Whether it’s transportation for an after-school program, a ride to a warm shelter on a cold night, or a much-needed meal being delivered, one community has seen the difference one van can make.
Lynsey Gagnon, Executive Director of Community Resource Centers for Volunteers of America Western Washington, says the 15-passenger van they were awarded in 2019 has been instrumental in helping them expand the work they do.
Vans reaching the end of their service life with Community Transit’s Vanpool shared commute program can get a second chance to make a difference in the community by being awarded to a local nonprofit organization. Community Transit’s Van GO competitive grant program launched in 2000 and has since awarded 146 vans and wheelchair lift-equipped paratransit vehicles to qualified 501(c)3 organizations throughout Snohomish County.
Sky Valley Youth Coalition (SVYC) hosts a safe space for teens after school, providing teens with service opportunities, connections to supportive and trustworthy adult mentors, and access to education and employment opportunities.
“More than 60 percent of teens in the program are from low-income households. Many don’t see parents until late in the evening due to parents working multiple jobs,” says Gagnon.
Thanks to the van, teens in the program have been able to plan field trips, like outings to nearby movie theaters, and attend more fun and educational events. “Some of the teens in the program cried when they heard that we would have a van, “ says Gagnon. In the past, transportation limited what they could do and how many people could attend. “In a rural community like Sultan, transportation can be a huge barrier,” she says.
Along with more field trips, the van helped with smaller errands and outings. “Instead of staff members having to use their personal cars, they could do things like take a group of teens to Fred Meyer to get clothing for job interviews,” she says.
The van also helped fulfill needs in other programs, such as transporting people who need a warm place to sleep at night. “In the winter we partnered with local organizations in taking people to the Monroe Cold Weather Shelter, which is open on nights when the weather is projected to get below 32 degrees,” she says. “Our regular riders were incredibly grateful to have that service.”
As some programs have shut down due to the pandemic, the van has been used to help deliver meals to local middle and high school students. Meals like this are crucial for those experiencing food insecurity. “Since they aren’t at school to pick up meals on campus, we have been able to deliver them to these youth,” says Gagnon. “We can pack all the meals in there and do one big loop instead of needing multiple vehicles.”
Community Transit plans to grant more vehicles to local nonprofit organizations this year. Do you know of a local organization doing important work in our community? Van GO is accepting applications through September 30, 2020. Visit communitytransit.org/vango
to learn more.