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Rhode Island Foundation presents five nonprofits with 2019 Best Practice Awards

Their work ranges from a campaign to protect services for people with disabilities to an initiative that has brought behavioral health care to the juvenile justice system.

Jill Pfitzenmayer Rhode Island Foundation
Jill Pfitzenmayer, Vice President of Capacity Building

PROVIDENCE, RI – “These organizations emerged from a highly competitive process and an impressive group of nominees," said Jill Pfitzenmayer, vice president of capacity building at the Rhode Island Foundation. "There is something valuable in each of their remarkable examples that can help every nonprofit achieve more.”

Sponsored by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI), the award program recognizes outstanding practices by Rhode Island nonprofit organizations in the areas of Advocacy, Leadership, Collaboration, Innovation, and Volunteer Engagement.

BCBSRI Kim Keck
Kim Keck, center, is the President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of RI.

“Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island is thrilled to support the best practice awards as our vision to passionately lead a state of health and well-being across Rhode Island is supported by the critical work that the charitable sector does for our communities and for our state,” said BCBSRI Managing Director of Community Relations Carolyn Belisle.

“We applaud this year’s award recipients for their efforts to strengthen the common good in various ways, and we admire their commitment to implement best-in-class practices to deliver their programs and services,” she said.

The Advocacy Award was presented to the Community Provider Network of R.I. (CPNRI) in Warwick for its work leading the Stable Workforce, Stable Lives public education campaign, which led to the largest state budget commitment to support direct care providers in over a decade.

Tina Spears
Tina Spears, Executive Director, Community Providers Network of RI

“The workforce crisis is snowballing nationwide, with average annual turnover of 45 percent for front-line staff supporting individuals with disabilities to live in the community. Multiple agencies in our network had persistent vacancy rates of over 20 percent in 2017, following national trends. Inadequate Medicaid reimbursements perpetuate poverty-level wages for staff, and community-based providers – price-takers rather than price-setters – cannot retain staff in the industry, much less in direct service roles,” said Tina Spe​ars, CPNRI’s executive director.

“These systemic failures in providing Medicaid rates that fund a living wage significantly threaten the system of care for Rhode Islanders with disabilities, and ultimately, the well-being of individuals with disabilities,” said Spears.

CPNRI engaged new staff and facilitated a strategic planning process to identify increasing funding for direct service professionals as its members’ top advocacy priority in 2019. The Stable Workforce, Stable Lives campaign included community forums; developing and releasing six advocacy videos; producing a policy brief outlining relevant data and priorities; and publishing an advocacy guide to prepare new leaders for meetings with policymakers.

“These activities are examples of the robust community organizing and advocacy strategy that CPNRI developed and implemented to address the workforce crisis. To accomplish its goals, CPNRI further activated member agencies’ networks for strategic events, and formed partnerships with disability-focused organizations to establish the Disability Rights Action Coalition – an intersectional coalition advocating in support of disability issues in Rhode Island,” said Spears.

The organization’s efforts led to over 200 direct contacts with policymakers by individuals within CPNRI’s network in 2019, over 1,000 new in-person community members engagements and over 60,000 social media views leading to 4,267 digital engagements. CPNRI’s advocacy and educational campaign focused on the Governor’s office and the General Assembly, resulting in a $9.6 million increase in funding for community supports in the state’s fiscal 2020 budget.

“When we stepped into the advocacy space, people with disabilities and their family members’ voices were under represented. The response to our activation efforts was unimaginable. It was clear that people with disabilities and their families were seeking opportunities to engage in direct action, but were unable to access traditional organizing efforts that did not center their voices or needs. Centering and supporting people impacted in advocacy efforts is a lesson we are committed to teaching and continuing to innovate around,” said Spears.

The Collaboration Award was presented to Rhode Island for Community and Justice in Providence for its work connecting the state Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), law enforcement and community partners in order to support local juvenile hearing boards.

RICJ Toby Ayers Executive Director
Toby Ayers, Executive Director, RI for Community and Justice

“The hearing boards are an innovative community diversion approach that keeps children off the paths to prison,” said Toby Ayers, executive director. “Obtaining affordable mental health care for the arrested juveniles that the boards serve, who may show signs of trauma, has long been a priority.”

As part of this collaboration, DCYF revised its contracts with regional Family Care Community Partnership entities to allow them to be reimbursed when their mental health intake specialists participate in board hearings and refer juveniles for care. As a result, mental health specialists are now able to attend board hearings in Central Falls, East Providence, Pawtucket and Providence.

“We seized an opportunity arising from declines in juvenile incarceration to educate DCYF administrators on the role and needs of urban hearing boards. Our challenge was to safeguard the autonomy and grassroots nature of the boards while redirecting state resources to them in an accountable way,” said Ayers.

The House of Hope Community Development Corp. in Warwick received the Innovation Award for its Shower to Empower initiative. The goal is to engage people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity by offering showers, haircuts, medical care, and bridges to case management among other services in order to bring them from homelessness to housed.

House of Hope Laura Jaworski, Executive Director
Laura Jaworski, Executive Director, House of Hope CDC

“Our mission is meeting people where they are at both literally and figuratively. The mobile shower unit offers a comfortable and accessible site for people to address health and behavioral needs through culturally competent providers who can then refer to mainstream providers to meet ongoing needs,” said Laura Jaworski, executive director.

The Shower to Empower mobile navigation unit is a 20-foot-long trailer with two private shower stalls, a medical examination room, and an open space to provide haircuts. To date, the initiative has provided 2,292 showers, 849 haircuts, and 519 medical navigation services. Clients do not need an appointment.

“Individuals are welcomed to engage with any of the services offered without an appointment. People looking to connect to primary care, needing medical paperwork signed for housing or disability bus pass applications, or looking for a one-time or short-term consult about a health condition, medication regimen, or hospital discharge instructions,” said Jaworski.

“We hope to capitalize on its strong history of creating effective partnerships to turn the Shower to Empower program into an outreach nexus not just for our outreach efforts, but also for those of the other agencies and groups that contribute to the outreach network throughout Rhode Island.”

Providence Village received the Board and Staff Leadership Award for the board’s role in strengthening the organization and establishing an effective partnership with board and staff to achieve organizational goals, including its work addressing the growth in demand for its services.

The organization, which provides volunteer-based services to senior citizens, serves the East Side and downtown in Providence and the Woodlawn and Oak Hill sections of Pawtucket.

Providence Village Jo Ellen Mistarz, Executive Director
Jo Ellen Mistarz, Executive Director, The Village Common

“We are committed to employing a ‘volunteer first’ policy, seeking qualified volunteers to fulfill members' requests as an alternative to private, fee-based providers. We also strive to provide opportunities for friendships among volunteers and members through social programs, shared experiences, and discovering mutual interests, so keeping the system volunteer-based was essential,” said Jo Ellen Mistarz, executive director.

The organization has responded to more than 1,100 service requests for transportation, home maintenance, contractor assistance, tech support, errands, and health support among other services this year. To address the growing volume of service calls, the board of directors created volunteer service coordinator positions to respond to requests and invested in acquiring a database system that streamlines linking clients with volunteers.

“Aging in the community is ideal, but difficult to sustain. By mobilizing neighbors to help neighbors, we are addressing factors like loss of mobility and social isolation that make remaining in one’s community very challenging,” said Mistarz. The organization plans to expand to other Rhode Island communities under the name “The Village Common.”

HopeHealth in Providence received the Volunteer Engagement Award for its work recruiting, training, and managing 274 hospice volunteers.

“Our volunteers serve a dynamic and essential role in supporting hospice patients and their families,” said Diana Franchitto, president and CEO. “Volunteers do everything from providing companionship; bringing the warmth of a therapy pet to patients; running errands; serving as a counselor in our children’s grief program, Camp BraveHeart; performing music for bedbound patients; leading dementia caregiver support groups—and much more. The work of volunteers rounds out and humanizes all of our programs.”

HopeHealth, Nicky D'Abrosca
Nicky D'Abrosca, the Volunteer Manager at HopeHealth.

A 1982 Medicare law requires that volunteer hours equal at least five percent of a hospice provider's total patient care hours. HopeHealth does much more: their volunteers provided 19,665 hours of service last year to 7,200 hospice and palliative care patients in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.

“Many of our volunteers come to us because they lost a loved one and they want to help guide other families through end of life. Our active volunteers range in age from 18 to 87, and some have been with HopeHealth for more than 40 years. They stay because they feel valued and supported for what is often emotionally difficult work. They are a vital part of each patient’s care team,” said Franchitto.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $114 million and awarded $52 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2018. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit rifoundation.org.