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Celebrating 4 Years of Community at The Market Commons

Posted September 10, 2021

Market Commons Staff

Though The Market Commons has been “the living room of the Market” since opening in 2017, it has become all the more essential during the past 18 months of the pandemic.

The Market Foundation’s model for a healthy community has been rooted in the social determinants of health from the start, giving The Commons flexibility to quickly identify and pivot to meet the community’s emerging needs.

The ever-changing COVID-19 crisis has put this approach to the ultimate test, yet The Commons has continued to strengthen the Market community and prove that their model not only works, but flourishes.


Meet the Team

Velma Billie and Crystal

During the ups and downs of this past year and a half, access to resource navigation and personalized one-on-one support has proven to be important in ways we never thought possible. Meet the two staff leaders who have been here since the very beginning of the Market Commons.

Velma Chaney (left), Resource Coordinator

Velma has been The Commons greatest cheerleader since day 1. “I would literally chase people down just to explain who we are, what we do, and all the wonderful things that we can help people with,” she laughs, reminiscing about the opening of The Commons fours years ago.

As the Resource Coordinator, Velma understands firsthand the importance of connecting people with the tools they need to lead a healthy life. She has lived the experience of being “on the other side of the desk”, and her own past experience with homelessness has informed how she connects clients with resources. “It’s hard to find help if you don’t know where to look, you know. Letting them know that it’s possible to be in a better place… I meet someone where they are and work with them step by step.”

Velma’s expertise in social services and her can-do empathetic spirit were essential in pivoting The Commons’ outreach in March 2020 when COVID hit. “One day we’re in person, and the next day everything is over the phone. But it was such a smooth transition because everyone on our team knew what to do.” Over the past 18 months, The Commons has stayed connected to community members through phone calls and limited one-on-one in-person appointments. Velma supports her clients with just about anything you can think of, even just a good chat.

“Everyone is still checking on each other and trying to remain positive,” Velma reports. “Wellness check calls are very important to make sure everyone’s in a good place. Some people are aware of what they need you know, others I want to make sure I check in on…. I’m here for you, whatever you need.”

In spite of the challenges of this past year and a half, Velma has great hope for the future of The Commons and our community. “Seeing where we are now and where we’re going, and it’s only getting better,” she says. “We’re going to continue to do the good work in spite of COVID. That’s not going to stop us from making sure people get the resources they need.”

Crystal Dixon (right), Programs Manager

Crystal has spent her entire career working with nonprofits, specializing in both programs and facilities. Not only is she a wiz at developing innovating programming, but she’s also a caring community connector. That’s why she was the perfect person to help build a community meeting place from scratch, and the Market Foundation brought her on to create a build plan for The Commons.

“What the Foundation put forward was very in line from the start,” remembers Crystal. “The idea that the community can tell us what they need and we respond, that has been baked in from the beginning.” That’s the guiding principle of The Commons approach, and it was put to the test when the pandemic hit.

Because of their community-centered framework, the staff listened to the people of the Market and responded to their emerging needs in real-time. The Food Access Program expanded to provide weekly deliveries of meals and groceries to senior residents in isolation and helped Market workers afford fruits and vegetables at Market produce stands. The Market Community Safety Net became available to help Market workers pay rent and other bills when income and other resources became scarce.

“The needs of the community have changed, but it’s still the same principle. We connect people to the resources they need,” Crystal explains. “People refer us to their neighbors and say ‘I don’t know who to ask, but I know The Commons can help.’ We can bring those resources in or connect them.”

Crystal’s vision for The Commons is now playing out in more significant ways than we could have ever imagined. “Working in nonprofit, I’ve seen how much information you usually have to hand over to access the service. But there’s no transaction here. It’s a phone call, like asking a friend a question… the best part of the Market community is that everyone is working together.”

“Seeing where we are now and where we’re going and it’s only getting better,” Velma says. “Things look different. But the help is still the same. That’s our goal, making sure people are getting the tools they need to be successful.”

“We’ve been open for four years, two of those during the pandemic. We proved we could make it through that stress test, ” says Crystal. “We built a system that really can flex when it needs to. That’s a product of our key partners and understanding the model and the approach. And having a lot of faith in that, because we’re seeing the results.”

In the few years The Commons has been open, they’ve proven invaluable to promoting the health & stability of the entire community.We are so grateful to be celebrating 4 years, and can’t wait for what the future has in store!