Waiting for his RideKC bus Monday afternoon, Norman Tate noticed a new addition outside the East Village Transit Center — a table covered with books, flyers, tote bags, masks and informational flyers. He watched and waited for several minutes, then approached.
By the time Tate finished chatting with the two Kansas City Public Library staffers at the table five minutes later, he’d collected a new mask and a magazine free of charge.
“It was really just a blessing,” he said.
A new collaboration is hoping to dole out similar blessings on the third Monday of every month. RideKC is partnering with the library, Metropolitan Community College and the Full Employment Council to expand the number of services people can access at the transit center.
Creating community through public, private collaboration
RideKC had always envisioned its new East Village Transit Center on the corner of 12th and Charlotte streets near downtown Kansas City as more than just a place to catch a bus. But plans for additional services for riders were pushed back a year due to the pandemic.
The new building opened in August 2020, but its lobby, with free Wi-Fi, charging outlets and water, was closed to the public for safety.
Now RideKC is slowly opening its doors, starting with the monthly events. Partners can choose whether they’d like to host their services outside or inside the lobby. David Johnson, vice president of RideKC, said he hopes the collaboration will encourage riders to explore everything the new center has to offer.
“We want to be a beacon on the east side of downtown,” he said. “Most of the amenities downtown pretty much stop at City Hall, and there’s really nothing over here but us.”
The additional services are intended to support and give back to the riders who have stuck with RideKC. The pandemic drove home the idea that many KC residents don’t have other transportation options, Johnson said. Tate, who lost an eye due to a gunshot wound, relies on RideKC to get just about anywhere.
“They stayed after all the disruptions we had,” Johnson said. “That’s a small but important part of the local economy that we can contribute to directly.”
Increasing the visibility of resources at RideKC centers
Last year, RideKC closed its transit center at 10th and Main streets as the community’s needs outgrew the space. While the closure was needed to make way for the move to the East Village Transit Center, it means that riders are no longer a short walk away from the library and other downtown resources.
RideKC missed the connection with the library, Johnson said, so it was an easy decision to make it one of the first community partners.
“We’re really focused on getting out in the community more,” said Kelly Barry, the library’s outreach community engagement specialist. “We’re giving out information about technology resources and letting people know the library has hundreds of resources available.”
Norman Tate, a regular RideKC passenger, chooses from an array of free magazines at the East Village Transit Center pop-up in August 2021. (Photo by Emily Wolf)
Barry said many people are still confused about whether they can access library locations during the pandemic, and public events like the ones at the transit center can help provide needed information.
“The library has always been a place of refuge,” said Megan McNaughton, the library’s technology access coordinator. “When we were closed, that really hurt the folks we work with.”
Many emergency assistance options moved online in the pandemic, making it difficult for seniors and people without internet access to get help. The library began scheduling appointment times to make sure everyone who needed assistance could get it, and now people can go into the library buildings without appointments.
RideKC services connect transportation and employment
For many people, riding the bus is a way to get to and from work every day. What if it was also a way for them to find new employment opportunities?
That’s the hope of the Full Employment Council, which hopes to begin scheduling pop-ups later this year. Clyde McQueen, CEO of the FEC, said pop-ups will be equipped with an online portal, where people can start the process of looking for jobs.
He stressed that while a person may be looking for a job, other factors, like lack of child care or easy transportation, can keep them out of the workforce. The FEC is designed to help meet those needs so that businesses and workers can have access to each other.
“A number of employers were frustrated because people weren’t applying for jobs,” he said. We’re trying to communicate to them that if the people can’t make the math work, they won’t show up.”
Hosting in-person events is also a way to ensure people are receiving legitimate information. McQueen said online job searchers often encounter a mix of reliable postings and scams, which can be difficult to navigate. People will have the assurance that the information they receive at the pop-ups is legitimate and backed by organizations they already rely on day to day, like RideKC.
Most importantly: The FEC won’t stop helping people as soon as they get a job.
“It’s systems-oriented, not program-oriented,” McQueen said. “From this, we can determine the rate at which people were able to connect with our systems and get jobs. It’s not just about people showing up — we want to track exit and retention rates.”
RideKC services program seeks expansion
While the collaboration is starting with three partners, RideKC is looking for more. Community-focused nonprofits are of special interest. They’re also not opposed to partnering with a local coffee cart.
“We’d like to have someone here maybe not every day, but certainly more than once every three weeks, which is what we’re at now,” Johnson said. “This will be a year-round program.”
RideKC especially wants to find a partner in the health care sphere, Johnson said. But at least when it comes to COVID-19, the library is already helping to fill the gaps. During its pop-up appearance, several people asked for information about getting a vaccine. One man took a flyer and promptly announced he’d be going to the library and getting his shot.
This story originally appeared in The Kansas City Beacon and appears here as part of the SoJo Exchange from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.
Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter with a focus on telling meaningful stories through data at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.