By: Luna Mohammad July 2023
A non-profit organization’s ability to thrive in the face of new realities and challenges largely depends on its ability to quickly adapt to new circumstances. Organizations that can leverage their resources and partnerships, while creatively capitalizing on new opportunities put themselves in a better position to broaden their scope and support the whole community.
With the growing threat of weather-related disasters magnifying social problems, the ability of community-based organizations to pivot smartly to meet new needs is invaluable. The Independent Transportation Network of Monterey County’s (ITNMC) work during the COVID-19 pandemic provides an instructive great example of how an organization can turn challenges into opportunity, and become stronger and better able to support its community.
ITNMC provides vulnerable Monterey County residents (people with vision impairments, vulnerable seniors), with dignified and affordable transportation services, so that they can continue living an active and independent lifestyle. However, ITNMC’s work isn’t just about transportation per se; they offer 24/7 affordable, arm-through-arm, door- through-door support that helps alleviate feelings of loneliness and helplessness, and connects clients to needed resources.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, ITNMC’s ability to operate, maintain their employees, and utilize funding was deeply impacted. Rather than slowing down, ITNMC got creative, leveraging previous partnerships, and finding new ways to support clients.
In 2019, ITNMC had become a subgrantee for a Listos Disaster Preparedness Grant through the Community Emergency Response Volunteers (CERV) of the Monterey Peninsula. ITNMC collaborated with CERV to share disaster information with clients and provide disaster preparedness workshops to staff, volunteers, and community members. Since 2019, ITNMC has maintained and strengthened its relationships with CERV and its other subgrantees by attending monthly countywide meetings with other subgrantee community organizations and keeping lines of communication open. ITNMC systematically built on these collaborations to expand its services and reach during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic, ITNMC worked with CERV to distribute disaster and COVID related information and masks. Likewise, ITNMC collaborated with Meals on Wheels to provide food delivery services and partnered with the Alliance on Aging to give free rides to seniors needing COVID-19 vaccine shots. Through these relationships, a steering committee was developed to expand transportation services in rural Monterey County and relocate ITNMC to “the Hub”, a shared community space in Salinas. The Hub makes it easier to connect clients to multiple services and houses Alliance on Aging, Legal Services for Seniors, the Blind & Visually Impaired Center, Central Coast Center for Independent Living, and other community organizations.
Through these partnerships, ITNMC participated in several community workshops, including South and North County Socials (SoCoS and NoCoS) held by Meals on Wheels of the Salinas Valley. The workshops helped ITNMC further their goal of reaching rural regions and underserved populations, including the thousands of immigrant farmworker families residing in Monterey County. During these workshops, ITNMC leveraged relationships with CERV and Alliance on Aging to share disaster readiness information and connect people to services. The workshops also provided an opportunity to raise awareness about ITNMC’s services and recruit volunteers to help them maintain and expand services for those who need it most.
While several workshops and events occurred throughout Monterey County, the most successful one took place in Gonzales in South Monterey County on March 23, 2023. This workshop had the most attendees and helped pave the way for future outreach efforts and workshops. The Gonzales Workshop included 88 community members, the City Mayor and Manager, Gonzales Police and Fire, ITNMC, and several other community organizations and businesses.
Organizations took turns sharing helpful community information and resources in both Spanish and English. Attendees were able to speak directly to community leaders after these presentations, and to visit booths to learn more about programs and services.
The Gonzales workshop was a needed step toward building community rapport with a population that is often overlooked and underserved. The bilingual nature of the workshop was critical to ensure that rural, Spanish speaking residents had the ability to talk directly to leaders and voice their feelings and concerns. This workshop helped further ITNMC’s goal of empowering independence, in all aspects of life, from transportation to disaster readiness. Additionally, the workshop helped propel ITNMC’s rural expansion, providing an opportunity to recruit volunteers and connect with local officials.
Through the workshop, ITNMC set up a meeting with the Gonzales Fire Chief and City Council to discuss the rural transportation project expansion and opportunities for further community engagement.
Building upon this workshop and the Listos Disaster Ready Guides shared there, ITNMC devised a disaster preparedness contest, requiring community members to take at least two steps to prepare their households. Participants were entered in a raffle to win an emergency kit at the next workshop. This helped make disaster readiness fun, while keeping the community engaged for more than just one workshop. To ensure all regions of the county could participate, another workshop was held in Pacific Grove at the Meals on Wheels Sally Griffin Community Center. This workshop had 16 attendees, however a single connection made with a senior there paved the way for development of a disaster readiness workshop for 150 seniors living at the Monterey Pines Mobile Park in July 2023.
ITNMC continues to look for ways to expand services and better meet the needs of the community, seeking grants to support bilingual outreach and develop new transit lines that run through rural communities. The positive ripple effects of this work are incalculable, but very real.
When organizations work together, they are better able to meet community needs and provide resources and information that encourage resilience and independence. When people are reached and heard, they can better access resources to meet their needs and manage adversity, protecting their health and well-being down the line. While ITNMC has so many more roads to pave and connections to make, it is moving energetically in the right direction. Their work demonstrates how to build upon partnerships and creatively adapt to adversity, while finding opportunities to broaden their reach and serve the whole community.