Since January 2017, NADTC has had the honor of supporting six communities through the “Innovations in Accessible Mobility” grant program. Each grantee is funded with up to $50,000 for 12 months (through December) to develop and implement innovations that expand mobility opportunities for older adults and people with disabilities in their communities. To learn more about the NADTC grant program, visit our grant web page.
Recently, NADTC convened the six “Innovations in Accessible Mobility” grantees for a two-day workshop in Washington, DC to exchange ideas and share updates on their projects with the Federal Transit Administration and the U.S. Administration on Community Living. Throughout the two-day gathering, we were impressed by the grantees’ innovative and creative approaches for expanding transportation opportunities. We also were surprised to find that much of the conversation among the grantees focused on sustainability. For these grant projects – and often for any community engaged in testing a new service or approach to service delivery – the idea of building ongoing community support and securing funding to continue the project beyond the end date is a daunting, but critical, goal. Some may even wonder about the lasting impact of small-sized grants. Fortunately, NADTC and its predecessor, the National Center on Senior Transportation (NCST), has first-hand experience that shows that even small investments can enable communities to accomplish impressive work that leads to permanent improvements in transportation availability and accessibility for older adults and people with disabilities.
In today’s blog, we want to share with you five key areas of sustainability gleaned from our discussions with the grantees. It’s important to remember that sustainability is a dynamic process and even though the need for additional funding cannot be overstated, it is possible to sustain your work in other ways. It’s also important to recognize that the effort to sustain your project must start at the beginning, not the end, of your grant. We hope you will find these ideas helpful as you work to increase transportation access in your own community!
- If the problem is in the community, then the solution likely is there too. Too often, new programs or approaches are created in a vacuum. If those who are directly experiencing problems are left out of the processes of identifying what the problem really is, it may also leave the best solution undiscovered. Avoid making this mistake by bringing stakeholders and riders to the table from the beginning.
- Engage older adults and people with disabilities as potential contributors to the project. Programs can benefit greatly from the experiences of riders and recipients of services. Ask for their input on how to improve services, how they would like to be involved, and what they want the project to accomplish. Riders, and even non-riders, can help your project to explore opportunities not initially envisioned. An added bonus is that older adults and people with disabilities often make the best advocates and may become your most loyal supporters, willing to fight for funding for your program.
- Make the most of what your partners have to offer. Remember also that partners can be involved in different ways: some partners may provide financial support, others may provide in-kind technical expertise or marketing assistance, and still, others might become champions of your program, helping you gain the recognition and resources needed to achieve your goals.
- Seeking additional financial support is a must! Some of the good ideas shared at the grantee meeting included: internal agency funding, local foundation support (e.g., banks or community programs), ballot measures for local tax funds, support from the faith-based community, and income generating activities like charging nominal fares for transportation or training services. We also explored federal funding opportunities, including the Federal Transit Administration’s Section 5310 or Section 5311 grants and the Administration for Community Living’s Older American Act Funds.
- Data can help sell your project to funders and other members of the community. If you are not already tracking your progress with a set of performance measures, consider creating some. Performance measures can provide you with the data to prove the success of your project. Data can also help evaluate how resources should be allocated to ensure long-term effectiveness, and performance measure data can also serve as useful marketing and outreach tools that can lead to funding and other
We were inspired by our grantees! They came to the meeting with open minds and a willingness to share ideas. They also brought a vast field of knowledge to share and a determination to work toward the expansion of mobility opportunities for older adults and people with disabilities.