As she completed her master’s in divinity at Duke University, Tirzah Villegas put her faith in action as part of Iglesia La Semilla, a Durham nonprofit ministering to the Latino community. She helped promote vaccines at La Semilla through Interfaith America’s Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors (FIVA) program, which employed college students for vaccine outreach to marginalized communities.

La Semilla coupled vaccine promotions with its popular neighborhood food giveaways. Residents could walk up for a box of food, and also get a rapid test if desired. Villegas says vaccine skeptics voiced their reservations, including some tinged with misinformation, but she never chastised anyone. “Historically, there’s a very well-grounded reason for fear in communities of color when it comes to medical systems.” Overcoming such mistrust was a major goal for the two 2021 grants from The Duke Endowment to Interfaith Youth Core totaling $1.2 million.

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After countless conversations with skeptics, Villegas gained a key insight about building trust: Learn to take ‘No’ for an answer. “Respecting people’s right to say no if they want to is part of what allowed us to continue these trusting relationships.”

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Photo Credit: Aura Marzouk

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