When asked how she became involved with Get on the Bus, community outreach director Karen Van de Laat half-jokes, “I basically called and informed them that I would be taking the job.” She had seen a Craigslist ad for the position at Get on the Bus, and knew it was exactly what she wanted to be doing. “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still keep doing this job.”
Karen won the $5,000 coaches’ award at LASVP’s 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch for Get on the Bus, a program that gives kids and their guardians rides to see their mothers and fathers in prison. Parents in prison are often hundreds of miles away from their families, so the distance and expense makes the trip impossible for many children. “As a mother, I just can’t imagine being separated from my child like that,” says Karen. Prisons have noted the improved behavior and decreased recidivism in inmates who have visits with their children. While Get on the Bus has historically only been able to provide trips on Mother’s and Father’s Day, the success of the program is leading to additional trips.
“We have raised much more money than we did the previous year—this is definitely because of Fast Pitch,” says Karen. She used to “wing it” when speaking to potential donors, and would often forget to mention important points and kick herself for it later. The Fast Pitch helped her get her “best of the best” message down pat, and now she is able to adjust her pitch based on her audience and how much time she has to speak. “Now we know how to talk to a whole different audience,” says Karen, who used to restrict most of her outreach to churches. “That’s a major change for Get on the Bus.”
After the 2011 Fast Pitch, Get on the Bus received a $10,000 donation, “and the money kept showing up,” says Karen, in addition to more media attention than the organization had ever received in one year. “The Fast Pitch has really helped us raise awareness, in addition to money and volunteers,” Karen says. “And that’s the most important thing to us.”
Karen Van de Laat (pictured at left) is the Community Outreach Director at Get on the Bus. As a participant of the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch, Karen won the $5,000 coaches’ award. Click here to watch Karen’s 2011 Fast Pitch.