Bus tours visit local nonprofits to glean need

Monthly trips will focus on different areas of interest within county

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

The Nonprofit Network Southwest Washington wants you to learn about homelessness, the local agencies dealing with it, and how you can help them.

If homelessness isn’t the problem that touches your heart, there are plenty more opportunities to dig into others -- via monthly bus tours the Nonprofit Network is starting. This month it’s homelessness. Next month it’ll be youth in crisis. April will be environmental sustainability. Yet to be scheduled are tours focusing on early childhood and the arts.

Each of these Thursday “Community Cares” tours starts with an introductory, global talk by an expert on the issue at hand; that’s followed by involved visiting the local nonprofit agencies.

“People want to make informed decisions about what they get involved with and give their time or money to,” said Jeanne Kojis, executive director of the Nonprofit Network, which works to create a strong infrastructure of local nonprofit organizations. “Doing these tours … gives people a big picture as to what’s happening in our community around issue areas.”

While some volunteers are pretty happy to take on anything, she said, many have deep interests in a particular issue. The Nonprofit Network tours are a great way to educate yourself about these issues and the local players working on them.

“Most people who are looking for some way to make a difference in this community are really interested in the topic areas,” said Kojis. “They’re not close enough to know who’s doing what within the nonprofit community … but they know they resonate with the arts, or the environment, or children, or people who don’t have a home to go to at night.”

Kojis said the tours got started because whenever a new organization joins the Nonprofit Network, she pays a visit to learn more about it. Those visits gave her a far better understanding of the problems and the players than just looking at a brochure or hearing a quick speech.

“I think people are hungry to understand. That’s the motivation,” she said. A pilot tour last year focused on hunger and visited local food pantries and food banks, from a small one tucked into a church kitchen to the former county-wide Stop Hunger Warehouse (replaced late last year by a new Clark County Food Bank building). The personal tours and question-and-answer sessions provided by agency made for some great insights, she said.

Now, Kojis said, she’s eager to launch monthly bus tours. “I’m just trying to fill one bus at time,” she said.

That’s a small biodiesel bus, by the way. The cost of each tour is $25. Capacity is just 15 to 20, but more buses can be added, and their routes staggered, if there’s a lot of interest.

The tours are not fundraisers for the agencies visited; the money will cover the cost of the tour, Kojis said. The tours are aimed at potential volunteers and donors, not sister agency professionals -- though future tours might be designed for them too.

“This is issue education,” said Kojis. “And we address how different agencies are doing the work differently.”

Upcoming tours

Here’s the schedule of planned and tentative tours.

Homelessness: 8:30 a.m. to noon, Thursday. There will be a speaker from the Council for the Homeless. Stops include:

• Council for the Homeless, a public agency created by the city of Vancouver, Clark County and the Vancouver Housing Authority to coordinate a community-wide response to homelessness;

• Friends of the Carpenter, a Christian day shelter for the homeless that includes a woodworking shop;

• Share, a major local agency that administers shelters, housing subsidies, case management, hot meal programs, weekend “backpack” food for needy schoolchildren and much more; and

• YWCA Clark County’s SafeChoice shelter, a domestic violence shelter for people fleeing abuse.

Youth in crisis: afternoon, April 24. Stops include Daybreak Youth Services (substance abuse), Janus Youth Programs (homeless youth), OPTIONS of Columbia River Mental Health and Teen Talk.

Environmental sustainability (“the green tour”): 8:30 a.m. to noon, May 22. Stops include Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center, Empower Up (electronics recycling), the Parks Foundation and the Vancouver Watersheds Alliance.

Early childhood: June date to be determined. Visits include Support for Early Learning and Families (SELF).

Arts in Clark County nonprofits: date to be determined. Visits include Arts of Clark County, Columbia Dance and Magenta Theater.

To register or learn more about the Community Cares tours, visit http://nonprofitnetworkwa.org or call 360-735-7110.