Portlight Strategies was founded in 1997 to facilitate various projects involving people with disabilities, including post-disaster relief work all over the United States.
Among their largest efforts are those that followed the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and areas of New York City, which lasted for 18 months. In addition to replacing durable medical equipment, the organization assisted with home accessibility for people who had to elevate their houses to meet federal flood insurance requirements. Under grants from The Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund and The Robin Hood Foundation, Portlight provided financial aid for the purchase and installation of outdoor stair and platform lifts, and other equipment for exterior and interior accessibility.
Portlight Strategies - Disaster Relief
We had the opportunity to chat with Portlight’s Chief Operating Officer, Shari Myers about her role and most recent work with the organization. From grant writing to response work on deployment and being a liaison with organizations such as Red Cross and FEMA, Shari is involved in “a little bit of everything” of Portlight's work.
The People Behind Portlight Strategies
Portlight is a relatively small organization with a big mission: to not only help those after a disaster strikes, but to also promote self-determination of needs and issues with respect to disaster preparedness and response. This nonprofit fosters community relationships with disaster relief agencies to promote inclusiveness in disaster preparedness and response plans and to demand provisions for transportation and shelter accessibility.
Currently, Portlight has 4 members on their full-time staff. However, the organization has plans to expand their full-time staff in their near future and is also seeing a great increase in volunteer work all over the country.
Serving the Underserved
"We respond to all types of hazards - severe weather such as flooding and wind events; earthquakes; fires; man-made disasters, including terrorist attacks. In the immediate aftermath, we provide relief items such as food and water, diabetic and other medical supplies, battery recharging for power equipment and communication devices, and even diapers and infant formula. After that, our typical disaster recovery efforts focus on people whose mobility devices - wheelchairs, scooters, walkers - and other durable medical equipment were damaged by or lost in the disaster, by paying for repairs or providing replacements. We also provide new equipment to people who experience disability due to disaster-related injuries. In our partnerships with Red Cross and FEMA, we help to identify and connect with local resources for repair and replacement of lost or damaged hearing aids, glasses, dentures, assistive technology devices. These are all very customized items specific to each individual, which can't be replaced generically."
Shari shared with us a very touching story about her recent experience working with people affected by the recent floodings in South East and Central Texas.
“A couple of weeks ago, we worked with a lady who had a son with advanced hearing impairment. His hearing aids had washed away during the floodings. We were contacted to work with her as she didn’t know what to do in order to get these devices replaced. With just a couple of quick phone calls from our team, we were not only able to get him back into the system to get his hearing aids replaced, but we also found out that he was a candidate for receiving cochlear implants. He is now going through the process to undergo the procedure” Shari said. “It is very rewarding when we can make something good come out of a disaster like this.”
As mentioned before, Portlight's mission is to go above and beyond helping after a disaster strikes a community with integrative disaster planning, relief and recovery.
Disability stakeholders must have a seat at the planning table, as no one knows better than they do about how to respond to and serve their community during and after a disaster. They must have ADA-compliant access to evacuation transportation and general population shelters, and be served as members of the whole community. In times of disaster, everyone has needs, and theirs are no more or less "special."
With their disaster relief and recovery work, and by hosting conferences and seminars to provide tools to facilitate full integration and inclusion in all aspects of emergency preparedness and response, Portlight's is strengthening the disability rights movement.
It is very difficult to predict when disaster will strike, even with our improved technologies, disasters tend to catch communities by surprise. We were therefore very curious on how Portlight's coped with the planning and fundraising for their organization.
Shari said that their biggest challenge is not raising funds for when disaster strikes, but in between disasters, “When you are working in disaster response, you need funds at all times so you are prepared to respond at any. Donors usually respond when something happens, but it is very hard to replenish on funds and supplies in between.”
Fundraising Challenges - Portlight Strategies
Portlight's has recently become focused on preparedness efforts, “It’s a year round thing,” Shari said, “not just when we have a disaster.” Through their Getting it Right programs and conferences, they have begun to gain more exposure and supporters in different communities around the country.
The use of technology has also helped Portlight's year-round fundraising efforts according to Shari Myers, “CommitChange has definitely helped us with our ability to fundraise by being able to create campaigns and publicize them easily.” Although they haven’t been able to exactly quantify the impact of having a new donation processing platform and button on their website, the organization believes their new donation system is more accessible and easier for donors to operate.
“The first time we created a campaign for #givingtuesday in December, we reached 60% of our goal without much promotion of it, we raised a great amount in a short time. It was something we had not typically seen before,” she said regarding their first CommitChange campaign.
Portlight's is yet another example of why we strive to provide straightforward, accessible and affordable technology to nonprofits with great causes. To learn more and donate to Portlight's visit their website.