On May 27th, Public officials and community leaders joined local students at Ninth Grade Academy to highlight creative billboards they designed as part of a campaign to educate young Trenton residents about COVID-19 vaccines.

This project, similar to the Trenton Public Schools 2020 Superhero billboards campaign urging the public to #MaskUp, was organized by Stacy Heading, founder of Heal The City, and Youth Services and Outreach Manager at Isles Youth Institute, along with Ivey Avery, a retired Trenton school teacher and member of the Heal the City team. Heal the City is a local volunteer group developed in partnership with the SEED Male Mentoring program. See video

“Collaborating with multiple organizations, local entrepreneurs, and leaders in the medical field to produce billboards on the fight against COVID has been a great experience for our young people here in Trenton,” Heading said. “They are the true super heroes.”

Each billboard, designed by students and Sabrina McCall of Creative Designs by Bri, aims to dispel myths about COVID-19 vaccines so residents can make health decisions based on fact, not rumor. Billboards are located in each city ward: 400 block North Clinton Avenue, 500 block Perry Street, Stuyvesant and Prospect Streets, and Lalor and Center Streets (Spanish version).

To inform their work, students hosted Saturday webinars featuring Dr. Adela Ames-Lopez, City of Trenton Director of Health & Human Services, Dr. Kemi Alli, CEO of Henry J. Austin Health Center, and Micah Freeman, Nurse Supervisor for Trenton Public Schools.

Dr. Alli talked with students about how COVID-19 vaccines work, using materials that teach your immune system how to fight the virus without making you ill. “These students are absolutely amazing,” she said.”I am truly inspired by their commitment to improving their community.”

Freeman agreed. “It’s been a pleasure working with the students from start to finish,” she said. “I am inspired by their commitment for learning about the importance of the vaccine. This has been a wonderful partnership.”

The project was supported by the New Jersey Department of Health ELC grant program through a partnership of Trenton Health Team, the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton.

“These students shared creative ideas that will resonate in our community — especially with teens who are now eligible to be vaccinated,” said THT Executive Director Gregory Paulson. “After learning the ‘vax facts,’ they are ready to make informed decisions and help others do the same.”

Kyle Anderson, a TCHS Class of 2020 graduate attending Clark Atlanta University, is featured on one of the billboards. “I’m grateful to Trenton Health Team and Heal The City for providing me the ability to be a voice in Trenton encouraging people to get the vaccine,” he said. “As a college student, I believe it is important to set an example for the citizens of Trenton.”

Before working on the project, Madison Vasquez, a 2021 Isles Youth Institute graduate headed to Mercer Community College, had doubts about getting a vaccine. “I went from saying I wouldn’t consider the vaccine at all to really thinking I should,” she said. “I might take it after all so hopefully the world can get better.”

Students participating this year include Noelia Martinez (Barnard College of Columbia University), Eric Vasquez (Harvard University), Fredy Alvarado Retana (Colgate University), Omar Morales (Rochester Institute of Technology), Lilia Perez (The College of New Jersey), and Madison Vasquez (Mercer County Community College) and juniors Edson Garcia, Elizabeth Menchu, Christian Pierre and Karen Lorenzo-Interiano.

Since March, THT has worked closely with LALDEF and Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, testing and information for Trenton communities hardest hit by the pandemic, with support from the New Jersey Department of Health ELC grant program. En español

Healthcare leaders and others have voiced growing concerns about inequities in vaccine access, with immigrants and communities of color especially affected. ELC grants, administered by the New Jersey Department of Health Division of Family Health Services and the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium, support expanded access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines, and training for community health workers to connect at-risk residents with needed services and reliable COVID-19 information.