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Community Advocacy Program Q&A

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Categories: Blog

An interview with Community Advocacy Officer Aaron Abbott: By Sam Soliz, Marketing Manager

CATA recognizes the need to work collaboratively with the community to address the region’s homeless epidemic. This effort aligns with CATA’s mission, vision, values and strategic goals, which call for innovative solutions in partnership with the communities they serve and the re-imagination of regional mobility challenges.

Additionally, CATA is aware that homelessness is a challenge that the organization and community faces on a daily basis. And, while studies show that homelessness has decreased nationally and in Michigan in recent years, Ingham County’s data tells a different story: Homelessness has not declined since 2014 – ’15.

Together, CATA representatives, City of Lansing Director of Human Relations and Community Services Kim Coleman, and Executive Director of Advent House Ministries Susan Cancro discussed opportunities to work to better understand the needs of homeless citizens, available resources and how to administer assistance most effectively.

CATA contracted with Advent House Ministries to onboard a trained and experienced street outreach specialist to support its Community Advocacy Office at the downtown CTC. Aaron Abbott compassionately and empathetically focuses on the needs of individuals and families who are disconnected from shelter and housing, as well as those who frequent locations associated with CATA. Abbott works to build trust with those whose paths intersect with CATA's to accurately assess their needs and connect them with appropriate community resources.


Q: What drew you to this position in particular?

A: Being able to make a difference. When I was going to Lansing Community College, I used to visit the CTC all the time and catch the bus, so being able to come back and help make a change was a no brainer.


Q: What does a day in the life of a community outreach coordinator look like?

A: It changes day-to-day because you just never know what will happen each day. People come to me for conversation so they can talk and get some assistance or to be heard. Some days I see a lot more people who need bus passes. I've helped in a lot of different ways. There are people in a lot of different situations, so each day can be completely different. I can connect with them and work with a lot of different agencies, and a lot of agencies refer people to me.


Q: What is the most difficult part of your position? The easiest part?

A: The most difficult part is building trust with clients. Sometimes they will trust you and want to build a relationship and want help, but more times than not they don't actually want the help. They are going to tell you what you want to hear so they can get the services. The easiest part is knowing that I'm making a difference and helping others who can't help themselves.


Q: Do you often work with area youth? If so, how and to what extent?

A: Yes, when school was in session the students came to the CTC so I was able to bond with most of them by handing out snacks. I'm always able to check with them on their grades and make sure they are on the right path.


Q: What do you want Lansing to know about the people you serve and/or the resources you have available through this program?

A: Lansing should know that the population that we serve are humans and deserve the same respect we give each other. Their life circumstances may have led them to their current situation, but they are still like us. We all need food, water, shelter, warmth and care. We are successful at the Advent House because we do our best to provide these needs to our population.


Q: In the next five years, what do you see as the greatest challenge that the Lansing community will face, specifically for those who may use this program?

A: Our clients can currently afford housing. But with Lansing building more apartment complexes, it is taking away from our clients being placed with affordable living. This will cause them to be placed back out on the streets.  


Q: What do you believe are some solutions to address the challenges facing the population you serve?

A: Getting people access to the resources that they need. Also, strong communication with other organizations with resources for what may be needed. 


Q: Share an important lesson you have learned through conversations with Lansing community members.

A: When it comes to our clients, they just want support; someone who they can talk to and is willing to help them take the next step. Sometimes all they need is that extra push from us and just knowing what to do and how to do it and even just where to go. When it comes to our community, they just want to help in any way possible such as donating clothes, food and volunteering at the shelter. People just want to try and make as big a difference in the city as possible.  


Q: What is the most memorable experience you have had as a community outreach coordinator?

A: I wish I could point out one, but I've had so many. It can just be a conversation with a person or even just making a person's day by giving them a bus pass, so they can get where they need to.


Q: How can members of the general Lansing community help those in need?

A: Volunteering their time at a local shelter such as Advent House. Checking a local shelter’s website to see what items are needed.


Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

A: On weekends, Advent House offers a Weekend Day for the homeless, impoverished or anyone else who would like to stop in. The shelter is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. We offer hot lunches from noon until 1 p.m. and dinner from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Families with children are welcome to stop in, while being supervised by a parent. At the shelter we do our best to provide a safe and peaceful location for our clients to be able to relax and know that they are surrounded by people who care for them.

This content has been published in the 2022 Community Report.   


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Collaboration Meets Innovation to Create a New CATA Bus Stop

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Categories: Blog, Community, Employees

Collaboration and innovative ideas are part of what makes our team so special – especially when they’re least expected. 

Nick Zickefoose, a customer experience representative at CATA, saw a need in the community and set out to fulfill it. 

Using Teamwork and Customer Feedback to Turn an Idea into Reality

A CATA rider contacted Nick suggesting a new bus stop on Route 9 in front of Atlas Meds Pharmacy. “He told me about how a lot of elderly and disabled customers use that particular pharmacy, but they had to walk from the current Route 9 stops to get there – which isn’t always easy for someone depending on their situation,” Nick said. Before a new stop was in place, the walk to Atlas Meds Pharmacy was several blocks. 

“The addition of this stop made sense from a number of angles,” said Kai Christiansen, the CATA Service Planning and Scheduling Manager. 

Kai received an email from Nick with the new bus stop suggestion. “I didn’t want to just let [the] request go unheard as it sounded like it had the potential to help a lot of people,” Nick said. “I remembered being told early in my time at CATA about Kai Christiansen over in planning and he’s incredibly good with these sorts of things.”

CATA Customer Experience Representative Nick Zickefoose


Kai was pleasantly surprised when Nick reached out to him and immediately got to work. “The quality of the information which Nick provided to me made my work easy,” Kai said. He noted it was "clear and actionable, making this process very straightforward.”

How a New Bus Stop is Created

The creation of a new CATA bus stop involves communication with stakeholders and configuration to meet customer, property owner and municipal needs. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance is also important. 

Once the stop has been designed, the building can begin. A contractor is methodically chosen, geolocation is added and a stop number is assigned.

The process to create a new bus stop involves CATA’s planning, facilities and procurement departments. It wouldn’t be possible without a strong and passionate team.

“It is always rewarding to be able to help facilitate the needs of our customers and create transportation solutions that make sense,” Kai said. 

The new stop on Route 9 is now up and running on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in front of Atlas Meds Pharmacy.

CATA bus stop #6081 in front of Atlas Meds Pharmacy

CATA’s priority continues to be meeting the mobility needs of our region. This priority is made possible in part through our dynamic, collaborative workforce. 

To learn more about Nick Zickefoose and the collaborative efforts of his department, click here.

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Behind the Curtain of Customer Experience

Friday, October 2, 2020

Categories: Blog, Employees

You may know our customer experience representatives –⁠ or CRXs, for short –⁠ as voices on the phone or faces in the information booth at CATA facilities.

At a glance, these employees sell passes, administer fare tokens and provide rider information. But their role goes far beyond what meets the eye.

CXR Nick Zickefoose cites around a dozen online programs he has to use quickly and efficiently to give customers the best information.

“I do feel like a lot of the people in the City of Lansing tend to view us as a very reliable source of information, not just for CATA,” Zickefoose said. “Oftentimes we’ll end up answering questions just about the city in general, for people that have just moved here.”

The customer experience department receives hundreds of phone calls a day. Sometimes these come from parents asking for information for their students. Other times, calls come from those looking for a ride to a nearby homeless shelter for their next meal. The team knows many of these customers by name, and remains when to lend a helping hand or listening ear.

“Just being able to help somebody is one of my most enjoyable parts about this job,” said Schuyler Brown, another member of the CXR team.

Customer Experience Representative Schuyler Brown poses in front of the CATA Transportation Center

Zickefoose recounts the times he’s stayed on the phone with new riders until they reach their nearest bus stop and feel comfortable. He’s also provided words of encouragement to customers going through tough times.

 “There are a lot of moments where there’s a deeper interaction with our customers and the people who live in Lansing,” Zickefoose said.

Customer Experience Supervisor Sam Soliz notes there are many unpredictable factors in public transportation –⁠ weather, traffic, red lights, accidents, medical emergencies and detours to name a few.

“If our department can use our tools and our empathy to eliminate any or all of that stress, we’ve made the customers day just a little bit better,” Soliz said. “That’s what it’s all about –⁠ removing just one pain point from their day in the hopes of making it better.”

Thank you to this team for making days at CATA better for our employees, riders and the public. The community is incredibly fortunate to have such empathetic, resourceful and talented representatives getting people where they need to go.

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