Bellwether’s Resident Services Coordinator, Samantha Hill, and Todd Olsen, 501 Commons consultant, in front of Security House, Seattle, WA.
A 501 Commons’ program -- Prepare/Respond/Serve program (PRS) -- has received national recognition. America’s Service Commissions (ASC) and Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP) have recognized the program which provided volunteer consultants to create emergency preparedness plans at low-income housing properties around the region.
The third edition of the publication Transforming Communities through Service: A Collection of the Most Innovative and Impactful National Service Programs in the United States includes innovative programs that have a lasting impact and have the potential to be replicated in other communities. The 501 Commons Prepare/Respond/Serve program is recognized on pages 69-70 of the report.
Over the last two years, three nonprofits partnered with 501 Commons on the project to create emergency preparedness plans at more than a dozen low-income housing communities. They are the Low Income Housing Institute, Bellwether Housing and Catholic Housing Services of Western Washington. The 501 Commons’ volunteer consultants assessed current emergency procedures at each building, collaborated with staff to create an emergency plan unique to each apartment building, and trained staff and residents about how to implement the plan.
The projects with the three housing providers are a special adaptation of the PRS program, which is designed to help any nonprofit prepare for an emergency, including preparation for an unplanned departure of the executive director. In addition to the work with the housing programs, 501 Commons consultants have developed emergency plans for 20 organizations since the program was developed.
“We all know that emergency planning is critical because dangerous weather conditions and disasters are certain to strike our community,” said Nancy Long, executive director. “When that happens these 501 Commons volunteer consultants will know that they increased the safety of thousands of low-income housing residents.”
To staff Prepare/Respond/Serve program assignments, 501 Commons draws from its pool of over 500 skilled volunteers. In particular, those who are veterans have skills, knowledge, and competencies that are readily transferable to the PRS program. Veterans bring a unique sense of leadership and teamwork, and are able to work successfully in close collaboration with staff and the very diverse residents of the low-income housing communities. In addition many of the consultants had language skills that enabled them to communicate more effectively with the residents.
The PRS program is funded by the Volunteer Generation Fund through the Washington State Commission for National and Community Service.