New Sector and American Red Cross Bay Area Partner to Prepare Vulnerable Communities
by Alan Kwok, American Red Cross Ready Neighborhoods Manager

Since 2010, New Sector’s partnership with the American Red Cross’ Bay Area Chapter has been critical to the success of Red Cross’ Ready Neighborhoods program, an initiative to make 50 targeted communities in and around the Bay Area better prepared to respond to any disaster. The success of this initiative was highlighted when the Red Cross received the prestigious Community Preparedness Award from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in April. The Red Cross has hosted several New Sector fellows whose leadership skills, strategic thinking, and management skills strengthened the initiative. Click here [will insert link] to read what Alan Kwok, Manager of Ready Neighborhoods programs, of the Red Cross shares about the experience.
In April 2013, the American Red Cross Gateway to the Golden Gate Region, in partnership with PG&E, received the prestigious Community Preparedness Award from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the Ready Neighborhoods initiative, a multi-year effort to make 50 targeted communities in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Monterey Bay Area, and Santa Cruz counties safer, stronger, and better prepared for any disaster or emergency event. Launched in 2011, Ready Neighborhoods has already had an impact on nearly 750,000 people in the region.

The success of the Ready Neighborhoods initiative lies in part with the close partnership between Red Cross and New Sector. Beginning in 2010, we have hosted several New Sector AmeriCorps Residency in Social Enterprise (RISE) members to help design an initiative to build community resilience and later to build the capacity of Ready Neighborhoods to reach its goals. Early in the initiative, working hand-in-hand with our chapter volunteers and staff, they laid the groundwork by building tools for community partnerships while expanding the Red Cross presence and scope of service delivery in targeted neighborhoods. Within a largely volunteer-driven organization, New Sector fellows became an integral part of designing and implementing the initiative so that it would provide support for Red Cross volunteers, attract new volunteers, and expand our scope in order to scale service delivery. For instance, Brian Kroener and Rebecca Fleming collected quantitative and qualitative regional preparedness baseline data which highlighted existing community needs and trainings about effective preparedness. Their impact continues to be felt, as they developed many of the foundational materials and reporting protocols that have formed the basis of how we measure community resiliency progress and success.

As the Ready Neighborhoods initiative launched in our first six pilot communities in 2011, New Sector members recruited Red Cross volunteers to provide preparedness trainings across our disaster cycle services. In 2011-2012, New Sector AmeriCorps member Ricky Zein coordinated a new “Save-a-Life” event where 1,200 residents in each of our six pilot communities and beyond were trained in personal preparedness, basic first aid, and hands-only CPR in a single day. By galvanizing more than 270 Red Cross volunteers and instructors throughout the region to support this event, Ricky created a pipeline for impact as the same volunteers later supported other Ready Neighborhoods trainings and events, including the second annual Save-a-Life Saturday in 2013.

New Sector AmeriCorps member Bjorn Commers, also in 2011-2012, strengthened the Red Cross’ role as a community convener on disaster preparedness by increasing the number and depth of partnerships within each targeted Ready Neighborhood. By hosting six Disaster Readiness Conferences in our pilot communities, he and our volunteers created opportunities for our community partners to build networks focused on expanded disaster preparedness and response planning. These networks ultimately served as a foundation for expansion of the Ready Neighborhoods initiative to an additional ten communities in the next year.

The Ready Neighborhoods initiative could not have achieved such success without the unique talents and skills brought by the New Sector members. Planning and executing an initiative of this size requires certain leadership skills that New Sector identifies and cultivates in its members. New Sector members have brought not only an abundance of initiative and drive, which is necessary to carry out this complex initiative spanning a broad geographic boundary and across Red Cross departments, but also strategic thinking and management skills that have made the program more focused and effective.

As the initiative expanded to new communities, in 2012-2013 New Sector AmeriCorps member Irene Saunders brought a unique ability to view the initiative through a strategic lens. Through the course of her term, she was able to provide critical and quantifiable recommendations on implementing best practices. In many communities, schools serve as an information hub during both times of peace and disaster. By focusing on partnerships with schools, the Red Cross has strengthened our relationships with local communities and has enabled us to serve the some of the most underserved populations, including children and immigrant families.

In the same year, New Sector AmeriCorps member Sarenna Shaw’s service focused on large-scale projects that broadened community understanding about the breadth of Red Cross services and programming. In particular, Sarenna increased participation from community-based organizations by more than 50% in the annual San Francisco’s MLK Jr. Emergency Preparedness Health Fair. She and others expanded our capacity to work with our partners who serve the homeless and residents living in SROs (Single Room Occupancy units). The combined efforts of New Sector AmeriCorps members and countless volunteers in the last year resulted in 28,000 residents and 350 shelter workers trained in personal preparedness, and 84 agencies equipped with emergency and business continuity plans, with an overall community impact of over 550,000 people served.

The value of having New Sector members at the American Red Cross has been tremendous. The FEMA’s award is a testament to the contributions that New Sector members have made in expanding our services to the most underserved communities and increasing our capacity so that such efforts can be sustained well beyond the initiative’s shelf life. Through New Sector’s model of mentorship and trainings relevant to nonprofit operations, members brought with them a set of skills that meets the organizational and programmatic needs of the Red Cross. The partnership between the American Red Cross and New Sector has benefited Red Cross capacity to serve the most underserved communities and continues to prepare residents in their communities.