Journeys, June 2019, Strategic Plan

New Strategic Plan Adopted

In the board meeting prior to the start of the conference, a strategic plan, A Path for Travelers Aid, was adopted for 2019-2022. In adopting the plan, the board updated the organization’s mission statement: Travelers Aid International “is to aid people in transit who are in distress, through our direct services and through services provided by our members.”
The plan set forth three goals:
  1. Achieve and ensure continued financial sustainability by improving funding streams and ending each fiscal year with a surplus
  2. Retain and expand membership
  3. Strengthen the organization to support all programs.
During conference workshops on Wednesday and Friday, attendees offered suggestions on how to retain and expand the membership. A staff working group was formed to assist in drafting an implementation plan to meet the three goals.

Journeys, May 2019, Fundraisers


A 60-day snapshot of future events
June 8, Heartland Alliance, Home and Garden Tour, Michigan’s Harbor Country. Learn more.
June 15, Family Services of Northwest Wisconsin, Butterfly Festival, Downtown Appleton, Learn more.
June 17, Baltimore Catholic Charities, 32nd Annual Blase Cooke Golf Tournament, Baltimore Country Club. Learn more.
June 20, HATAS, Lunch and Learn, The Furniture Bank. Learn more.
June 21, Upward Transitions, American Tourist 2019: New York, New York gala, Oklahoma City’s Historic Farmers Public Market. Learn more.
June 27, Travelers Aid Society of San Diego, Sail into Summer gala, the Marine Room at Marina Village. Learn more.
July 19, Family Guidance Center of Alabama, Diamonds & Denim: A 60th Anniversary Celebration, RSA Activity Center. Learn more.
July 15, Baltimore Catholic Charities Golf Open, Chartwell Country Club, Severna Park. Learn more.

Buggy Service

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Sharing Best Practices in the Travelers Aid Family

Melbourne’s Travellers Aid Expands By
Transporting Mobility-Challenged Sports Fans

Travellers Aid Australia, based in Melbourne Australia, has recently expanded its operations away from train stations to now serve Australian Rules football fans.

The Australian Football League (AFL) season runs each winter from March to September. This season, Travellers Aid provided a buggy (golf cart) service for fans with disabilities that could not walk the hilly 1-mile trek from the closest train station to the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground stadium. It was to have been just an 8-week pilot program but was extended to cover the whole season. Usage at each game quickly exceeded the projected 100 fans to reach 250 users per game. Each AFL game draws about 50,000 fans with around 100,000 attending games during the 6 weeks of finals.

Travellers Aid CEO Elias Lebbos said, “It appears likely that the buggy service will continue next year and with an additional rail station, from the opposite end of the stadium, included”.

For the approaching cricket season, Lebbos said that Travellers Aid has been asked to provide a similar buggy service. Cricket is a “very different beast” with matches going all day. It will be a different set of logistical challenges. The agency agreed to run a pilot service to test demand.

In addition, Travellers Aid has been asked to consider providing the buggy service for major concerts at the stadium.

Those using the service have been older individuals with mobility challenges or younger fans with “invisible disabilities,” such as heart conditions.

The service started with three leased carts and was expanded to six carts by the end of the season. Ultimately, the Melbourne Cricket Club, who manages the stadium year-round, hopes to purchase permanent carts for the service.

The buggy service begins about two hours prior to the game. After the siren ends the match, service users are asked to wait 10 minutes in their seats for the initial crowds to subside.

The fans have been the driving force for the new service. The AFL Fans Association approached the City of Melbourne seeking its assistance to get older fans to the game. These life-long fans who now experience age related mobility issues, couldn’t get to the game and were becoming socially disengaged. Because of its contracts with the city, the Fans Association contacted Travellers Aid for assistance. Over an 18-month period, Lebbos said, the agency explored various partnerships, the logistics and financing.

“Everyone appreciated what Travellers Aid brings to the table and the brand behind it,” Lebbos said. “We’ve got the systems and processes in place and can add value to the event.”

During the initial 8-week pilot, the city contributed a starting grant.  The Cricket Club’s financial support has covered ongoing operating expenses.

Part of the long lead time during the planning stage was attributed to worldwide incidents of terrorism involving vehicles plowing through crowds. “There was a real nervousness about mixing vehicles and people. For us, we are doing this on a daily basis. We were able to demonstrate that our drivers are well trained.” And, there have been no accidents, Lebbos stressed.

In its daily operations at the train stations of Melbourne, staff and volunteer drivers ferry passengers in the buggies from the stations’ entrances down onto the platforms constantly mixing with pedestrians. For the AFL service, Lebbos selected a group of volunteers and staffers who were unfrazzled by the large crowds after a game.

The stadium service is an attempt to diversify the agency’s revenue stream while also expanding its outreach to the disabled community, Lebbos said. Just over 50% of Travellers Aid revenue comes from government contracts and another 30% from transport providers.

Part of a New Strategic Plan

Last year the agency’s board prepared a strategic plan with the mission to be relevant in its second century, said Lebbos. Instead of the usual “insular” periodic self-examination of its mission and direction, Lebbos explained that over 8 months the Travellers Aid board sought out external stakeholders and those it has never worked with in the past. The board spoke to a whole range of academics, airport operators, disability groups and other transport providers. The TAA board wanted to know, “Is there a space where we should be playing, where we are not, and would we add value to the transportation system if we took that on?”

Lebbos notes that the Travellers Aid network in Australia has followed a similar pattern to that in the United States. At one time, every Australian state had several Travellers Aid agencies and now there is just one, in Melbourne. “The others did not maintain their relevance and that lead to their demise. We have been good at adapting to travelers’ needs.”

One finding of the strategic plan, Lebbos notes, is that the agency needs to be prepared for an aging society with increased mobility challenges. “There will be an avalanche of demand and right now we are starting to scale up our services to meet this need.”

In addition, Travellers Aid will continue to create more accessible facilities and events by using its expertise to provide training and consultation around facility design. The agency is also looking to expand its presence into rail stations in large regional towns as public transportation continues to expand within the region. And there are preliminary plans to include a Travellers Aid lounge in a new subway station planned for the city’s hospital district. While that facility may be 9 years away, Lebbos said, Travellers Aid is looking to creating a presence with its services now within that neighborhood, which also includes the University of Melbourne campus.

Published in Journeys, September 2018

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Promoting Your Agency

Crisis Center on TV

Clara Reynolds offers advice in a June 16 interview for parents to talk with their children after the Orlando shooting.


Sharing Best Practices
in the Travelers Aid Family

Promoting Your Agency as a Go-To Expert

In the early days of the Summer of 2016, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay has been in the news far more than any other Travelers Aid member. The agency worked to get its name and services out to the community, explains Ken Gibson, the director of marketing and public relations.

The Crisis Center operates the 2-1-1 confidential crisis assistance helpline in Florida’s Hillsborough County and has access to 4,600 other community resources beyond their own services. In addition to its extensive counseling services, Crisis Center operates the Travelers Aid booth at the Tampa International Airport and TransCare, the 9-1-1 basic response ambulance service for Tampa as well as medical transport services. With a staff of 200, Crisis Center provided assistance to 160,000 last year.

In the interest of assisting other Traveler Aid members to improve their media placements, Journeys asked Gibson to explain their operation and how they got more than 15 media mentions in just June and July.

As a pre-condition for any successful media outreach program, “it must have the buy-in” of the board and the agency’s top executives, he said. “Our board likes to see us in the news.” The support of the board and the CEO is crucial because flexibility is the key to getting on the air. An agency will need to “be flexible, drop things at a moment’s notice” in order to adapt to the reporter’s deadline schedule rather the reporter working around the agency’s calendar.

For a TV interview, Gibson said the agency gets about 2 hours notice. “They will call at 10 and need to have the interview completed by 2 to get on the 5 p.m. news.” The call from the inquiring reporter may come because of a news release or agency announcement or because the agency has developed a reputation as the go-to expert on a specific topic.

If a reporter sees the agency as a dependable source – meaning they will work with a station’s schedule and provide useful information – the reporter will return again and again for future stories, Gibson noted.

In the case of the Crisis Center, the agency has developed core strengths in handling emotional trauma in a crisis situation, sexual assaults, suicide prevention and family stabilization. It has the experts, and frequently CEO Clara Reynolds, a licensed social worker as well as holding an MBA, is the voice of the agency in press interviews. Gibson added that some staff members are fluent in Spanish and effective communicators with the region’s Spanish language media outlets.

Gibson noted that Crisis Center will turn down interview requests when the topic is beyond its core services. In those cases, the agency will recommend other, more appropriate agencies within the Tampa Bay community.

Crisis Center operates the 2-1-1 confidential crisis assistance helpline in the area and has access to 4,600 other community resources beyond their own services.


So just what made news in Tampa

The relatively light sentence of a Stanford University swimmer after a sexual assault trial and the sexual assault incidents on the Baylor University football team triggered either opinion columns or letters to the editor in the Tampa Bay Times which cited the work of Crisis Center in assisting sexual assault victims. And, a local TV station reached out to Reynolds for comment when a Florida trial court judge was sanctioned for her poor treatment of a domestic violence victim.

In the wake of the June 12 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where the assailant killed 49 and injured 53, the Crisis Center garnered 11 media mentions – either full interviews or news outlets used portions of an agency statement. While Orlando is a 90 minute drive from Tampa, Gibson said residents regularly travel back-and-forth between the two cities. There were Tampa residents who have gone to the Pulse, had relatives of club patrons or knew someone in Orlando impacted by the event. Gibson said that Crisis Center posted a statement on its website and on social media noting it had staff available around the clock to provide “emotional support” at 2-1-1.

Crisis Center on TV2

Reynolds discusses secondary stress in July 6 interview.

The Pulse shooting was sandwiched between another high-profile Orlando shooting and the alligator attack at Disney World. The three incidents combined produced an air of secondary stress in the region creating new or heightened anxiety levels for some, especially children, Gibson explained. The Crisis Center’s advice to deal with secondary stress was featured on at least two telecasts.

At the Crisis Center Gibson is the only full-time staffer devoted to marketing and media outreach. Now in his third year, Gibson previously handled public relations for a small publicly traded company. “I did not set up the system; it was in place when I arrived.”

Reynolds arrived about a year ago and is fully supportive of the outreach efforts.


How to Boost Your Media Profile

Step 1 – Build a media contact list. Know the beat reporters, news editors, assignment editors who would cover your agency or the issues your agency tackles.

Step 2 – Do an inventory of your agency’s core strengths. Know your agency’s experts.

Step 3 – Armed with educational materials, make the time to visit the beat reporters, news editors and assignment editors to introduce and educate them about your agency’s programs. Visits should not be limited to traditional media outlets. Seek out relevant bloggers, e-news outlets or high-profile social media operatives.


book cover

Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer funding

How to Tap Social Media to Reach New Donors

The Chronicle of Philanthropy in conjunction with the Network for Good reports that human service organizations earn more than any other organization from online donors – twice as much as educational groups.

This page is dedicated to exploring online giving – giving that goes by many names: crowdfunding, peer-to-peer fundraising and social fundraising. The National Council of Nonprofits notes crowdfunding refers to any effort to raise money with donations from a large number of people. Crowdfunding was first used by entrepreneurs as a way to attract small-sized investments to for-profit ventures, primarily via the internet.

The underlying theory behinds this form of online giving is to motivate your supporters to raise money from their network of friends for your organization.

Here is an ebook from Network for Good – How to Turn Donors into Fundraiser – that is a basic primer on peer-to-peer fundraising. Read it over and please offer your thoughts.


Community Outreach

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Sharing Best Practices in the Travelers Aid Family

Information Sessions Help 3 Members
Reach Out to Their Communities

Community outreach is always a challenge for a nonprofit agency.

Three Travelers Aid members – Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Homeless and Travelers Aid Society of Albany and Travellers Aid Australia – have developed outreach tools – “in-house tours” – that have set them apart from others.

The Crisis Center and HATAS both use a light meal accompanied by a presentation and discussion to reach community leaders. Travellers Aid Australia is now providing “training courses” to educate targeted communities about the transit system of Melbourne region as well as the services of Travellers Aid.


The Crisis Center offers a 1 hour light lunch twice a month that attracts 10 to 25 per session to acquaint the community with the services that the agency offers and its role within the community. Staff members are encouraged to invite interested individuals to lunch. Employees hand out a business card-size invitations that lists the date of the next session as well as information on the agency, explained Ken Gibson, the agency’s director of marketing and public relations.

The sessions are frequently the first introduction of the agency to potential volunteers. Gibson said many of the guests are “young retirees” new to Florida and the area who use the session as way to learn more about their new community.


The information sessions in Albany, dubbed HATAS @ Home, have evolved over the last eight years. The light breakfast is now offered the third Thursday, every other month. The next breakfast will be March 16. Originally, the sessions were every month.

The goal of the information session is to educate the community about HATAS’ services and the community’s homeless problems, said Liz Hitt, the agency’s executive director.

HATAS @ Home is now part of the community service curriculum of the Leadership Tech Valley, an annual leadership training program of the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce.

The sessions have produced board members, volunteers and donors, Hitt said. Three of the current 11 board members attended a breakfast session as part of the leadership program. This is a good way to tap and identify rising young or mid-career professionals.

Each session now attracts 7 to 12 and over the year about 30 attend. Most of the breakfast participants are now in the chamber program, Hitt notes, with a few drop-ins.

Both Tampa and Albany noted that donations are not actively sought during these information sessions.


Funded by a competitively-award grant from the Royal Auto Club of Victoria, Travellers Aid Australia provides a free community travel training course on how to use the transport systems in the state of Victoria. The course targets those with mobility challenges as well as those who are unfamiliar with the transit systems, primarily seniors and new community residents. The course also reassures travelers that the transit systems are safe and how to reach out to authorities, said Travellers Aid Australia CEO Elias Lebbos.

Not only does the classroom course show participants how to navigate the trains and buses, but also the services provided by Travellers Aid, especially services to help those with mobility issues.

The course has been offered since 51 times since it began 8 months ago and there have been 1,168 participants. It is custom-tailored to the needs of a specific group with a variety of modules so that the course is from 1 to 4 hours long. Lebbos said the agency brings the course to the interested participants.

Travellers Aid Australia spent 2 years developing the program, said Lebbos. There are similar programs in the region, including those offered by the transit agencies, but the “independent” standing and 100-year reputation of his agency has drawn participants.

The Auto Club is funding the program because as its members give up their cars they need assistance to become familiar with the trains and buses.

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Open Mic

Welcome to Open Mic

A Members Only Forum for Ideas, Comments

This is an open blog page with no structure or preconceived plan. It is whatever you make of it. Feel free to post open questions to your peers, ideas for programs or comments on challenges you face.
Only members may view or comment on this page. The posting are not anonymous so as to foster a constructive and useful dialogue. Please sign your name and list your organization.
You now have the microphone and floor is yours…


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Sharing Best Practices in the Travelers Aid Family

SenioRide Serves 1,000s Each Month in San Diego

Airport Sector

SenioRide, a 6-year-old program of Travelers Aid Society of San Diego, provides local transportation to 1,000 low-income senior citizens in San Diego County.

Designed to help seniors maintain an independent lifestyle, the program offers multiple transportation options to those over 60. The options include monthly Metropolitan Transit System bus passes, door-to-door services via a taxi, MTS Access wheelchair lift-equipped buses or volunteer drivers.

Travelers Aid does not provide any rides, but organizes and facilitates the service.

More than 3,000 rides are provided each month with 300 to 400 individuals using the service on a regular basis. While there are limits on the number of rides that can be provided by volunteer drivers and fee limitations on the cab trips, a client can use the service daily through a combination of ride options, including the bus pass.

The only restriction on the program is that the service will not provide transportation to the region’s casinos. Doctor appointments, shopping, and visits to friends and family are managed through the program.

The program has funding for 50 monthly senior bus passes and provides vouchers for the door-to-door options. In all cases, the program covers the entire cost of the senior’s ride. Clients can arrange for a friend to provide a ride and that volunteer driver is then compensated by the program via a $10-15 stipend.

The program also covers the transportation costs if a client needs a companion to travel with them.

Meeting a Need Through its long work with the homeless and low-income residents of San Diego, Travelers Aid was aware of the lack of transportation options for car-less seniors. As the program got started, Travelers Aid quickly discovered that it underestimated the number of seniors who lacked transportation options.

If the agency had to do it over again, it would have held focus groups with seniors to get a better handle on their specific transportation needs.

In the first 2 years, funds were not available for the monthly bus passes so the clients were older, less mobile. With the addition of the bus passes, the demographics changed to include more seniors who were more independent, mobile and with fewer health issues.

This low-income segment of the community continues to grow as the population ages. The high cost of living, especially housing, stresses many household budgets qualifying them for the service.

Funding The SenioRide program has a current budget of $150,000. Its primary funding source has been a grant provided by the San Diego Association of Governments. The group administers a two-year grant program for senior projects that is funded by the 0.5% county sales tax for transportation and transit projects with which Travelers Aid San Diego has been awarded 4 times. Currently, funds from two charitable foundations that focus on senior citizens provide the remaining third of the budget.

Travelers Aid has been approved for a fiscal 2016-17 grant funded by the sales tax. Each time Travelers Aid has applied for this county grant, it has been successful in obtaining 100% of its funding requests.

At times, the funding for the bus passes has not met the monthly demand and a lottery has been established to allocate the 50 monthly passes. In addition, the fee limitation ($40) for the taxi cabs trips has caused problems for some in reaching the suburban Veteran Administration medical facility.

Staffing One case worker, Kelly Kephart, manages the program coordinating the service requests and new applications. Kephart now spends about 65-70% of her time on the program. Her salary is covered by the grant.

Kathleen S. Baldwin, president, Travelers Aid San Diego, spends about 20% of her time on monthly paperwork required by the county grant. The agency must submit detailed paper forms to be reimbursed for the services provided.

And, every two years, the agency’s development director, Marcy Roke, will spend 10-15% of her time on the next grant application.

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Sharing Best Practices in the Travelers Aid Family

From Band-Aids to Breast Pumps

Airport Sector

Travelers Aid at Chicago O’Hare International Airport has been accommodating nursing mothers for the last 18 months. The agency invites nursing mothers to use its staff offices and it also has a breast pump available.

Travelers Aid also provides a variety of other items that a young family may need, especially if stranded by a flight delay. Diapers of all sizes, including for adults, are available. Supplies also include pacifiers and travel-size packets of all varieties of baby formula.

In July 2015, Travelers Aid provided space to 60 nursing mothers – an all-time monthly record. The staff has provided private space for up to 3 nursing mothers at one time.

The staff routinely logs passengers’ complaints and suggestions and tally these items into a monthly Top 5 list of requested, but unavailable, amenities. A nursing room has consistently been on this Top 5 list, according to Travelers Aid Senior Manager Carol King.

After seeing the consistent request, King said her group began making its facilities available. At one point, she said, the airport on its website directed nursing mothers to the Travelers Aid facilities.

Travelers Aid uses this monthly Top 5 listing to advocate to the city’s Department of Aviation for better passenger services. Travelers Aid Manager John Ishu said their volunteers also encouraged the nursing mothers to also contact aviation officials to request better facilities.

The airport responded this summer by providing a nursing room in Terminal 3 with plans to add additional rooms throughout the airport.

There is still demand for the Travelers Aid facilities since the airport’s room can only handle one mother at a time, King explained. The Travelers Aid space in Terminal 2 is centrally located among the domestic concourses – and near the new airport nursing room to provide assistance when the airport space is busy.

Mothers were reluctant to use the family or companion restrooms since these spaces lacked a place to sit or an electrical outlet for electric breast pumps.

Travelers Aid provides a breast pump to those mothers unexpectedly stranded at the airport. Since another mother cannot use the pump, the staff asks for a donation to cover the cost of a new pump. Most users will reimburse the costs of the pump and take the pump with them. Travelers Aid then replaces the pump with a new one for the next user.

In addition to the nursing mother or baby needs, Travelers Aid has personal hygiene items along with contact lens solutions and lens holders. They also have eyeglass repair kits. And, yes they have bandages.

Travelers Aid is able to maintain their supplies with funds through their contract with the airport and through donations, Ishu said. To those who can afford it, volunteers will direct travelers to the donation jar.

Through the continual generosity of a volunteer and her church, Travelers Aid maintains a supply of basic clothing items in all sizes for those who lost their luggage or are unexpectedly spending the night in the airport on cots.

The Travelers Aid office area is also used as a prayer room, King said, for those passengers not wanting to exit the secure area to reach the multi-denominational chapel. A regular O’Hare traveler has donated a pray rug for use in the Travelers Aid space.

“We have had a situation where a passenger is praying in one area of our office while a mom is using another room to nurse,” King noted.

The monthly Top 5 list was an initiative of Travelers Aid to relay to airport administrators the concerns of travelers. King said the scorecard was developed as part of its monthly report to the airport. Prior to that, the staff reported passenger needs and concerns during in-person meetings with the Chicago Department of Aviation.

One consistent travelers’ request that has yet to be met by the airport is a location to receive or send money wire transfers. King noted that Travelers Aid explored providing this service, but in doing so would endanger its non-profit status.

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Sharing Best Practices in the Travelers Aid Family

Therapy Dogs Team Up With San Diego Ambassadors

Airport Sector

San Diego International Airport is going to the dogs – all thanks to the travels of one volunteer of Travelers Aid Society of San Diego.

Last Thanksgiving, Travelers Aid, which runs the airport’s ambassador program, introduced the Ready Pet Go program, which bring trained therapy dogs and handlers into the airport to help relieve the stress of travelers facing flight delays or pre-flight jitters.

Travelers Aid participates in a program organized by Wyoming-based Therapy Dogs. There is no cost to the airport or Travelers Aid to join this network of 12,000 handler/dog teams in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

There are now 14 dog owners participating with 17 dogs in the San Diego program. Each handler under goes a background and fingerprint check because they will be working post-security. The dog handlers are paired with existing Travelers Aid volunteers to guide them through the airport.

The Travelers Aid volunteer is there to answer any airport-related questions as well to alert the handler of any police agency or service animals in the area as they try to keep the dogs separate. The local police, Transportation Security Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration all use trained dogs within the airport.

The teams encourage the interaction with the therapy dogs, explaining that purpose is to relieve the stress. The dogs wear vests inviting travelers to “pet me.”

Each trainer and dog team volunteer at a minimum twice a month, but many do so weekly.

The program uses a variety of breeds including Shih Tzu, Beagle, Pekinese, Golden Retriever, Goldendoodle, Rottweiler, Westie, Huskie and a terrier mix.

The dogs not only relieve the stress of the travelers, but also the airport employees, airline staffers and TSA agents, according to feedback that Travelers Aid has received.

The program began at San Diego after a Travelers Aid volunteer encountered a similar program while passing through the Reno airport. They later learned that Los Angeles International Airport also had a pet therapy program. Both Reno and LAX use the Wyoming firm to provide the dogs and handlers.

Travelers Aid San Diego has a contract to provide the volunteer ambassadors at the airport and the airport approved the pet therapy programs with the stipulation that Therapy Dogs maintain a substantial insurance policy on each dog/handler team.

Gina Bernsen, Travelers Aid’s Director of Visitor Services at the airport, manages the program.

Travelers Aid has more than 300 volunteers working at the airport.

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