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Announcing a Major Effort to Empower At-Risk Communities

It is no secret that Californians have suffered mightily at the hands of natural disasters. In one year – 2017 – over 15,625 square miles of California burned due to wildfires.  That’s roughly 10% of the land mass of the entire state. The equivalent of five Los Angeles Counties were incinerated. Far too many lost their homes, their entire communities, and their lives. 

What the Camp, Carr, Tubbs, and Woolsey Fires are still teaching all of us is that the havoc of these disasters inevitably falls heaviest upon people who are socially isolated or live in poverty, have language barriers, or other access or functional needs challenges. The difference between life and death during these disasters often comes down to having access to timely information in a way that can be practically understood and then acted upon. To engage these more vulnerable populations, the State legislature and the Governor agreed this year to set aside $50 million for not-for-profit groups embedded in these higher risk areas to reach out and engage their harder-to-reach community members with information, training, and support to help them be ready when the next disaster strikes.

Community resilience has long been part of Valley Vision’s mission. A high quality of life depends upon it. So when leaders at the state invited Valley Vision to apply for a grant to help other not-for-profits in California collaborate to save lives in times of disaster – especially people often left out – we jumped at the chance. After a competitive process, Valley Vision’s proposal was judged best, and we immediately began working closely with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and California Volunteers this summer in a support team role to start organizing and aligning the efforts of hundreds of government and nonprofit agencies from Siskiyou to San Diego Counties.

The new initiative is called “Listos (Ready) California,” and was unveiled on Tuesday, August 20th at a news conference we organized with the Governor’s office. The work will continue into 2020 and beyond and will be responsible for reaching over one million disadvantaged and socially isolated Californians so that they, their families, and their communities are better prepared. This work will happen through hundreds of local nonprofits, community foundations, and emergency preparedness groups like Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Listos, Firesafe Councils, and AmeriCorps, not to mention a bevy of government agencies.

The “Listos California” initiative kicked off with a press event on August 20th in Sacramento.

This new, high-intensity statewide project has required us to staff up further at Valley Vision, adding three new team members. We’re excited to announce that Houa Vang has joined Valley Vision as an executive assistant and project associate responsible for the many administrative and support requirements we are delivering to our nonprofit partners. We will soon formally announce our newest senior team member who joins us as Valley Vision’s Executive Director of Emergency Preparedness. She will drive the project overall with co-chairs Karen Baker and Justin Knighten and the rest of our Valley Vision / Cal OES and California Volunteers team. We expect to name a new project manager to help support Listos California in September.

We strongly agree with Governor Newsom that California is at its best when we look out for each other and focus on solutions that come from the bottom up, not the top down. Empowering not-for-profit organizations and emergency responders to work together to prepare for emergencies will make community resiliency possible for those who need it most. I’m proud to say that, once more, Valley Vision is doing our part to help others do what they do best.

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Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.