Many Vancouver residents are probably familiar with Community in Motion, even if they haven’t heard the name before. The nonprofit was previously called the Human Services Council and dates back to 1946, providing assistance to Southwest Washington residents through a variety of programs for more than 70 years.
The organization announced last month that it would change its name to Community in Motion, in order to better reflect its current focus. The change has been a long time coming, according to Executive Director Colleen Kuhn, and marks the culmination of about 10 years of growth in the organization’s transportation services, adding about a half-dozen new programs in that time.
“Our mission is really to connect our neighbors with access to reliable transportation options that support health and independent living,” she said.
Community in Motion serves residents of Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, Klickitat and Wahkiakum counties, offering free transportation services for people who can’t drive or lack access to public transit, including services to provide wheelchair-accessible trips.
The nonprofit provided more than 468,000 rides to more than 13,300 clients across the five counties in 2019, according to its website. The organization lists C-Tran, the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Washington State Health Care Authority as its core program funders, along with dozens of other partners.
The organization’s focus on transportation has grown in response to a rising need for assistance, Kuhn said. She expects that need to continue to grow in the future, although the organization will always remain a niche service for people with specific needs rather than general-purpose transit.
“We look at ourselves as a service that really augments or expands what C-Tran does in partnership with them,” she said.
A wide range of trips are covered, she said — grocery shopping, medical appointments, social trips and visits to meal distribution sites are all fair game. Some of the group’s programs are also geographically specific, such as a pilot project in north Clark County to help rural residents travel to Battle Ground to access services or connect to the C-Tran bus network.
In some cases, the assistance may be as simple as providing clients with bus passes, Kuhn said, or it can involve a higher level of service, such as physically assisting a client in getting out their front door or into an office for a medical appointment.
“Most people, by the time they’ve called us, they either had nowhere else to go — maybe they called 211 information who referred them to us — but often times people don’t think about transportation until it’s an urgent need,” she said.
Sometimes the rides are organized by hiring drivers from private companies, she said, but the organization has also found success through a program called Volunteers in Motion to connect residents with volunteer-provided transportation options.
The organization also operates its own small vehicle fleet consisting of two minivans and a wheelchair accessible vehicle in order to provide direct services and training for volunteers. The vehicles were recently redecorated with updated Community in Motion branding.
The nature of Community in Motion’s services changed somewhat during the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kuhn said, although the organization has still kept busy.
The overall number of trips declined, she said, but it was still challenging to find enough drivers because the rides all had to be limited to individuals or households rather than groups, with enhanced vehicle cleaning procedures in between rides.
The group’s Medicaid-funded nonemergency medical transportation program saw fewer overall trips, but the remaining essential trips — such as visits for dialysis — sometimes became longer due to how the pandemic impacted the availability of various medical facilities.
Community in Motion also began providing home delivery services of essential items, such as groceries and prescriptions for clients who could no longer safely travel to public places due to the pandemic. The group has funding lined up to continue those services through the end of this year, she said.
The arrival of the pandemic also meant that the name change to Community in Motion had to be delayed. The group wanted to be able to get the word out in person, Kuhn said, meeting with community members and partners face-to-face to introduce the new moniker.
“We were expecting to have rolled this out a year ago,” she said, “but COVID was really the deciding factor in not rolling it out.”
The organization’s accessible vehicle — essentially a small bus — is the newest addition to the fleet, and Community in Motion’s leaders are looking forward to its debut this summer, she said. The organization acquired the bus a while ago, she said, but had to wait to start using it due to social distancing requirements.
Kuhn said she expects the demand for transportation services to continue to rise in the coming years, and that Community in Motion will respond both by looking for opportunities to add capacity to its existing programs and keeping an eye out for new programs or partnerships.
The organization will also seek out new sources of funding and greater community involvement. Volunteers in Motion can always use more drivers, she said, but community members can also help by donating to the group or volunteering to serve on its board of directors.