Oakland’s Chinatown hosts one of the city’s most popular street events, the Chinatown StreetFest, attended by thousands each August. This year, the colorful, food-and-performance-filled event was an optimal choice for Blue Shield of California’s ongoing #80forOakland campaign. As the company prepares for its headquarters move to 601 City Center this fall, Blue Shield continues reaching out to its Oakland neighbors by sponsoring events all over the city.
The #80ForOakland initiative is named after the company’s 80th anniversary and the number 80 was chosen as a stretch goal for employee activities in the city leading up to the move. It has already surpassed Blue Shield’s expectations, with enthusiastic response from employees creating new connections and partners participating in nearly 100 events and donated thousands of volunteer hours.
The free two-day StreetFest, established in 1988 by the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, covers eight city blocks, and is a celebration of the traditions, cultures, and diversity that continue to flourish in Chinatown, where swanky boba tea shops coexist with crowded mom-and-pop restaurants. Blue Shield’s booth at Ninth and Franklin was staffed by volunteers, including representatives from the company’s Asian Pacific Employees Network, or APEN, one of many Blue Shield employee resources groups.
Mark Anthony Paredes, a government and community relations manager for Blue Shield, is one of APEN’s chairs and one of the volunteers meeting-and-greeting at the StreetFest. “It was a perfect fit for our move to Oakland,” he said, “as we immerse ourselves in the community.” He explained that when Chantel Johnson-Crockrom, another Blue Shield government and community relations manager, met with the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, it was immediately clear that a company presence at the StreetFest would be an ideal way to introduce that community to Blue Shield’s services and mission.
Besides featuring a fun photo booth where fest-goers could take portraits with themselves and friends, volunteers handed out info and answered questions about Blue Shield, including its services through Covered California and Medicare. “The photo booth was a hit with the community. There were a lot of seniors, families, and youth that enjoyed it,” said Paredes. The photo booth “easily printed over a thousand photos” on the first day of the StreetFest, he reported. Volunteers handed out Blue Shield fans — more than 2,000 of them — handy for a warm summer afternoon.
It was also an opportunity for recent graduates, for example, to learn about potential career opportunities at Blue Shield, said Paredes. Interested individuals could learn how to apply in a casual networking atmosphere.
Blue Shield Senior Business Analyst Kimberly Allen was another booth volunteer. She noted that she moved across the country to take the job at Blue Shield and has been delighted to engage in the multiple outreach opportunities #80ForOakland is providing. “I’ve found that here at Blue Shield, it’s all about ‘How do we make it better for our members,’” she said. For her, #80For Oakland has been an extension of that philosophy as employees engage with the city’s diverse communities. “Health care is a people thing, and I love the way our company has been involving people from all over Oakland,” she said.
Like many Blue Shield employees, Allen has volunteered for several #80ForOakland events. She participated in May’s “Make Time for Health” Festival in Estuary Park and really enjoyed “hanging out with the kids.” Her experience as a medical underwriter enabled her to have conversations on topics such as “your heart is a pump,” and “why watermelon is better for you than soda pop.” She’s looking forward to more activities as #80ForOakland continues. “I like being involved in events that are making things better for people,” she said. In her view, the campaign has been a success internally at Blue Shield as well, helping employees “engage and explore” their soon-to-be new home base.
Paredes emphasized that the move doesn’t mean Blue Shield is severing any of the many community relationships the company has developed in San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area, pointing to commitments with local Boys & Girls Clubs and with the Yerba Buena Center. “We’re expanding our relationships,” he said. “And we are learning about great new partners such as the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.”
APEN’s involvement in the StreetFest was, of course, a natural fit. “The diverse Asian community is very strong in Oakland,” he said, “and an event like this is not just about giving money,” but participating and listening as much as talking.
“Blue Shield is continuing to look for other nonprofits to partner with in Oakland, ones that share our mission,” he said. “They can reach out to the company, and we will explore how we might work together.”