Best practice awards go to 2 Warwick non-profits

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Two Warwick organizations, Community Provider Network of R.I. and the House of Hope Community Development Corporation, are among five nonprofits statewide to win 2019 Best Practice Awards from the Rhode Island Foundation. The awards spotlight programs that the Foundation believes can be models for other nonprofits to follow.

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

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

"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," BCBSRI Managing Director of Community Relations Carolyn Belisle said in a statement.

"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 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 housing.

"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," Laura Jaworski, executive director said in a statement.

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," 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.

"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 Spears, 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," she said.

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 more than 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 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 Foundation also honored Providence Village with its Board and Staff Leadership Award, the Rhode Island for Community and Justice in Providence with its Collaboration Award and HopeHealth in Providence with its Volunteer Engagement Award.

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