to assist from enrolling in the Medicaid program quickly, and more. We are ensuring that people who rely on in-home care like attendant services can still get the care they need to live a dignified life, even if their care provider gets sick. We've worked to add a new billing code for the COVID-19 test so providers can get paid when they order the test. And we're working to ensure that the managed care organizations we contract with are able to continue their role of ensuring Texans get the services they need during this time.

"We are not the people on the frontlines, but we are doing our best to support the people on the frontlines. We serve 4.7 million Texans in our programs including low-income children, pregnant women and adults with severe disabilities. The people we serve need their health care no matter what else is going on in the world, and our job is to make sure they can get it. Dozens of Medicaid/CHIP employees are working toward that goal specifically as it relates to COVID-19. As one of my colleagues said to me today, Medicaid is a team sport. And our team has an awful lot of LBJ School alums!"

Rudolf K. Metayer (EMPL '16), city of Pflugerville council member
"As a councilmember, It has been a challenging issue to say the least, but rewarding at the same time in how I have been able to support not only the elderly, vulnerable and children in our community, but our local businesses as well. This is not the time to forget these businesses, but instead embrace them. They are the foundation of our economy and without them, we wouldn't be where we're at today.

"Make no mistake, none of the decisions that have been made are easy ones. A lot of times they've been made after numerous hours of debate and vetting. There literally is no playbook as to how to approach this pandemic. But the decisions we have made are ones we believe to be vital ones to help protect the safety and well-being of all members of our society.

"Even in these dark times you can find a ray of sunlight in seeing how entire communities have rallied to lift one another. The public and private sectors have continually and tirelessly worked with one another in the betterment of all of us. They have lived up to the American dream that there is no us or them. Black or white. Male or female. Gay or straight. We are all Americans and no matter what adversity is in front of us, we will overcome it."

Chad Michaels (MPAff-DC '18), health care legislative assistant on Capitol Hill
"I have been working around the clock on COVID-19 — this virus doesn't adhere to standard sleep or work week parameters.

"I serve as a health care legislative assistant on Capitol Hill, and the speed of work continues at a breakneck pace — remotely of course! We're seeing government attempt to coordinate and function as a cohesive unit that includes the White House, agencies, both chambers, governor's offices and county-level officials; add in commercial labs, hospitals, supply chain coordinators and we have a true pandemic-level operation. The numbers are going to get more accurate before they get better.

"We need to keep working together at all levels and across the aisle to help those on the frontline beat back this virus."

Bryan Milward (MPAff '16), economic development coordinator for the town of Leicester, Massachusetts
"In local government, particularly in smaller organizations, you wind up wearing a lot of hats. I'm the economic development coordinator for the town of Leicester, Massachusetts and so my job functions have shifted rapidly to focus on helping our small businesses survive the economic damage from COVID-19. I have to constantly monitor the rescue packages being proposed at the federal level and new programs being created to assist businesses and employees. I also assist the business owners with their applications for these programs so that they can keep their staff on payroll while the business is shut down. Additionally, I've been selected to be the emergency management director for the town to help us receive federal reimbursement for our expenses related to the response to COVID-19 and adjust our town policies to adjust to the situation as we receive new guidance from the state and federal government."

Bee Morehead (MPAff '92), executive director at Texas Impact
Scott Atnip (MPAff '03) outreach director at Texas Impact
Sarah Cruz (current LBJ School student) policy intern at Texas Impact
LBJ alums Bee Moorhead (executive eirector) and Scott Atnip (outreach director) along with current student Sarah Cruz are equipping Texas congregations by providing best practices for serving their communities in new ways and advocating on behalf of vulnerable populations.

As a statewide network representing denominational and faith groups, Texas Impact is collecting questions from local congregations and faith leaders and working with state leaders to provide answers and best practices and amplifying the stories of congregations who are adapting their ministries to ensure that vulnerable populations are protected and served during this period of crisis.

Texas Impact is also mobilizing faith leaders and members throughout the state to advocate for public policies that protect working American families and vulnerable populations at both the state and federal level.

Alli Paul (MGPS '19), international development organization focusing on Northeast Syria
"I work for an international development organization that does camp management and early recovery efforts in Northeast Syria. As COVID-19 is spreading, we on the ground are taking extra precautions in camp management to ensure that the virus doesn't enter the camps.

"Camp residents are some of the most vulnerable people with little access to health care. As such, we have changed our focus to preventing the spread of COVID-19 by switching food distributions to a tent-to-tent method, increasing the number of hand-washing facilities in the camp, and distributing hygiene kits to each household. In addition, we have barred all nonessential personnel from entering the camp to reduce the chance of contamination.

"However, as the shelling on Idlib has escalated over the last months, the camps are constantly receiving new internally displaced people (IDPs), making the containment and response difficult. As we work to contain, we also work to provide basic needs to an at-risk population in a place where COVID-19 could be a potentially disastrous virus."

Erik Paulino (MPAff '97), New York City Department of Social Services
"Here in New York City, we're doing all we can to ensure New Yorkers in need get the public assistance and SNAP benefits they need as seamlessly as possible without having to physically appear at a center. Additionally, we are working to provide shelter to the homeless while maintaining healthy protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. All while keeping constant communication with city and state elected officials and advocates on this evolving situation and addressing their questions and concerns."

Andrew Teas (MPAff '87), Professor of Government, Houston Community College
"I teach government at Houston Community College. I was one of the earlier adopters of online learning at HCC, so I'm able to mentor some of my colleagues as we quickly (and unexpectedly) move to an all-online model for hundreds of entry-level political science courses for community college students."

Justin Thompson (MPAff-DC '18), senior policy analyst at National Education Association
"As a senior policy analyst at the National Education Association, my focus has shifted to supporting our educator members through this unprecedented pandemic. My colleagues and I have worked with our government relations colleagues to review bills, advocated for necessary resources for our members, and created guidance documents on COVID-related education topics including but not limited to assessment and accountability waivers, child nutrition and digital learning. My focus has been on ensuring our members have the digital learning resources they need to best educate their students. In addition to vetting and sharing best practices resources, I've worked with my colleagues to develop guidance to ensure our members keep equity in mind while navigating this drastic change in their work. Some of these equity issues include ensuring that students with disabilities, English language learners, students who lack internet access at home, and students of color are not left behind when schools and districts shift to digital learning models."

Jeffrey Travillion (MPAff '89), Travis County Commissioner, District 1
"I have two roles in Travis County relating to emergency management. One is formal and one is informal. In my formal role, I meet with emergency management, health and human services, and logistics experts. We use their recommendations to determine whether staff is classified as critical and required to come into the office, or nonessential and allowed to telework from home. We help decide which community centers will be open, because we provide meals, wellness resources and other services in those buildings. We also work with the federal, state and local governments to determine the most effective ways to fund the actions that communities need for us to support.

"My informal role is to understand the needs of my community and provide a voice for that community in the Commissioner's Court and wherever I am. The first few days of the coronavirus scare, I started meeting with elected officials in Austin, Manor and Pflugerville. I met with city councilmembers, school board members and mayors. We put a plan together to serve the most vulnerable people in our communities, elderly and young people. The school districts wanted to make sure that students who get their primary meals at school can get access to meals when school is not in session. Each school district took extraordinary steps to make sure that all kids will continue to get meals. We also met with the religious community. Many volunteers worked to box meals and deliver them to families and the elderly community. Our goal was to treat community members like family and try to serve them. The most rewarding part of my job is to serve a community that truly shows, not says, that it cares about its most vulnerable members."

Gene Wu (MPAff '04), Texas State Representative District 137
"Apart from my legal work representing kids in CPS and juvenile delinquency cases, I am spending a lot of my normal life doing housework, cooking, cleaning and looking after the kiddos. But, as State Representative, I have been on more conference calls than medically advisable for any human. I have also spent a great deal of time tracking down medical supplies for the area: finding donors, dropping off supplies and matching up sellers to government purchasers. I've tried to maintain some time to exercise and play video games, just to maintain sanity."

Erol Yayboke (MPAff '06), Deputy Director and Senior Fellow at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
Erol published "Five Ways COVID-19 Is Changing Global Migration," an article on the longer-term impacts of current COVID-19-related human mobility restrictions on global migration.

Marina M. Zolezzi (MPAff '08), Assistant to the City Manager, Brownsville, Texas
The city of Brownsville is committed to the health and safety of its residents and employees. As part of the city management team and the unified command team for the city of Brownsville, we are responsible to the community for responding to all aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud to work with a leadership team who helped establish the first drive-thru testing site in the region as well as immediately establishing continuity plans in response to COVID-19 for the operations of the organization.

In my role as the liaison under the unified command and as the assistant to the city manager, I work with community partners to ensure there is a platform for constant communication of health and emergency operation center updates, and sharing of resources with nonprofits, businesses and other organizations. These efforts include supporting the United Against Hunger Initiative, led by United Way of Southern Cameron County and partners, with food distributions to over 1,400 families on a weekly basis. Other activities include working with numerous divisions/departments to ensure that the city secures COVID-19 funding from federal, state, local and private/foundation sources for the community.

 

If you are an LBJ alumnus contributing solutions during the COVID-19 crisis, please submit your story to lbjalum@austin.utexas.edu to be included in this article. Thank you.