Stories have power. I know this because so many of you have reached out to me over the past few months after reading the stories I’ve shared, wanting to see how you can help and what more can be done for our neighbors. It’s been such an amazing reaction. Thank you. Thank you for feeling the power the stories shared, and being empowered to act, to make things better.
A common question I get asked is, “How can I help? I’m just one person.” My answer is one person helping another person is all it takes to push that lever. It may take some time, but it will make a sizable impact if enough of us do this. I promise.
The nonprofit Harbor Connects was formed to do exactly this — help people, one at a time. Having evolved since it was founded three years ago at the onset of the pandemic, Harbor Connects has already assisted over 300 individuals and families, who are now in a better place today than yesterday.
Leading this purpose-driven enterprise is a group of ardent board members and a tenacious executive director, Kent Wallace-Meggs. This month, we chatted with Kent.
Sheikh: Tell me about yourself.
Wallace-Meggs: Born in South Carolina, I moved to Los Angeles in my early 20s.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A Kangaroo rancher. I wanted to raise kangaroos.
Since the kangaroo thing didn’t work out, what have you spent your time doing?
For about 25 years now, I’ve been working for social service agencies and nonprofit organizations. My personal and professional mission is to break cycles of poverty and violence.
What does your day look like?
Being hyper responsive. From responding to emails from someone seeking assistance, to checking in with service providers to see what they need to help their participants, to connecting a neighbor with the person or place that will get them what they need, sooner than later.
Often the day doesn’t start at 8 a.m. or end at 5 p.m. Crises can, and do, occur beyond regular business hours, when service providers are closed or case managers are unavailable. Friday evenings are the toughest time, the choices being limited and sometimes having to wait until Monday to help. That’s really the power of what we do; we find them a bed or resources on a Friday night, or at least we try our best.
What is different about how Harbor Connects is able to help and support neighbors?
I’d say expediency and follow-through. Also, we directly support service providers to help their participants. Certain needs are easier to fulfill and process than others, but our goal is to take action, and directly cut through some of the barriers people in crisis face.
Sometimes a simple solution can make a huge difference to someone’s quality of life. For example, recently a mother participating in a local service provider’s program, requested to purchase a smoke eater HEPA air purifier to combat the secondhand smoke from smoking neighbors. Her child suffered from allergies and breathing issues, and if she could not get the air purifier, they would need to relocate. Funding restrictions limited what the service provider could purchase, so they submitted a request to Harbor Connects. The $130 expenditure was approved, and the mother was able to buy the air purifier and stay in their new home.
In another situation, a partner organization reached out about a student who needed goggles to take a class at the occupational center. They were working on a certification to sustain employment in order to keep their housing. I was able to go to the school and pay for the item. That pair of $14 goggles was the gap that needed to be filled.
In both these instances, simple, expedient, and direct assistance was all that was needed to help these neighbors on their path toward self-sufficiency.
Why do you think San Pedro is poised to pilot this type of program?
There is an incredible, cohesive partnership between businesses, service providers, and community members here. There is much more of a collective here, and people’s ears are more open.
I’ve worked in greater L.A., New York, and D.C., and the engagement of the business community here is evident, and with everything they do, especially the Quality of Life Committee [at the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce], I’ve never seen that type of involvement and investment from a chamber. The conversations that come about when I’m around that table are inspiring, and everyone is dedicated to change and making a positive difference and impact.
So, for the good part, what can we do?
Donate if you can, but also volunteer. We are currently designing a program, Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Some cases need an investment of time and resources. Participants can have as many as four case managers from different agencies trying to help, and no one is working in tandem. Meanwhile, these people are suffering the consequences of bureaucracy.
A lead volunteer will work closely on a case and be a liaison with service providers, the participant, and Harbor Connects to assist with something as easy as driving someone to doctor’s appointments. Another two to three volunteers on the team will support the lead in helping with appointments (there needs to be two people in a car) or making phone calls to agencies. The team also serves as advocates for the participants (individual or family) and ensures they can navigate the system to get the resources they need. Volunteer assignments are between three to six months, with about 10 hours a month for the lead and about three hours a month for the support volunteers.
We would also like to find a volunteer mental health advisor. Some participants need extra attention, and we want to ensure our volunteer team has the support they need.
As a founding board member of Harbor Connects, hiring Kent was a game changer for us and what we have been able to accomplish. In him, we found a leader who moved into the community and quickly became a part of it. He has immersed himself in the work, making incredible strides from day one.
Connect with us! We’ll be launching our Neighbors Helping Neighbors program this month, and it’s an avenue for significant impact. For more info, you can email email@example.com. spt