El Camino Homeless Organization receives ‘2021 Nonprofit of the Year’ award
District 17 Senator John Laird presented award on Saturday
–On Saturday, the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) was recognized as a California 2021 Nonprofit of the Year. District 17 Senator John Laird presented the award during a small ceremony at ECHO’s Atascadero location.
“When you look at how many incredible nonprofits are in [Sen. Laird’s] region, for us to be selected is really humbling… it really will bring a better spotlight on our work which ultimately helps bring in funding, helps bring in volunteers, and really helps the people we’re trying to serve,” said ECHO President and CEO Wendy Lewis, who has been in this position for the past three years and was previously involved in the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County for ten years.
Over 100 nonprofits were recognized as a 2021 Nonprofit of the Year throughout the 10 regions of California. Each senator and assembly member will nominate a nonprofit from their represented district and this year, the awards luncheon was replaced with local district celebrations.
“I visited ECHO a few months before the pandemic and the lockdown, and it was an incredibly impressive operation,” Sen. Laird said. “The thing that surprised me as somebody who has worked on these issues for many years is that [ECHO] is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, the mayor comes and volunteers regularly, it’s near a school, and there’s nowhere else where that is something that doesn’t cause an incredible amount of controversy. The thing that impressed me is that just showed there was amazing community support for the program.”
For the past six years, California Nonprofits Day aims to recognize and support California nonprofits; over 1.2 million California residents are employed in the nonprofit sector with around $273 billion in revenue annually, according to a 2019 CalNonprofits “Causes Count” report.
“The pandemic and shelter-in-place orders of the past year and a half have put nonprofits – usually hidden in plain sight – in the spotlight,” explains Jan Masaoka, CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits) through a press release. “California Nonprofit of the Year is an opportunity for our elected officials to celebrate the good work they see nonprofits doing in their districts, and for everyone to appreciate the collective impact of nonprofits in our communities.”
ECHO is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary of serving the San Luis Obispo community; what started as a grassroots-led evening meal served in various local churches soon evolved to a multifaceted nonprofit that aims to serve all who are experiencing homelessness with three facilities offering a residency program, overnight and emergency shelter. A permanent and emergency winter shelter are located in Atascadero with a total of 80 beds while the permanent Paso Robles location opened six months ago with 60 beds. Over 40 individuals and families have found permanent housing since the Paso Robles location opened. Resources such as housing placements, individual case management, meal and shower programs, an outreach program, and other services are provided to help residents find housing and utilize needed resources.
“This year we’re kind of catching our breath because we had such a big amount of growth, but there’s a lot of unmet needs still in our county… [we’re looking] to advocate and have a voice for the unhoused in our community,” Lewis said.