Vashon agencies awarded van after presenting a plan to work together

King County has awarded a surplus passenger van to five Vashon social service agencies, a gift, the agencies say, that will enable them to more fully accommodate the needs of their clients.

The five organizations — Seeds4Success, Vashon HouseHold, Vashon Senior Center, Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS) and the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness — will jointly own and share the 11-person vehicle, formerly a commuter van owned by Metro Transit. Seeds4Success will serve as the booking and billing agency for the van; all five agencies will share the insurance and maintenance costs, said Lee Ockinga, Seeds4Success’ executive director.

With a van at their disposal, the agencies will be able to take seniors to Seattle for excursions, bring Islanders who don’t own cars to Vashon’s free-meal program, take students from a VYFS-based school program on field trips and ferry low-income clients to medical clinics, the food bank and other appointments, agency heads said.

“I’m looking forward to being able to load six or seven people into the van and take them to the food bank,” Ockinga said. “I’ve never been able to do that.”

Ava Apple, director of the senior center, also said the van will make a significant difference. The center currently owns its own van, but it breaks down often, she said, “and I’m very reluctant to take it off-Island. … This (new van) is going to be a great thing.”

Since the mid-1990s, Metro has been surplussing commuter vans that are then awarded to nonprofits and small government agencies to service people who are disabled, low-income, elderly or young. Agencies apply for a van; each of the nine county councilmembers gets to decide what agencies in his or her district will receive one. Recently, councilmembers have been able to award as many as three vans per district.

Over the past decade or so, the Vashon Island School District has twice been awarded a van, said Chelsea Peeples, a spokesperson for Councilmember Joe McDermott. But other Vashon organizations haven’t been successful.

Ockinga, for instance, said she’s applied for a van twice over the last couple of years. But because her agency, which works to find employment opportunities for people with disabilities, is small, it couldn’t compete with bigger nonprofits in District 8, which has a population of more than 200,000 and takes in West Seattle, White Center and Burien as well as Vashon.

This year, when Ockinga was discussing her frustration about the situation with Island activist Hilary Emmer — now Vashon’s honorary mayor — Emmer decided to go to Vashon’s Social Services Network and suggest the groups jointly apply for a van, Ockinga said.

Five of the seven organizations in the network embraced Emmer’s idea, and Emmer — after talking to the five organizations about their needs and missions — crafted the application.

“I made it very meaty,” Emmer recalled, stressing in the application the significance of the five agencies working collaboratively.

Indeed, Peeples said, McDermott found the application “very persuasive.”

“By having everyone work together, they were able to put together an excellent proposal,” she said.

Directors of the five agencies said they were impressed by Emmer’s role in the process. “She’s such a force for good,” said Apple. “That woman makes things happen.”

Chris Szala, director of Vashon HouseHold, agreed.

“If any of us had applied singly, we wouldn’t have gotten it,” he said.

Szala said he sees this kind of cooperation as a model for ways Vashon’s small nonprofits can work together in the future. Already, he said, the various groups are coming together on a regular basis as part of the newly formed Social Services Network.

“I think you’ll see greater cooperation down the road,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ockinga said she’s already beginning to imagine ways the van can help the young men and women she works with. The vans are only six years old — at the end of their service life by Metro’s standards but still quite usable on Vashon, she said.

One of her clients recently had to turn down a lawn-maintenance job in Gold Beach, she said, because he had no way to get there.

Transportation for people with disabilities, she added, “can be a nightmare on Vashon.”

“This is so fantastic,” she said of the award. “It will give us a lot of opportunities to help our population.”


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