At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Mary Hossley ’18, DNP, and her daughter began a mission of community outreach. From their hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, they sewed 2,000 masks and sent them to whomever they heard had need.
“We shipped them out to New Mexico, to California hospitals—all over the place. To the most vulnerable populations—our local hospitals, truck drivers, poultry workers, and churches,” Hossley says. “Wherever the care was needed, it beckoned me to reach out to them and be their advocate in my community and surrounding areas.”
Hossley is always looking for opportunities to apply her knowledge to help others. Education has been important to her since she was a little girl growing up in Hattiesburg. “If I wanted to move out of the projects, if I ever wanted to be more, do more, then education was my way out,” she says.
She has brought that community-centered focus to her outreach efforts throughout the course of the pandemic.
When COVID-19 vaccines became available, she started a grassroots campaign to register as many older people as she could reach. In her capacity as a nurse and as health promotion chair with her local NAACP chapter, she went on television and radio programs inviting anyone who needed help registering to contact her. To her delight, they did. “My phone was ringing off the hook,” she says. “Once we got on television, offering help, that’s when things started changing.”
“I knew that there was a calling for me to do better so that I could help others, so that I could bring those vulnerable people … with me.”
She also called managers and CEOs of local clinics, apartment complexes, and senior living centers to help their clients and residents. Hossley discovered that a lot of people, especially African Americans and those in low-income communities, simply did not have access to a computer. “Not only did they not have access to a computer, but they didn’t know how to get in the computer to navigate around, let alone find the vaccination site and then register for it. So, they were being left behind,” she says.
At one point, only 6% of African American residents in Hattiesburg were registered to be vaccinated, compared to 30% of white residents. Hossley fought to challenge that status quo, personally registering over 2,000 people to be vaccinated.
Though the African American community has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, distrust for the vaccine runs deep. “That still is a problem, but we’re trying to get out into the community. We’re asking our leaders, our supervisors, our mayors, our pastors—people that especially African Americans trust—to press that educational piece, and we are trying to dispel a lot of myths about the vaccine,” she says.
If education was the motivation that inspired Hossley to dream big, it is also the spark that keeps her going. She credits her experience at Walden for making her community work possible.
“We’re out there, reaching out to people who need help,” she says. “Walden has played a big part in my status [in the community] and people trusting and people believing, because they know I have the educational background and research that we need.”