NEW ORLEANS – It is the first day of free COVID-19 testing on campus with a steady stream of masked New Orleanians moving through the Student Union. COVID-19 may have taken the city’s world famous spring festival season away; but it has not taken away warm greetings, smiling eyes and laughter. The biggest laugh, however, comes from Nick Harris who presents every single test taker with a complimentary tote bag as if he has known them for years.
Harris, Dillard’s director of Community and Church Relations (CCR), has never met a stranger and everyone from Gentilly to Uptown back to New Orleans East knows that. It is no wonder that he was referred to in the spring 2018 issue of “Dillard Today” as “the other mayor of New Orleans.” Harris’s energy and persistence is the reason Dillard is the only local institution of higher learning on the Greater New Orleans Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster list. He was also named a Neighborhood Navigator by the Mayor’s Neighborhood Engagement Office in conjunction with Forward Together New Orleans to assist residents with questions pertaining to available COVID-19 resources.
CCR has been busy since Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Governor John Bel Edwards began taking precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19. Leveraging a healthy variety of partnerships, Harris began communicating with local citizens about the locations of food pantries and free meal deliveries in the first couple of weeks of the stay-at-home orders. Other services that CCR has helped facilitate are grocery and prescription medication pick-ups, financial assistance for hospitality and gig economy workers, legal services for under resourced communities, a nonprofit directory and even resources for nonprofit agencies.
Because of Harris’ work, the University was recognized among the network of local colleges and universities providing PPEs to New Orleans’ healthcare community. In March, CCR teamed up with the College of Nursing to provide personal protective equipment (PPEs) to agencies including Excelth Primary and DePaul Community Health Center.
In typical fashion, Harris made sure that the free testing on campus was a collaborative effort. CCR worked with the University’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center and the New Orleans Health Department to include Dillard as a testing site.
Certainly, there is much more work to be done especially with more of COVID-19 on the horizon. With Harris’s tireless efforts, Dillard is sure to remain committed to being an institution of service.