Affinity Foundation Partner Spotlight: NJVOAD and the Work They’re Doing to Influence the Community By: Karla Wallack, Executive Director of the Affinity Foundation November 9, 2021 At Affinity Federal Credit Union, we are lucky to partner with organizations that, like us, are dedicated to making real change in their communities. The Affinity Foundation aims to offer financial wellness, education and support to lead members of local communities on a path to success. We got the chance to hear from one of our Foundation partners, the New Jersey Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NJVOAD), on the work they do in the community, how they are giving back throughout the pandemic and the ways our partnership has propelled their mission. Check out what they had to say below! How have you impacted the community you support throughout the pandemic? At New Jersey VOAD, we work to build community resilience as a tool to help individuals and communities become better prepared for disasters. We address issues such as homelessness, food and housing insecurity, and climate change, as well as respond to devastating events like 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, and, most recently, Hurricane Ida. We know that disasters begin and end in our local communities; and that strengthening and connecting local, state, and national assets is vital to the success of responding to and recovering from a disaster. The Covid-19 pandemic validated this concept. Response and recovery have been primarily community-led. We saw you distributed masks, hand sanitizer, gowns, aprons and other things to the community during the pandemic. How did the community react to this? We have distributed over 610,000 items with a value of nearly $3M to support the critical work that is put into action by the non-profits in our community. This has enabled these organizations to safely respond to human needs like sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry and more. These organizations have been overwhelmingly grateful for this contribution. What challenges have you faced during the pandemic and how were you able to overcome them? Our staff has worked virtually for the past five years, so this aspect was not particularly a challenge for us directly. However, we have always physically interfaced with our member organizations and partners. Social distancing and travel restrictions posed quite a difficulty, which we overcame by enhancing our virtual platforms. Our annual conference, which is normally held in-person, was reimagined as a virtual event… surprisingly attendance doubled! What role does NJVOAD play in coordinating resources state-wide for the pandemic? We serve as the lead agency for donations management and as a key agency for volunteer management. In these roles, we connect government and corporate resources with community needs. Obtaining and distributing PPE, especially early on, was a challenge. We also worked extensively on food insecurity in partnership with our food banks and food distribution network to improve supply chain efficiency. A very successful project was grocery and pharmacy deliveries for seniors and the disabled with Access and Functional Needs, which brought together government, academics, volunteers and the corporate community to provide these vital services. What are some examples of disasters (other than the pandemic) that you respond to and make an impact in the community? In addition to being involved in the response and recovery of natural disasters, New Jersey VOAD assisted survivors of 9/11. We were also involved in the resettling of Kosovo refugees in 1999 and, most recently, Afghans resettling in the U.S.. How does NJVOAD align resources before, during, and after a natural disaster in New Jersey? We have been working to build community resilience utilizing Asset-Based Community Development strategies for the past three decades. Community resilience is key to a thriving and healthy living environment for all. Both from our experience and participation in a recent research project in cooperation with NJDEP and the Bloustein School of Rutgers University, we know that building community resilience must start with a focus on inclusion of the most vulnerable groups in our population, including low-income households, the disabled, senior citizens, the disabled and those with mental health needs. Although our focus is on disaster responsiveness, we are also community organizers. Investment in creating meaningful networks and relationships among all sectors in the local community, individuals and households, local government agencies, non-profits, and faith-based organizations are pivotal to the ability for communities to plan, prepare, respond, and recover from disasters. Not limited to “major disasters,” our COADs often become the catalyst for organizations and agencies to address the smaller, everyday issues in their communities—such as food insecurity, homelessness, health care, affordable housing and unemployment. We engage the communities as a whole —from governmental entities, with the power to affect lasting systemic change, to the most vulnerable populations, with knowledge and insight into the specific needs of the communities. What are some of the other organizations and community groups and nonprofits that you partner with at the national, state, and local level? Our member agencies include recognizable names such as American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Team Rubicon, Episcopal Relief and Development, NECHAMA, Community Food Bank of NJ, Islamic Relief, Catholic Charities, United Sikhs and more than 40 others who assist in preparation, response, recovery and mitigation of disasters. In addition to our state and federal government partners, we also regularly collaborate with Rutgers University, The NJ Food Council, Council of NJ Grantmakers and the Waterfront Alliance. How does the Affinity Foundation’s support help you in achieving your mission? The Affinity Foundation helps us by directly funding our work, advocacy, and expanding our reach throughout its networks to promote our mutual goals of building connected, healthy and resilient New Jersey communities. In what ways does the Affinity Foundation’s mission align with yours? The Affinity Foundation’s mission of promoting financial wellness, educational programs that enable self-sufficiency, and support that ensures access to essential healthcare services fits well into our vision of resilient communities. Individuals and communities who leverage their community assets to improve health, wealth and sustainability are building resilient communities which are best prepared to weather both fast- and slow-moving disasters. Why do you believe aligning with the Affinity Foundation was the right choice for your efforts? Affinity Foundation is more than just a funder or a source of volunteers; we have a relationship based on common values and goals. A key part to our role as a ‘connector’ of community assets is the opportunity to collaborate with partners like Affinity. What are your future goals for the organization? Every day is a disaster for someone in New Jersey. Many experience poverty, homelessness, hunger or health issues on a daily basis. We face existential threats like climate change. Progress is stalled by economic, social, and environmental injustice. This is the context when major disasters strike and magnify the everyday problems faced by communities. That’s why we hope to continue our work of ‘connecting community assets’ in neighborhoods, cities, counties, and regions across this state. It is our vision that community resilience is key to a thriving and healthy living environment for all, for disasters of any scale that impact New Jersey residents. How can our members and the community support NJVOAD? Advocate for resilient communities. Connect your community organization to one of our Community Organizations Active in Disaster roundtables. Promote our message and support in any way you can by volunteering or donating. For more information, or to share our message, please visit us on Twitter at @njvoad and on Facebook at njvoad. To sign up for our mailing list, email us at email@example.com. This information is for informational purposes only and is intended to provide general guidance and does not constitute legal, tax, or financial advice. Each person’s circumstances are different and may not apply to the specific information provided. You should seek the advice of a financial professional, tax consultant, and/or legal counsel to discuss your specific needs before making any financial or other commitments.