Honoring Best Practices
We are proud to recognize Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island for their collaborative work and Homes RI and Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE) for their advocacy work.
As in previous years, we’re partnering with Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island to honor Rhode Island nonprofit organizations doing outstanding work in the sector. 2020 was a year in which we all had to adapt most everything we did, and this certainly was true for our state’s nonprofit organizations. We’ve chosen to honor three organizations that are doing outstanding work, both through their “business as usual” work and as their roles changed – and expanded - as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collaboration: Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island
It all started on a Sunday afternoon in June when Kathy Cloutier, executive director of Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, received a phone call from a colleague at the Department of Human Services. “He said they were talking at the state level about how to help our state’s undocumented immigrants, a population living in the shadows,” Kathy explains.
Discussions followed, and the result was the weR1 Rhode Island Fund, a collaborative effort between government, community, and philanthropic organizations which provided direct cash assistance to Rhode Islanders unable to benefit from most public programs and emergency relief efforts due to their immigration status.
“This entire initiative has been a collaborative effort from the very beginning. We’ve had an advisory council with members from organizations with strong connections to the undocumented community, organizations that have built trust with those populations,” Kathy says.
Dorcas and their partner organizations have distributed nearly 7,000 no-fee debit cards to Rhode Islanders with urgent need due to sickness, job loss or reduction in work hours, and who are excluded from many federal programs.
“Through the process, we’ve built trust and recognize the value of collaborating. We’re all looking forward to working together on future opportunities and partnerships,” Kathy states.
Advocacy: Homes RI
Homes RI works “to increase and preserve the supply of safe, healthy, and affordable homes throughout Rhode Island (and) to equitably reduce the housing cost burden for low and moderate-income residents.” Coordinated by the Housing Network of Rhode Island (HNRI), it is a collective impact effort of more than 80 organizations that have agreed-upon policy priorities for the construction and preservation of affordable homes.
“We pivoted to coronavirus response this past spring and began weekly calls. The top concern was eviction, which exacerbates a public health crisis. We were strategizing, monitoring progress, and developing concrete action steps. We advocated with the governor’s office for a statewide moratorium on evictions and for rent and mortgage assistance, and drafted an eviction and foreclosure moratorium bill that’s been pending in the General Assembly,” explains Katie West, manager of Homes RI at HNRI.
She continues, “Housing needs to be highlighted because we already had a housing crisis and the pandemic has made it worse. The focus now is on a bond and dedicated funding stream to build and preserve long-term affordable homes. We’re meeting with legislators and pushing for a special election this winter.”
Passage of a housing bond issue and dedicated funding stream in the state budget would further their shared vision “that all Rhode Islanders live in safe, healthy, affordable homes in thriving communities.”
Advocacy: Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE)
“PLEE co-founders came together because we knew so many things and structures in our education system are bad for our families. We knew how much our students were falling through the cracks,” Ramona Santos Torres explains of the parent-led, grassroots organization that was formed in 2018 with a mission “to fight for a parent voice in education-decision making and for access to a high-quality public school option for all children of color.”
“Because of our personal and professional experiences, we knew that parents of color did not have a place at the table when decisions are made,” Ramona, the group’s only paid staff member, states, adding, “PLEE is comprised of an outstanding group of volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without these amazing parents and community members.”
Prior to COVID, PLEE hosted workshops and trainings to teach parents how to advocate and to learn of struggles parents were facing. PLEE parents have met with the commissioner and met twice monthly with the Providence superintendent. With the onset of COVID, the group is focusing on how their children and other students of color will survive the pandemic.
“Our current education leaders understand they need to listen to parents in ways they didn’t do before,” Ramona concludes.