Human service agencies partner to take on equity issues

Grays Harbor Equity Taskforce will tackle barriers for marginalized groups

Local human service agencies feel they are more effective in collaboration, which is why they are pooling resources and perspectives to tackle equity issues on the Harbor.

The group, named the Grays Harbor Equity Taskforce, is made up of 15 people from different agencies, and is hoping to expand in numbers and in reach, according to task force leader Christie Chiles, director of information services at the Arc of Grays Harbor. The task force’s main mission — dissolve the barriers between marginalized groups and essential services.

“There’s a broad range of different things in our community that people who are marginalized are not as able to access,” Chiles said. “That could be anything from transportation to housing to food, clothing, anything like that.”

Agencies currently part of the task force are the Arc of Grays Harbor, Grays Harbor County Public Health, Coastal Community Action Program, South Sound Parent to Parent, Aberdeen School District, the Olympic Area Agency on Aging (O3A) and Morningside.

Chiles said the idea for an equity task force was born from pandemic-related health access issues in 2020 and organized by Dee Dee Garman, a developmental disabilities program coordinator with public health. During the pandemic, aging populations and those with disabilities who relied on caregiver support couldn’t access that care because of social distancing precautions. When the group first began, its main focus was providing vaccines, protective gear for COVID and making sure people could access caregivers.

Then, once vaccines became more widely available and COVID precautions eased, Chiles said, the task force wasn’t quite as needed, and took a break during the summer of 2022.

But, at the time, the group also saw an opportunity to “broaden the scope” of the task force beyond just aging groups and those with disabilities, Chiles said.

“They (the task force) kind of said, ‘we don’t want to just focus on that,’ we want to focus on all marginalized populations in the community and how we can make sure there’s inclusion for everyone, there’s access for everyone,” Chiles said.

That includes people who live in outlying or rural communities, low-income communities, English second-language speakers and tribal communities, Chiles said.

In recent months, the Mobile Assistance Van, a project spearheaded by O3A and Grays Harbor Public Health, has journeyed across the southern Olympic Peninsula to provide health service information, and provides Spanish translation services. Even though the task force hasn’t officially embarked on any projects of its own, Chiles said the mobile van project is a good example of ways to clear hurdles — language and transportation in this case — that might otherwise prevent people from accessing services.

While the task force already combines the efforts of local agencies, Chiles said she wants to gather information from larger state or federal agencies to see how they handle human service equity. In addition, she wants to add more community members to the task force — people with “lived experience” about the barriers to service.

For example, a parent of a child with a disability recently joined the task force, Chiles said.

“Being able to bring those folks in that know their communities, that know the issues that are happening and maybe have some insight into the ways that things could be better,” Chiles said.

Jeff Meeks, executive director of the Arc of Grays Harbor, said the group will benefit from as many perspectives as possible.

“I think it’s important not to understate the value of having a diverse group of people sitting at the same table,” Meeks said. “Each knows what their own mission is and is trying to understand everyone else’s mission, and they’re trying to cross-pollinate those ideas.”

Interested parties can join the task force by visiting force or by calling the Arc of Grays Harbor at (360)-537-7000.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or