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March 23, 2020
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Connecting a Community During Coronavirus

As the spread of COVID-19 began to increase across the U.S. in early March, Brandcenter student Lex Coelho (XD, 2021) created a resource for her community to keep people connected.  

Coelho was at home in Chapel Hill, NC for spring break when her younger sister, Amelie, was notified that March 13 would be her last day at Chapel Hill High School for at least three weeks.   

“After the announcement, we noticed an immediate surge of posts on Nextdoor and Facebook from neighbors,” said Coelho. “Some were in need of childcare, while others were now home from school and able to babysit.”  

Coelho saw dozens of threads from vulnerable neighbors who needed groceries but were afraid to go out; college students home for the semester and able to offer help; neighbors directing each other to local COVID-19 pages and more.  

“My sister asked, ‘Why isn’t there one place for all of this information?’” said Coelho. “I said to her, ‘Why don’t we make one?’”   

Lex and her sister had the first version of “Chapel Hill Community Post” up by 3 a.m. that next morning.

Lex Coelho and her sister, Amelie, sit side-by-side at the table in their home with computers out, working on Chapel Hill Community Post

Lex and Amelie Coelho work together on Chapel Hill Community Post at their home in Chapel Hill, NC

Chapel Hill Community Post is a website to help connect community members who need assistance with neighbors who can offer it. It’s a single location for Chapel Hill/Carrboro residents to be sent directly to official local COVID-19 pages from town and county governments, school districts and healthcare providers.   

“We want to make the process of reaching out for help or offering help to a neighbor as simple as possible,” said Coelho. “We love seeing our neighbors come together to support each other and wanted to create a space for that to be easily accessible for everyone in our community.”  

The site is broken up into “Community Needs,” “Community Offers,” and “Local COVID-19 Resources.” Anyone in the greater Chapel Hill/Carrboro community can submit a post about needing or offering help, either on the site or by calling a dedicated submission phone line. Coelho and her sister check submissions and update the site a few times daily. Residents in the area can also browse the submitted “Offers” and “Needs.”  

Initially, Coelho and her sister only promoted the website through their personal social media accounts and personal connections. “We realized that by only sharing on our social media, only offering the site in English and only accepting submissions online, we were likely missing a large segment of our community that was in need due to this crisis.”   

To fix that, Coelho set up a submission phone line, enabled translation on the site and created downloadable, bilingual flyers for people to share. The sisters also put print flyers up in high-traffic areas like pharmacies, local businesses and major bus shelters, as well as around nearby neighborhoods.   

In just the last few days, the website has seen about 4,000 views from 1,200 different users. About 130 people have clicked to connect to a resource beyond the site (donating food/money, volunteering for a neighborhood corps, calling a local helpline, etc.). Chapel Hill Community Post has been featured by the UNC Gillings School of Public Health, on Chapelboro.com, and The Daily Tar Heel.  

“I think that keeping the website local is what makes it work,” says Coelho. “But the platform can easily be applied to any community.”  

As virtual Brandcenter classes start up this week, Coelho is managing Chapel Hill Community Post on top of her Brandcenter coursework. She’s not in it alone, though — she taught her younger sister how to make content updates in Wordpress and track statistics in Google Analytics.  

“If I find something or we get a submission during the day when I’m in class or working, I’ll forward info to Amelie to update,” said Coelho. “We switch roles when she’s working on homework at night. This would be difficult to tackle alone.”  

Learn more about Chapel Hill Community Post by visiting the website.