Heather Doherty, WE CARE Palestine’s new Block Leader Coordinator, is leading this month’s ‘COVID Connect 4 — Good Neighbor Challenge’ to encourage relationship building across the city. Pictured above, Hannah Doherty, helps her mom, Heather, pay Connect 4 in their neighborhood. 

Loneliness, isolation, and stress, beware. WE CARE Palestine’s “COVID Connect 4 — Good Neighbor Challenge” begins this week. Each week in September, WE CARE is encouraging residents to strengthen relationships with friends and neighbors despite increased isolation during the pandemic.

Heather Doherty of Palestine, the nonprofit’s first part-time staff member, is leading the challenge. She’s inviting residents to join the group’s Facebook page, and post activities each week. The challenge encourages safe connections with 16 people throughout the month while practicing social distancing. 

Persons most at risk of loneliness during the pandemic include adolescents and young adults, ages 15 to 21, seniors 75 and older, and stay-at-home mothers of young kids. The goal is to connect with people who may feel isolated by writing letters, making phone calls, or greeting them in person.

Rev. Lynn Wilhite, WE CARE’s founder, told the Herald-Press that COVID has hindered the organization by preventing team meetings and participation in community events, such as parades. 

“[The pandemic has] been really hard on us. This has not been a good time for relationship building,” Wilhite said.

Doherty, who holds a master’s in professional counseling, said connections are vital to people’s social and physical health. 

“Connectedness actually creates safer, healthier communities,” Doherty said. “People who can help [with the challenge] will feel much more fulfilled, and I want that for other people.”

Doherty joined WE CARE as the organization’s first part-time employee in June, thanks to grants from Walmart Supercenter and warehouses in Tucker and Palestine. As Block Party Coordinator, she recruits new block leaders and offers support and training. WE CARE currently has 12 block leaders, who connect neighbors with one another by hosting annual block parties.

Doherty was one of the first volunteers to sign up for training as block leader after she moved to Palestine four years ago, and has since hosted three backyard parties on National Night Out to help her neighbors get to know one another. 

The “Connect 4” game serves as a symbol of WE CARE’s mission: Strengthening Palestine’s neighborhoods by developing caring relationships among neighbors. Since 2016, WE CARE has developed an impact in Palestine by recruiting a diverse group of 25 Action Team members, and 12 block leaders. WE CARE also promotes the values of good neighbors at the organization’s annual Good Neighbor Banquet. 

The organization also aims to build and staff a Friendship House in a Palestine neighborhood, but is still raising funds. A community coordinator and his or her family will live in the house and provide resources and programs that improve the neighborhood’s quality of life.

Wilhite estimates the organization has raised roughly 15% of funds needed for the Friendship House, which can provide relationships for people who need help, such as youth whose parents work at night. Wilhite grew up in Palestine and established WE CARE to uplift the city’s neighborhoods. She modeled the organization on Community Renewal International, which has reduced crime in Shreveport more than 50%.

For more information about WE CARE Palestine or to sign up for the challenge, contact Wilhite at 903-922-6149, email blockleaders@wecarepalestine.org, or join the @COVIDconnect4challenge group on Facebook.

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