The West / Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation is a network of broad-based institutional organizations building power to revitalize our democracy for constructive social and economic change. We are part of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation's first and largest network of community organizations.
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RECENT VICTORIES & MORE
November 21, 2019
EPISO/Border Interfaith Leverages $13 Million for Water, Wastewater Services in Montana Vista Colonia
On a cloudy November day, EPISO/Border Interfaith celebrated the initiation of a $13 Million project that will provide 816 Montana Vista residents with water and wastewater services in a colonia far east of El Paso. El Paso Water Utilities publicly recognized the organization for its leadership in ensuring that residents have access to these essential services.
For years, Montana Vista felt like a forgotten community due to poverty, isolation and a lack of relationships with elected officials. Residents appealed to their then-priest at San Juan Diego Catholic for support in getting much needed basic streets, parks and wastewater services. A longtime leader and co-chair of EPISO, Father Ed Roden-Lucero and EPISO organizers worked with resident leaders, guiding them in their efforts to seek essential infrastructure.
Part of those efforts included community education about the Economically Distressed Areas Program, a program created in 1989 by EPISO/Border Interfaith and sister Texas IAF organizations to address lack of infrastructure in the colonias. That same year, EPISO/BI and Texas IAF organizations got out the vote to amend the Texas Constitution to provide the Texas Water Development Board $200 million dollars to issue grants and loans to install water and wastewater infrastructure in colonias and economically distressed areas. Since 1989, over $1 Billion dollars have been invested in colonias and economically distressed areas across Texas.
Change is coming to Montana Vista. In January, a long-fought for (and separately funded) road extension was newly opened, with four lanes, bike routes, sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping. Now, to community acclaim, El Paso Water is breaking ground for Phase 1 of its water and wastewater project -- scheduled for completion within 18 months.
November 20, 2019
Together Baton Rouge Leverages $1.8 Million in Local Incentives to Address Food Deserts in Low-Income Neighborhoods
Together Baton Rouge, in partnership with Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, Hope Enterprise, and others community partners, celebrated the public launch of local incentives to bring a fresh food grocer to parts of Baton Rouge where grocery stores are rare. At a November press conference, the Mayor announced a public investment of $1.8 million to be dedicated towards incentivizing grocers to set up shop in low-income neighborhoods of Baton Rouge, an initiative leveraged by Together Baton Rouge. Hope Enterprise announced an additional $2 million which will be invested towards this effort.
According to, Together Baton Rouge, the most vulnerable residents affected by the parish’s food deserts are 19,000 children and 7,000 seniors.
“Early on we knew there needs to be infrastructure created to make things happen,” said Cage.
[Photo Credit: Bill Feig, The Advocate]
Press Conference Video, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome
PCI Organizer Ana Chavarin Awarded CCHD Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award
November 11, 2019
At a US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) General Assembly reception in Baltimore, Pima County Interfaith (PCI) organizer Ana Chavarin was awarded the Cardinal Joseph Bernadin New Leadership Award. Each year, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) honors individuals, like Ana, who "demonstrate leadership in fighting poverty and injustice in the United States through community-based solutions."
Having worked with PCI for the past four years, Ana was originally nominated by the Diocese of Tucson’s Office of Human Life & Dignity. Said Sr. Leonette Kochan, the department's former director: “Ana's Catholic faith motivates and inspires her role as a parent, faith community member, and leader in the wide range of social outreach initiatives in which she participates. Her courageous determination and the support of others found expression in her life of service to others, especially in programs that empower the lives of others. As a person who faces economic struggles as a single parent of four children, Ana also leads by example in balancing family life with work, while pursuing a college degree.”
In 2018 she won a US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) award for Hispanic Catholic Leaders and was also recognized by the Arizona Daily Star for her community achievements (see links further below).
[In photo, Ana Chavarin prepares Spanish-speaking parish ministers for leadership.]
Once Cheated, Community Leader Now Helps Others Speak with United Voice, Catholic News Service [pdf]
Neto's Tucson: Ana Chavarin is a Single Mom, an Immigrant and a Success, Arizona Daily Star [pdf]
COPS/Metro Immigrant Leaders WIN Parental Access to Their Children's Schools
October 31, 2019
One week after immigrant leaders from El Carmen Catholic Church raised the issue of parental access to schools, delivering poignant testimony at a Southside ISD School Board meeting last week, the Superintendent publicly reversed his position.
In a letter that went out to all parents, he announced that any form of photo identification issued by a governmental entity, including a matricula consular ID card, would be accepted when verifying parents’ identities on school campuses.
The issue originally emerged when Sandra, a member of El Carmen Catholic Church in San Antonio, attempted to join her son at his elementary school for lunch. She was barred from campus because she could not show a Texas ID. When COPS/Metro leaders requested a meeting with the Superintendent to discuss the policy, they were initially denied.
It wasn't until COPS/Metro and El Carmen Catholic leaders joined Sandra at the next Southside ISD School Board meeting that the district began to reconsider its position.
Said Vincent Arreguin, a COPS/Metro leader from El Carmen Church, “We continue to be committed in our interest to build the relationship with the district. This is not only a win for our parents but our children who are the most important. We are glad that now there’s clarification about the policy.”
[Photo Credit: Camille Phillips, Texas Public Radio]
San Antonio Parents Without Texas IDs Barred from Southside ISD Schools, Texas Public Radio
Southside ISD's ID Policy Has Some Parents Complaining it Leaves Them Out of Kid's Schooling, San Antonio Express-News
October 24, 2019
2018 IAF Impact Report: Victories
October 18, 2019
Coloradans for the Common Good Launches with 500 Leaders
With 500 leaders from 22 member institutions, community delegates gathered on a Thursday night to publicly launch and celebrate the founding of 'Coloradans for the Common Good.'
“We are not relying on special interest groups to define our agenda,” proclaimed Pastor Del Phillips, of the House Worship Center and the Colorado Black Leadership Coalition, “so we are going to make financial commitments -- as member institutions -- so that we are our own special interest.”
New member institutions were joined by a dozen guest organizations from Denver, Aurora, Commerce City and Jefferson and Boulder counties.
Leaders also conducted some nonpartisan public business with Denver School Board candidates, asking 12 individual candidates if they would support a community-driven agenda, including recruitment and retention of teachers of color, investment in students’ social/emotional support, and support for a traditional, comprehensive high school in the Denver far northeast neighborhood. Almost all candidates agreed.
Press Statement, Coloradans for the Common Good
October 17, 2019
Working Together Jackson Negotiates Water Bill Repayment Plans for Residents
After months of research and negotiation to address a municipal crisis in water billing and repayment, the City of Jackson announced a plan, developed in collaboration with Working Together Jackson, to both help the residents repay past-due bills and the Public Works Department collect essential payments.
“As a result of our collaborative efforts with the Public Works Department, there are now multiple payment options available where before there was only one,” Working Together Jackson said. “But more importantly, there are objective criteria so if you act in good faith you will not leave without being presented options to pay your bill in a way that works for both you and the City.”
The plans were informed by conversations organized by leaders through house meetings and water bill advocacy sessions in which residents brought their bills and learned how to manage repayment.
[Photo Credit: Seyma Bayram, Jackson Free Press]
Jackson Unveils Water-Bill Payment Plan Required for Delinquent Residents, Jackson Free Press
Press Statement Regarding Water Billing, Working Together Jackson
September 27, 2019
One LA Leverages $5.6 Million for Mental Health in Los Angeles
After months of organizing work by One LA leaders -- and building on leaders' successful efforts to launch MHLA and enroll thousands of residents in the program -- the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health announced plans to invest $5.6 million to enhance My Health LA (MHLA) with mental health services.
This move will allow approximately 145,000 low-income Angelenos who currently receive health care through the County's MHLA program to access prevention services that will reduce the risk of developing potentially serious mental illness. MHLA primarily serves low-income and undocumented immigrants who have no other access to health coverage. MHLA did not previously cover mental health as a funded benefit.
September 25, 2019
Valley Interfaith and Catholic Diocese Team Up to Offer Alternative ID
500 Valley Interfaith leaders packed the Pharr Development and Research Center to publicly launch a parish ID strategy for the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Developed in collaboration with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and three law enforcement agencies, parish-issued identification cards will show a picture of the cardholder, name, date of birth, address and how long the cardholder has been a member of their parish.
Representatives from the police departments of Pharr, McAllen and Edinburg participated in the assembly, pledging to accept these cards as a form of valid identification in the event anyone needs to identify themselves to the police -- whether on a traffic stop or when filing a report.
Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres said that he likes the idea of the ID card because "right now we have a lot of victims that are from across (the border). They don’t call the police department when they are victimized because they are afraid of being deported. If we recognize some type of ID, they’ll feel more comfortable and call us when crimes do occur.”
Said Fr. Kevin Collins of St. Eugene de Mazenod parish in Brownsville, “I’m very excited about this event tonight because we have a lot of people coming who hope to change their lives, to have less fear in their lives, and to live with more human dignity in their homes and their neighborhoods.”
IDs Give Parishioners Way to Say, 'I Belong,' Regardless of Legal Status, National Catholic Reporter
Diocese, Valley Interfaith Team Up to Offer a New Kind of ID, The Valley Catholic
Valley Interfaith Clarifies Parish ID Strategy, The Monitor
Valley Interfaith to Launch Local Parish ID Strategy, The Monitor [pdf]
September 17, 2019
Corridor Interfaith Expands Capital IDEA into Hays Co., TX
Leveraging $25,000 for long-term job training, Corridor Interfaith leaders from Living Word Lutheran and San Marcos Unitarian Universalism succeeded in persuading Hays County Commissioners to invest local dollars into Capital IDEA. Once matched with state ACE funding, the investment will allow 7-10 Hays County students to train out of poverty and into middle-class careers.
Leaders met with their Hays County representatives over several months to educate them about Capital IDEA and to advocate for the inclusion of funding in the 2020 budget. At the final budget hearing at the commissioners' court, the request was quickly moved forward and approved!
August 27, 2019
Pima County Interfaith Organizer Ana Chavarin Wins National Recognition
Pima County Interfaith (PCI) organizer Ana Chavarin was recently named the 2019 National Recipient of the Cardinal Joseph Bernadin New Leadership Award by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
This honor, awarded annually to an outstanding young adult, recognizes the leadership, energy and diverse skills that young people bring to the anti-poverty work of community organizing projects and Catholic parishes.
Ana was nominated by the Diocese of Tucson’s Office of Human Life & Dignity, and she will be formally presented with the Cardinal Bernadin award at the November meeting of the US Catholic Bishops to be held in Baltimore later this year.
Ana has worked with PCI for the past four years.
In 2018 she won a US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) award for Hispanic Catholic Leaders (see below). She was also recognized by the Arizona Daily Star for her community achievements (see further below).
Neto's Tucson: Ana Chavarin is a Single Mom, an Immigrant and a Success, Arizona Daily Star [pdf]
New York Times: Job Training Can Change Lives. See How San Antonio Does It.
August 19, 2019
The economic odds facing Avigail Rodriguez a few years ago couldn’t have been much worse. An undocumented immigrant and a single mother, she lived in a cramped apartment in a tough neighborhood in San Antonio and earned just $9 an hour working as a nurse’s assistant.
Today, Ms. Rodriguez, 26, owns her own home in a safer area, earns nearly three times as much as she did before and has secured legal residency. The key to her turnaround was a training program called Project Quest, whose own ability to beat the odds is no less striking than that of Ms. Rodriguez.Project Quest has succeeded where many similar retraining efforts have failed, taking workers lacking in skills and successfully positioning them for jobs where they can earn double or triple what they did previously.
“This really gives employers a chance to find workers they wouldn’t otherwise have considered,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University. “At the same time, it provides opportunities to a rather disadvantaged group of workers, both younger and older.”
Project Quest was born 27 years ago in a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio where poverty rates are above the citywide average. After the closing of a Levi Strauss factory there, community groups [COPS/Metro] created Project Quest as a way of preparing workers for better-paying, more highly skilled jobs that were less vulnerable but still in demand.
[Photo Credit: Joanna Kulesza, New York Times]
Job Training Can Change Lives. See How San Antonio Does It., New York Times [pdf]
EPISO/Border Interfaith: We Must Not Let Fear Succeed in Creating Distrust
August 16, 2019
On Aug. 3, our El Paso community was viciously attacked, and we are experiencing deep grief. Yes, we need to take the necessary time to process this pain and publicly lament together. But soon we must also begin to channel this sense of loss to reclaim a sense of community that we will all be proud of.
Terrorism wants to create mistrust and deep hateful fear. Such fear works to drive people away from one another. It scapegoats the immigrant, people of color, those of different faith traditions, people of a different culture and language. It twists and turns us to make others seem not human.
That is not El Paso, and we must not let fear succeed....
We Must Not Let Fear Succeed in Creating Distrust, Hateful Fear, El Paso Times [pdf]
Standing Against Fear, EPISO/Border Interfaith Charts Path Moving from Grief to Action
August 11, 2019
Just days after the shooting that targeted Latinos in El Paso, 300 EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders and clergy gathered to "stand against fear" and begin a community-wide healing process alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.
“We must understand that terrorism wants to create fear and division that promotes misunderstanding, mistrust and violence,” said Fr. Pablo Matta, EPISO/Border Interfaith co-chair and pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in El Paso. “That is not El Paso, and we must not let fear succeed.”
Leaders in the pews made commitments to launch parish-based listening sessions throughout El Paso to reach those feeling most anxious and isolated, to secure additional emergency counseling and mental health services and to actively support legislation to curb gun violence.
“I’m ready to walk with you,” said US Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, asserting that the attack goes deeper than a permissive gun culture. "You all are about accountability. We have to be accountable with the people who use language that inspires hate."
Similarly, Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz and Episcopal Bishop Michael Buerkel Hunn urged leaders to actively engage those feeling uneasy and isolated and to elicit their stories and concerns. “El Paso is a special community,” said Bishop Seitz. “We have an opportunity to do this for the rest of the country.”
The assembly broke out into small group conversations, responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?" Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories -- and many tears -- from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.
Other officials in attendance included State Representative Cesar Blanco, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, County Commissioners Vince Perez and David Stout, City Representatives Cassandra Hernandez and Claudia Ordaz Perez, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, Ysleta ISD Superintendent Xavier De La Torre and El Paso ISD School Board Trustee Freddy Kayel-Avalos.
Representative Blanco committed to work with the Texas IAF network around developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts. He also committed to working with leaders to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools. City and County officials agreed to develop a strategy to reassure immigrant families and their children, encouraging them not to be afraid of local law enforcement nor of public services. School officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.
[Photo Credit: Briana Sanchez, El Paso Times]
Standing Against Fear: Catholic Church Hosts Interfaith Gathering After Mass Shooting, El Paso Times [pdf]
Multiethnic Group Holds Vigil to Remember Victims of El Paso Shooting, FOX News
What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting Aftermath, America Magazine [pdf]
Statement on Mass Shootings in El Paso & Dayton:
Standing Up to Fear - Our Neighborhoods, Our Strength
August 5, 2019
We are deeply saddened by the horrific shootings in El Paso and Dayton over the past 48 hours. Our hearts go out to those murdered, those injured, their families and these entire communities. We also stand in support of our IAF sister organization EPISO/Border Interfaith and its workforce training organization Project ARRIBA, whose work has been deeply embedded in the El Paso community for decades.
This Thursday, August 8th at 7pm at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, EPISO/Border Interfaith (BI) leaders will assemble to demonstrate that this hate-filled act has no place in El Paso. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders representing 19 local institutions from all walks of life will stand united to grieve and rebuild the bonds of trust to overcome fear and hate.
Because El Paso is the largest US city on the border, and among the safest in our country, EPISO/BI leaders will not let this senseless act of violence define its border community. This week EPISO/BI recommits to its long-term political work of building vital public relationships, rooted in trust.
The story of the Good Samaritan challenges us all to see the humanity in those we have been taught to despise and to practice neighborliness, not to be divided by senseless acts of violence. We urge all people to reach out to those who might feel isolated or fearful and seek fruitful relationships not just in the coming days and weeks, but for the long term. Those kinds of efforts can lay a foundation for relationships with people who are different, and collaborative strategies for long-term solutions.
We must do all we can to combat the culture of violence and hate which contributes to tragedies like these.
Sister Christine Stephens, the Organizers' Organizer: 1940 - 2019
August 1, 2018
by Geoff Ripps, Texas Observer
On the evening of July 25, about 400 people packed a large chapel at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio for the wake for Sister Christine Stephens. A sister with the Congregation of Divine Providence, Stephens spent her life teaching the poor and disenfranchised how to organize and lead within their communities.
Stephens, who died on July 18 at age 78, was co-director of the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a community organizing nonprofit that has chapters in 14 states. In Texas, the network has been responsible for a litany of successes: bringing drainage projects to the drowning Westside of San Antonio, creating workforce development initiatives, fighting for education equalization funding, securing more than $250 million in state bond money to fund water and wastewater utilities for border colonias, and, in recent months, organizing undocumented immigrants to fight for their rights. Stephens’ organizing was integral to all those victories.
But the victories were not the focus of Stephens’ wake. Instead, speaker after speaker marveled at her compassion, her anger at injustice, and her drive to help people develop tools to build their own power. Over four decades, Stephens developed organizations by developing people. “Her body of work,” said Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest IAF, “is us and so many others she left her imprint on.”
Complete article in first link below:
Tribute to Sister Christine Stephens, Rio Grande Guardian
Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Sister Christine Passes Away, Rio Grande Guardian
June 27, 2019
TMO Leverages Wage Win of $14/hr for Houston School District Workers, Impacting 3,000+ of Lowest Paid
In a budget process that the Houston Chronicle says "devolved into a clash of wills," TMO clergy and leaders leveraged a major wage win for workers: $14 per hour for 3,000+ of the lowest paid employees in the Houston Independent School District, employees who keep children safe, nourished, and schools clean.
In testimony to the HISD Board, Deacon Sam Dunning, Director of the Office of Peace and Justice in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston argued: "A budget is a moral document...it is time to treat all workers with dignity."
Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis of Northside Episcopal Church argued, "There is a price to be paid for allocating funds that is not equitable to all classes and that price will be paid by your hourly workers and their family members... in the form of hunger, inadequate housing, anxiety, fear and stress." Rev. Jimmy Grace of St. Andrew’s Episcopal, Rev. Darrel Lewis of New Pleasant Grove Baptist, Rev. Jacqueline Hailey of New Hope Baptist, Rev. Rhenel Johnson of St. Andrew's UMC and Chava Gal-Orr from Temple Sinai spoke at Board meetings and press conferences as well.
This spring, TMO was part of a delegation of 300 Texas IAF leaders that called on state legislators to increase spending in public education in order to retain the talent upon which public schools rely. After passage of HB3, which put millions of dollars into public schools across the state, TMO leaders worked locally to make sure Houston Independent School District used its funds for the lowest paid workers.
[Photo Credit: Top photos from footage by Univision]
Houston ISD Trustees Approve $1.9 Billion Budget, Houston Chronicle
Video of clergy statements [first skip to 14:33 and then to 19:05]
June 3, 2019
MOC Wins Renters Protections in San Rafael, California
Responding to dual threats of deportation and homelessness faced by low-income immigrants, Marin Organizing Committee (MOC) launched a careful campaign to explore how to protect tenants. The campaign culminated in a major victory this week, with leaders persuading the San Rafael City Council to not only mandate mediation between tenants and landlords when rent increases exceed 5% per year, but also to implement 'just cause' for eviction standards. San Rafael is the county seat of Marin County, one of the most expensive places to live in California, and home to 70% of Marin County renters.
Landlords and representatives from the California Apartment Association appeared in force to testify in opposition, but MOC leaders had been laying the groundwork for two years. In response to pressure from MOC leaders in 2017, the Marin Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to support a mandatory mediation program for renters, which would apply only to unincorporated areas of the County (about 8,300 renters). In 2018, the Marin Board of Supervisors passed a 'just cause' for eviction ordinance protecting tenants from sudden eviction -- again, only in unincorporated areas of Marin County. Beyond negotiating for these protections, MOC shepherded a deal between Canal neighborhood tenants and a landlord who had initially imposed a 45% rent hike over 2 months, successfully increasing the time frame to 16 months.
In response to passage of the ordinances, leader Meredith Parnell declared, "MOC is pleased that the San Rafael City Council is moving forward with these small steps to protect renters...we look forward to working with the city to ensure there is a well-resourced and multilingual community education and outreach campaign to explain these new ordinances to landlords and tenants alike.”
[Photo Credit: Adrian Rodriguez, Marin Independent Journal (top); Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative (bottom)]
San Rafael City Council Approves Renter Protections, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Voice: Protecting San Rafael Tenants Helps Prevent Homelessness, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Supervisors Improve Renter Protection With 'Just Cause' Ordinance, Marin Independent Journal [pdf] (2018)
San Rafael Canal Area Landlords, Tenants Strike Deal on Rent Hikes, Marin Independent Journal(2018)
MOC Wins Significant Step on Renter Protection, West / Southwest IAF (2017)
May 24, 2019
Against Formidable Odds, Nevadans for the Common Good Pushes Payday Lending Reforms through the State Legislature
During a three-month house meeting listening campaign and nine months of research actions and civic academies, leaders from 'Nevadans for the Common Good' (NCG) unearthed dramatic stories about payday lending entrapment, lack of housing affordability and concerns around public education.
In response last fall, NCG organized nonpartisan accountability sessions with gubernatorial candidates, including now-Governor Sisolak, in which leaders secured candidate commitments around school funding, affordable housing, and consumer protections from unlawful payday lending practices
In 2019, NCG launched a campaign generating 4,000 postcards calling on state legislators for $500 million in new state funding for public schools, and $40 million for an affordable housing tax credit program and improved payday lending enforcement across the state. NCG leaders incited an impassioned fight with the payday lending industry over Senate Bill 201, which would establish a payday lending database to track short-term, high-interest loans to better protect consumers.
In the face of formidable odds -- and an army of paid lobbyists -- NCG mobilized waves of faith and civic leaders to testify before key committees to make the case for better protections for financially vulnerable families. In March, ten leaders met with 17 legislators in one day. In April, fifty leaders filled a hearing room in support of reforms. The following month, to distinguish themselves from paid lobbyists, 50 more leaders donned white at an Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee hearing. In response to one leader's testimony about the impact of predatory lending practices, an assembly member responded, "We are tired of waiting for something to be done to protect our families and communities!"
NCG leaders succeeded in pushing Senate Bill 201 through the Senate and Assembly. The bill is now headed for Governor Sisolak's desk to be signed.
Oped: Payday Lending Measures are Common Sense for the Common Good, Nevada Independent
Payday Lending Opponents, Industry Clash in Charged Hearing Over Loan Database, Nevada Independent
May 24, 2019
Church Divinity School of the Pacific Roots Community Organizing in Curriculum, Honors Ernesto Cortes, Jr. with Degree
When CDSP sought to strengthen its formation, emphasize the importance of relational skills and develop an understanding of public life, it began a relationship with the West / Southwest IAF to incorporate community organizing in its curriculum.
The organizing class -- taught as weeklong intensive in partnership with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) -- soon became a draw for students eager to establish a theological foundation under their organizing efforts.
The partnership began in 2013 as a collaboration between the Bay Area IAF and CDSP. The course is taught by senior organizers with the IAF network who induct seminarians in the skills and practices that help communities build relational power and a common agenda for collaborative work. A CDSP faculty member teaches the theological portion of the course for those seeking a Masters of Divinity, which is designed to embed the training in a theological and ethical framework.
Says Dr. Jennifer Snow, associate professor of practical theology and director of extended learning, the course requires "thinking differently about power: building relationships with people, inviting people in to share the power with you as a leader. It's a very specific strategy about trying to reach a more just society in our particular context."
At its May commencement ceremony, CDSP recognized Ernesto Cortes with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
Commencement Ceremony Video [skip to 1:16:38 for intro of Cortes]
Blessed Are the Organizers, Crossings
CDSP Prepares Seminarians for Public Life, Episcopal News Service
Public Ministry in Practice, Episcopal News Service
May 6, 2019
ABQ Interfaith Packs Council Chambers in Support of Asylum Seekers, City Council Invests $250,000 in Humanitarian Crisis
In the face of a growing humanitarian crisis at the border, Albuquerque Interfaith has been at the forefront of a local response, mobilizing institutions to address the immediate needs of recent arrivals and building a longer-term strategy and constituency for change.
In March, when asylum seekers began to arrive in Albuquerque without advance notice, Albuquerque Interfaith leaders stepped up to the challenge. Within a month, in collaboration with Catholic Charities and the City of Albuquerque, leaders built a coalition of agencies to respond to increasing numbers of asylum seekers coming to the city.
For several months, leaders organized an operation of hundreds of volunteers who welcomed thousands of legal refugees, accepting buses filled with mostly Central American families. Upon arrival, families were greeted with sleeping accommodations, healthy meals, fresh clothing and support to get to their final destinations (in most cases on the East Coast). In April, newly-elected Governor Lujan-Grisham agreed to open up dorms at the Expo New Mexico center to families, most of which completed a multi-month journey through Mexico and would otherwise had been dropped off by the US Border Patrol on the streets of El Paso. With the help of dozens of churches and organizations, most of the refugees / asylees make their transition from Albuquerque within 3-4 days.
Alongside this charity strategy, leaders implemented a justice strategy rooted in IAF organizing practices of research action, civic academies and public action for structural change.
In May, leaders began calling for a strategy to address root causes of the asylum crisis.
After a campaign of civic academies that helped build an educated constituency around the need for public intervention, leaders packed city council chambers in support of a $250,000 appropriation to pay for asylum work in Albuquerque. 45 speakers spoke in support of the appropriation, including Catholic Archbishop John Wester and Interfaith leaders from a broad swath of religious and nonprofit institutions. Within days, leaders leveraged $100,000 from Bernalillo County to support mental health services for incoming families.
Albuquerque Interfaith is furthermore engaging US Senator Martin Heinrich, US Representative Ben Ray Lujan and US Representative Deb Haaland around conditions on the ground, with leaders already participating in delegations from New Mexico to secure federal funding to reimburse the city and county governments for local costs generated by the crisis.
Albuquerque Interfaith leaders are fully embracing their campaign rallying cry: "With charity, our faith demands justice."
[Photo Credits: Top - Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal; Bottom - Greg Sorber, Albuquerque Journal]
County to Provide Psychological Support to Asylum Seekers, Albuquerque Journal [pdf]
Oped: Leaders Should Address Root Causes of Caravans, Albuquerque Journal [pdf]
Oped: Compassion for Asylees Lost in Border Debate, Albuquerque Journal [pdf]
Expo NM Will Open Dorms to Asylum Seekers, Albuquerque Journal
April 17, 2019
New Study Says IAF Workforce Strategy Creates Largest, Sustained Earnings Impact in Nation
Since 1992, IAF labor market intermediaries have put low-income workers into high-paying careers in health care, technology and trades. The Economic Mobility Corporation recently released a 14-year “gold standard” randomized control test of San Antonio’s Project QUEST, the flagship labor market intermediary for the IAF.
Study authors assert that “Project QUEST has demonstrated the largest, sustained earnings impacts ever found in a rigorous evaluation of a workforce development program. These findings provide conclusive evidence that investing in the skills of low-income workers not only can make a difference, it can move families out of poverty into the middle class.”
Inspired by the success of Project Quest in San Antonio, IAF leaders have established an additional nine projects in the West and Southwest US: Capital IDEA in Austin; Project ARRIBA in El Paso; VIDA in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; JobPath in Tucson; NOVA in Northeast Louisiana, Skills-Quest in Dallas; Capital IDEA-Houston; Project IOWA and Arizona Career Pathways. In 2014, DuPage County United launched its own labor market intermediary, Career Connect Metro West.
Collectively, these institutions have trained and placed tens of thousands of adults in living wage jobs which pay, on average, $40,000 annually plus benefits and a career path. This number is expected to grow as the West / Southwest IAF expands this strategy further.
In photos at right, trainees learn to cradle a newborn and conduct PERRLA evaluations at Project QUEST in San Antonio. [Photo Credit: Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News]
Nine Year Gains: Project QUEST's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility Corporation (2019)
San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled into Middle Class, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Not All Programs Fade: New Report on Project QUEST RCT Shows Sizable None-Year Earnings Gains for Low-Income Workers, Straight Talk on Evidence [pdf]
March 25, 2019
AMOS Raises Millions for City Improvements in Des Moines, Iowa
In a 2018 summer house meeting campaign involving more then 500 families embedded in Des Moines schools, churches and nonprofits, AMOS leaders asked, "What matters enough to you, your family, and your community that you would raise your own taxes to see it happen?”
The stories heard in these meetings, and the leaders who emerged from them, formed an agenda AMOS took to the city manager and city council last Fall, asking them to include these items in an upcoming local option sales tax vote. In December, AMOS celebrated when the city council passed a spending resolution for the tax measure that included five key AMOS priorities and agreed to endorse the measure and get out the vote. For two months, AMOS leaders held civic academies, phone banked, signed up hundreds of people up to vote, and gave rides to the polls on Election Day.
On March 5th, more than 70% of Des Moines voters voted YES on Measure A, the one-cent local option sales tax measure in the city of Des Moines. Turnout for the election was 20% higher than a similar effort last year that did not include AMOS priorities, and the margin of support for the measure was 30% higher this year than in previous years. AMOS worked with a diverse coalition of organizations who endorsed the measure, including AARP, the Central Iowa Taxpayers Association and the Firefighters Union.
The results are particularly impressive considering efforts by a Koch Brothers-funded group to torpedo the measure with negative campaigning.
Because of AMOS:
- Libraries in Des Moines will expand the number of days they are open from 5 days per week to 6 days per week, while the Downtown and Franklin branches will open 7;
- 4-6 new Rental Inspectors will be hired to improve rental housing conditions;
- 150 dilapidated and abandoned homes will be torn down or renovated each year across the city, a ten-fold increase over the 5-15 homes the city is able to address now.
- Des Moines will help fund the creation of mental health crisis services for children, with a commitment from the Mayor and other public officials to get these services up and running by June 30, 2020.
The one-cent tax will also enable the city to maintain 13 firefighter positions, speed up the building of a new fire station on the northeast side of Des Moines, and make critical investments to improve streets, sidewalks, and sewers.
As if that were not enough, on February 25th, the city council approved funding to install lights on the basketball courts at Evelyn K Davis Park — another AMOS priority.
March 21, 2019
COPS/Metro Leverages $1 Million in Local Dollars for Displacement Mitigation
200 leaders of COPS/Metro, accompanied by Catholic Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, descended upon San Antonio City Council chambers with a simple message delivered by Maria Tijerina: "We don't want a study. We want action."
A study on displacement in San Antonio was scheduled to begin in 2020, but COPS/Metro leaders are calling for immediate action to prevent the direct and indirect displacement of neighbors. Said García-Siller, “They have lived simply, and with pride, in their homes, which have belonged in their families for decades.” He noted that the city gives incentives — tax rebates and fee waivers — to developers while homeowners who improve their own homes see their taxes rise.
Tijerina argued that rather than conduct a study on the root causes of displacement, the city should consider COPS/Metro’s own recommendations (detailed in a recently published oped) which include increasing owner-occupied rehabilitation in vulnerable neighborhoods; a city-coordinated homestead exemption and property tax freeze and deferrals for residents older than 65; tax abatements for homeowners and land preservation for affordable housing.
Immediately at stake was a $1 Million fund to help displaced and vulnerable residents. After its unanimously passage, COPS/Metro leaders called it "a good start."
COPS/Metro leaders plan to engage Mayor Ron Nirenberg on further displacement prevention at an accountability session April 7th.
[Top Photo Credit: Ben Olivo, San Antonio Heron; Bottom Photo Credit: Iris Dimmick, Rivard Report]
San Antonio Nearing $1 Million Policy for Low-Income Families Facing Rising Housing Costs, Eviction, San Antonio Express-News
City Considers Fast-Tracking Housing Displacement Prevention Policy, Rivard Report [pdf]
March 21, 2019
COPS/Metro Credited with Rise in Alamo Colleges Wage Floor to $15 Per Hour
Five years after COPS/Metro's first wage win, the San Antonio Express-News is crediting the organization with the most recent wage floor hike at Alamo Colleges to $15 per hour.
"The COPS/Metro Alliance, a community organizing coalition, has for years pushed local public entities to adopt a minimum 'living wage' of $15 hourly as part of a national movement. The Alamo Colleges had already raised its minimum wage, along with the City of San Antonio, Bexar County and some public school districts, with the stated intent of moving gradually toward the $15 goal. The city and county reached $15 last fall."
In photo top left, taken in 2014, over 300 COPS/Metro leaders publicly launched a "living wage and economic security" campaign to raise the living standards of public employees. In 2014, in top photo at right, a St. Alphonsus Catholic parishioners tells a reporter that her daughter, a full-time Alamo Colleges employee, earned only $8.50 / hour without benefits or vacation. In bottom photos, Alamo Colleges workers Jose Rodriguez and Jennifer Wilgen describe the impact of the wage raise.
The $15/hour minimum represents a 30% increase over the previous wage floor. Alamo College representatives argue that raising the wage floor “supports the economic and social mobility of the families of the lowest paid members of the Alamo Colleges District workforce and the persistence of a growing body of students” employed part-time at the colleges.
This position is consistent with what COPS/Metro leaders have argued for years.
[Photo Credits: Top left and bottom photos by Bob Owen, San Antonio Express-News; top right photo by Rafael Paz Parra]
Alamo Colleges, Other San Antonio Employers, Embrace 'Living Wage', San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
Alamo College Trustees Raise Hourly Minimum Wage to $15, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
March 12, 2019
COPS/Metro Parents Secure Playground for Beacon Hill Academy Students
One year after a 200-person assembly in which COPS/Metro parent and community leaders called for the demolition of a crumbling building that made the Beacon Hill Academy playground unsafe for its students, parents (and children) celebrated a victory.
The San Antonio City Council and Independent School District (SAISD) came to a negotiated agreement in which the building would be torn down in order to secure the playground and a new 'cultural heritage' curriculum developed for students.
“It has been such a long process, and really our kids are even happier than us,” said Beacon Hill Academy parent and COPS/Metro leader Jacklyn Landaverde.
[Credit for Photo of Building: Bonnie Arbittier, Rivard Report]
Together Louisiana Leaders are Democratizing State Economic Development
New York Times Takes Notice
In one long breath, the New York Times is calling it a "David vs. Goliath story in the Louisiana capital, where a grass-roots coalition of black and white churches...and ordinary citizens have successfully democratized a system that used to dole out billions in property-tax breaks without giving the local school boards, city council and other government entities that depend on those taxes any say in the matter."
Together Baton Rouge says it's about understanding the difference between economic development and a tax giveaway. TBR leaders are building the political power to move elected officials and other community leaders toward understanding that difference.
The most recent flashpoint occurred when leaders successfully persuaded the East Baton Rouge School Board to deny a $2.9 Million tax exemption request by Exxon Mobil (for work already long completed). Within days, Exxon Mobil withdrew additional tax exemption requests they were planning to make of the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council. Combined, this resulted in $6 Million in public dollars newly available for schools and local government services, a victory that leaders deservedly celebrated.
Their celebration, however, did not come without reflection.
In front of City Hall, Together Baton Rouge leader Dianne Hanley delivered a joint statement:
That takes work and deliberation....It’s more 'contentious.'
It’s also, we believe, the most important thing we’ve done for economic development in this state in 80 years."
The road to victory was paved by a multi-year organizing effort that engaged citizens across the state in conversations about the cost of exemptions to their schools, sheriffs and parish governments. In 2016, at the urging of Together Baton Rouge, Governor John Bel Edwards signed an executive order reforming the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (IETP), to allow local tax authorities to participate in the approval process. In 2017, the TBR-initiated 'Sunshine Provision' was put in place to allow local citizens to learn when exemptions are being considered by local bodies in time for the public to weigh in on the decision.
Previously, Exxon Mobil received tax exemptions equal to more than 60% of taxable property through the 82-year old ITEP program which largely served as a rubber-stamping process for tax giveaways. Now, Exxon Mobil will be required to pay an additional $2.9 Million in school property taxes over ten years, and another $3 Million in property taxes to local government.
Public school teachers became an integral part of the strategy to fight for school funding. After the final vote was called, at close to midnight, Mary Trigg, an art teacher at Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet School exclaimed, “I am so happy. I hope this is the beginning of a new era of public funding and investing in my students.”
[Photo Credit: Heidi Sheinuk, The Advocate]
Why Louisiana Stays Poor, Together Baton Rouge [video]
MOC Protects Marin Co. Renters with 'Just Cause' Ordinance
December 18, 2018
After careful agitation by leaders of Marin Organizing Committee, the Marin County Board of Supervisors passed a 'Just Cause for Evictions' Ordinance with a unanimous vote. Leaders [in photo above] filled the County chambers in support of the ordinance which is expected to protect approximately 3,400 renters currently without protection from arbitrary eviction in Marin.
In its coverage of the meeting, and the multi-year fight, Marin Independent Journal called Marin Organizing Committee "the leading voice calling for action to address the housing crisis."
The Just Cause Ordinance was carefully crafted to provide protection to tenants without restricting landlords from acting to remove problem occupants. Evictions are permitted when tenants skip out on rent, breach rental contracts and or pose other problems.
While the ordinance is limited to protecting only tenants in unincorporatedMarin, leaders are hopeful that the data collection incorporated in the ordinance will establish important evidence about rental conditions across the County.
Marin Supervisors Improve Renter Protection With 'Just Cause' Ordinance, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Supervisors Support 'Just Cause' Rule for Evictions, Marin Independent Journal
Project QUEST Wins National $1 Million Grant for Training
December 4, 2018
Project QUEST, the nonprofit workforce development organization created more than a quarter-century ago by the COPS/Metro Alliance, has been awarded a $1 million grant that the organization says will allow it to serve more San Antonians with expanded job training programs.
The award comes from the Rockefeller Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as part of their Communities Thrive Challenge, which awarded $1 million each to 10 organizations across the nation, working to “help low-income and financially insecure people find and retain well-paid, meaningful work, achieve financial security or build economically vibrant neighborhoods.”
San Antonio’s Project QUEST wins national $1 million grant, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
With Support of One LA, Healthcare Access for Low-Income and Undocumented is Preserved and Enhanced
Medicaid Expansion Passes in Nebraska, OTOC Educates & Gets Out The Vote
With access to health care on the line for 90,000 Nebraskans, OTOC leaders worked hard to expand Medicaid for those with no health insurance. After efforts to secure enough votes to overcome a filibuster in the Nebraska Unicameral proved unsuccessful, OTOC partnered with allies in 2018 to secure a place on the November Midterm ballot for 'Initiative 427' as a way to secure Medicaid Expansion in Nebraska. On November 6, 2018, the effort succeeded.
Over the course of the year, OTOC leaders mobilized 50 individuals who secured 3,500 signatures in the effort to get the initiative on the ballot. OTOC organized 17 civic academies in Omaha congregations and public libraries to help build an educated constituency and, in efforts to educate the public, published seven Opeds, including four in the Omaha World Herald. In the final days leading to the vote, the World Herald selected OTOC to counter final arguments by a team including the former Governor, Attorney General and a member of Koch Brothers Nebraska.
Leaders testified at State hearings, leveraged commitments from winning Congressional candidates to protect Medicaid Expansion if Initiative 427 were to pass, and organized a fall accountability assembly in which all seven Unicameral candidates committed to implementing Medicaid expansion.
Initiative 427 won with a margin of 41,594 votes statewide. Counties where OTOC focused -- Douglas and Sarpy -- were critical to overcoming vote deficits elsewhere. In Douglas County, alone, 111,630 residents voted FOR Initiative 427, approximately one third of the statewide total, and far exceeding the margin of victory.
OTOC leaders are now turning their attention to implementation of Medicaid expansion, to ensure it reaches those who most need it.
Imperative That Nebraska Pass Initiative 427 and Expand Medicaid, Omaha World Herald
Medicaid for Public Health, Omaha World Herald
Texas IAF Targets 19 Hottest State, Federal Races in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio Suburbs
In a move to shift the makeup of the state legislature, Texas IAF organizations reached into suburbs surrounding Texas’ largest cities to assemble by the thousands in political, nonpartisan assemblies to help leaders wrest commitments from candidates for state and federal office. Having witnessed candidate responses to locally-developed agendas, which span from local control to Texas school finance and federal immigration reform, leaders are now mobilizing their neighbors to Get Out The Vote.
In North Dallas, for example, two thousand DAI leaders -- many from Carrollton and Farmers Branch -- invited candidates for House Districts 114, 115, 105 and 107, and Congressional District 32, to commit to investing public funds in local labor market intermediaries, crafting immigration reform that would end the separation of children from their parents at the border (and include protections for DACA youth), cracking down on predatory lending, and repealing Senate Bill 4. Hundreds more from Austin and Hayes County challenged candidates for US Congressional Districts 25 and 21, and State House Districts 47, 45 and 73 to publicly pledge support for similar priorities, including the defense of local control over municipal housing and labor policy. In Helotes, just outside of San Antonio, COPS / Metro leaders carted out boxes with thousands of postcard pledges by voters to participate in the election of US Representative for Congressional District 23, which extends to the outskirts of El Paso, and State Representative for House Districts 117 and 118. In Houston, TMO organized assemblies with candidates for US Congressional District 7 and 29; House Districts 144, 133, and 135; and Senate District 17.
Already, unpaid armies of organizational leaders have knocked on thousands of doors and called thousands more to remind supporters and voters to participate in the midterm elections. Last weekend, for example, Austin Interfaith leaders knocked on doors in three counties, four legislative districts and 2 congressional districts. This weekend, all Texas IAF organizations are making a final push -- from the pews, inside health clinics and in long-neglected neighborhoods -- to ensure the highest turnout possible in support of their agenda.
Leaders understand that targeted voter engagement efforts following accountability assemblies help advance their agenda. This year alone, local Texas IAF organizations succeeded in raising municipal wage floors in San Antonio and Austin to $15 per hour; leveraging the support of Chief of Police Art Acevedo to make Houston the first city in Texas to support a gun safety strategy; and preventing unnecessary deportations through widespread adoption of identification cards generated by parishes within the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.
Candidates Share Platform at Assembly, Austin American Statesman
Why Dallas Republicans Skipped an Interfaith Forum, Rewire.News
DAI Accountability Forum [Video]
COPS/Metro, Austin Interfaith Lift Municipal Wage Floor to $15/Hour
Four years after launching living wage campaigns in their respective cities, COPS/Metro and Austin Interfaith leaders celebrated hard won hikes in the lowest wages paid to municipal workers in both San Antonio and Austin. This week, both cities become the first in Texas to set a $15/hour wage floor for city workers. In Austin, this new standard additionally applies to contracted workers, part-time and temporary workers AND to employees of private businesses receiving economic incentives (more in next section).
Leaders also leverage increased city investments in long-term workforce development ($2.4 Million for Capital IDEA and $2.2 Million for Project QUEST) plus affordable housing (San Antonio). Bexar County announced that they, too, would pay their lowest earning employees at least $15/hour. Austin leaders successfully intervened for programs under threat of budget cuts, including PrimeTime after-school programming and parent support specialists in the Austin Independent School District.
Press Statement, COPS/Metro Alliance
Press Statement, Austin Interfaith
San Antonio Ranked Among Nation's Highest-Poverty Cities, Rivard Report
City of San Antonio boosts municipal wages (2015)
City of Austin passes 'Living Budget' and closes labor loophole (2015)
Marin Organizing Committee Shepherds Deal Between Landlord, Tenants
September 7, 2018
Despite fear of eviction, forty tenants in San Rafael, CA worked with Marin Organizing Committee (MOC) and Marin Legal Aid to fight back against a 40% rent increase that puts most of their families at risk of homelessness or displacement. After a change in ownership, rent was increased by $700 a month with only 60 days notice, from $1,900 to $2,700 by September 1st. Tenant and community leaders argued that the rapid rent hike would leave families homeless and deprive 60 schoolchildren from stability in their home lives and education.
Marin Organizing Committee called upon the landlord to negotiate with the tenants and called upon the City of San Rafael and the County of Marin to put stronger renter protections in place. San Rafael City Mayor Gary Phillips, Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, and San Rafael School Superintendent Mike Watenpaugh pledged support moving forward.
MOC ultimately shepherded a negotiated deal in which the rent increase would be phased in over 16 months (by 2020) instead of by September 1. “I’m happy with the result,” said Timoteo Maldonado, a tenant leader and father of three, “...at least it gives us time to make a plan.”
Having successfully advocated the passage of a Mandatory Mediation Ordinance in 2017, MOC is now pushing for passage of a Just Cause Eviction ordinance which would establish a set of criteria for eviction and provide stronger protections for tenants in a County with historically weak recourse for renters. Leaders plan to go to the Marin County Board of Supervisors meeting this week to support a just-cause eviction ordinance.
[Photo Credit: Alan Dep, Marin Independent Journal]
San Rafael Canal Landlords, Tenants Strike Deal on Rent Hikes, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
George Russell: Troubled Waters in San Rafael's Canal, Marin Independent Journal [jpg]
Austin Interfaith Ensures City Council Strengthens Living Wage Requirement for Taxpayer Subsidized Jobs
August 30, 2018
On the eve of Labor Day weekend, Austin Interfaith leaders celebrated the protection of living wages for all jobs subsidized by City of Austin taxpayers and applauded the Austin City Council for adopting a $15 an hour living wage floor requirement as a key feature of its expanded Economic Development Incentive Program.
Says David Guarino of All Saints Episcopal Church, “Austin Interfaith recognizes Mayor Steve Adler, City Manager Spencer Cronk and the members of the City Council for hearing and acting on our concerns.”
“Tonight, the Austin City Council has set a national standard for urban economic incentive programs by recognizing that people deserve the dignity of a living wage from employers who receive economic incentives,” Guarino.
Austin Interfaith has worked years to encourage the city to implement living wage standards for city-subsidized companies.
Support Local and Small Businesses, Austin Chronicle
TMO Leverages Commitment of First City in Texas for 'Do Not Stand Idly By' Strategy
July 27, 2018
At a gathering of 100 clergy and leaders from diverse faith communities at Congregation Beth Israel, TMO succeeded in leveraging the support of Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo, making Houston the first city in Texas to support the 'Do Not Stand Idly By' campaign for gun safety.
The ceremonial signing was preceded by remarks by Rabbi Joel Mosbacher (Metro IAF), Mr. Ernesto Cortes Jr. (West / Southwest IAF), and Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo about the pressing need for an effective strategy. Rabbi Mosbacher described the 'Do Not Stand Idly By' campaign as a market-based approach to entice gun manufacturers to develop safe(r) gun technologies that make it more difficult for stolen guns to be used and / or sold on the black market. Cortes described the importance of building lasting power through relationships and community organizing. Chief Acevedo expressed his support for the strategy, and agreed to sign on.
This win makes Houston the second major US city to sign on to the campaign, Los Angeles being the first due to efforts by One LA.
Houston Might Join Campaign for Gun Safety Focusing on Manufacturer, Houston Public Media
July 6, 2018
San Antonio Catholic Archbishop Calls for Action on Immigration
Immigration was the urgent topic when Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS took the stage at COPS/Metro's "A Cry for Justice and a Call to Action" assembly at Our Lady of the Lake University on June 18, 2018. "We live in very challenging times. Basic institutions of justice are being attacked. People are suffering needlessly," the archbishop declared to a packed auditorium. "This is a time of crisis. We have to make a decision. Do we go along with or challenge these trends?"
The assembly, which had been months in the planning, took on an air of urgency and drew a standing-room-only crowd as it coincided with a particularly tense week in the nation's debate on immigration policy. News had just broken of the Trump administration's policy of separating detained children from their parents - a policy Archbishop Gustavo strongly condemned in his speech as "immoral," "evil," and sinful," echoing similar sentiments expressed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops....
After [hearing a challenge by the Bishop and a DACA participant], faith communities caucused in small groups, then they answered... by pledging to collect 11,500 postcards to be mailed to Texas' congressional representatives in Washington. Archbishop Gustavo took the symbolic first step of signing his name on the first postcards, which will be mailed to Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn."
Archbishop Gustavo Urges Action on Immigration at COPS / Metro Assembly, Today's Catholic
June 21, 2018
Together Baton Rouge Wins Pay Hike for Teachers, Bus Drivers
After a hard fight, Together Baton Rouge and allies won a salary increase for every teacher, para-professional, bus operator or other East Baton Rouge school district employee with two or more years at the district.
According to The Advocate: "As they have at several previous meetings, employee groups — Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union and the East Baton Rouge Bus Driver’s Association — pressed once again for raises for all the district employees. The groups have joined forces with the faith-based group Together Baton Rouge to press the issue as well as to push the school system to reject all future requests from manufacturers for property tax breaks via the state’s 80-year-old Industrial Tax Exemption Program. They want the school system to use any ITEP savings to increase employees pay."
Leaders commended the school board and Superintendent Drake for this action, while acknowledging that more work remains to be done to secure salaries. In their words: "this was a big, big step."
[Photo Credit: The Advocate]
June 20, 2018
IAF Calls for Quick Reunification of 2,000+ Children with Families
[Excerpt below from Rio Grande Guardian report:]
Reaction to President Trump’s executive order on the separation of immigrant families has been swift, with most community groups and elected officials opposing the “zero tolerance” policy.
Trump made the announcement that he was changing policy on Wednesday, June 20, which was designated World Refugee Day by the United Nations. He directed the Department of Homeland Security not to separate families as they await immigration proceedings.
The Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s oldest network of Broad Based Community Organizations, with over 75 organizations throughout the United States representing hundreds of thousands of families, issued this statement:
“The Trump Administration needs to immediately stop and desist from further separation of immigrant children and their parents, quickly reunite those 2,000 family members, and begin a humane approach to border security and immigration reform. While the president may soon reverse part of this policy, it is important that the victimized children be cared for respectfully and appropriately, including inspection of the detention facilities by local clergy and health providers.”
Fr. Kevin Collins, OMI, of Valley Interfaith-IAF, and pastor of St. Eugene de Mazenod Church in Brownsville, Texas, said: “The ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy promulgated by the Attorney General and the Trump Administration is nothing short of cruel. It is un-American to separate children from their parents.” Collins is pictured [right].
Rabbi John Linder, of Valley Interfaith Project-IAF and Senior Rabbi of Temple Solel of Paradise Valley, Arizona, said:
“Forcibly taking children from their mothers and fathers, is nothing short of government-sanctioned child abuse. Where will this stop? Children in cages, tent cities. What’s next? Every elected official at the local, state, and national level must tell the administration that this brutality cannot be tolerated. The lack of political will on all sides for balanced, comprehensive immigration reform is responsible for this mess. Children are never to be used as political pawns. The Trump Administration has crossed a moral line.”
Fr. Mike Walsh of Holy Trinity Parish in Dallas, TX, with Dallas Area Interfaith-IAF, said:
“It’s stunning that we are perpetrating something so horrible for families. This is the 21st century, and our government is placing children in penned cages. We’re a better country than this.”
Maria Elena Manzo, leader with Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA), in Salinas, California, said:
“Virtually every moral voice and authority is denouncing these administrative actions. This is horrifying. What can be more sacred than the family? It is torture to take children away from their parents.”
*** *** *** *** ***
At a COPS/Metro Alliance assembly on June 18, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller called the separation of immigrant families at the border "immoral", "evil" and "sinful."
[Top Image Credit: NOWCastSA footage]
June 13, 2018
Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith Wins Battles Against Unaccountable Tax Giveaways in Caddo Parish & Beyond
Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith leaders celebrated significant progress in how Caddo-area public officials weigh decisions related to public monies and the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP).
As a result of a tenacious local effort, leaders in Caddo Parish succeeded in persuading Sheriff Steve Prator (R) to become the first elected official in the state to deny an ITEP request under the Governor's Executive Order. Caddo School Board soon followed, rejecting Inferno's ITEP request by a vote of 7-5. Even after the Caddo School Board President called a special session to reconsider Inferno's request, the board rejected the request -- again.
After Sheriff Prator rejected all ITEP applications by Calumet, the Caddo Board attorney attempted to rewrite board policy to automatically accept all ITEP applications presented. NCLI successfully defeated the motion.
The City of Shreveport eventually approved a separate ITEP request by Calumet but, after intervention by the leadership of NCLI, reduced the approval to only 31-50% of the request.
Seeing the writing on the wall, the Chamber of Commerce then attempted to present a matrix to the School Board to use as a guide when considering future requests. But NCLI was quick to respond with their own matrix, presented to the Board by Reverend Theron Jackson. The School Board eventually integrated NCLI demands into a revised matrix.
Not blind to what was going on, nearby Bossier Parish School Board and Police Jury decided to bypass the controversy and reject Calumet's ITEP request outright!
After two years of hard work on tax exemptions in Louisiana, Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith leaders are proud of their work and looking to shift their attention to other pressing issues impacting their communities.
Calumet Estimated Property Taxes, Updated
June 6, 2018
Valley Interfaith & Bishop Flores Leverage 2 Signers for DACA Discharge Petition, Target Third Congressional Rep
Less than four months after Valley Interfaith delivered 10,000 letters calling on Rio Grande Valley lawmakers to take action on DACA, US Congressional Representatives Filemon Vela (D-Brownsville) and Vicente Gonzalez (D-McAllen) announced they will sign a petition in an effort to force the House to take up immigration bills. Both said they would sign Discharge Petition #10, which will set up a "Queen of the Hill" process to consider four bills that would address the uncertain status of DACA recipients. The bill that receives the largest number of votes in support will pass.
In a statement, Vela credited his decision to "consultation with Dreamers, their parents, clergy and Bishop Daniel Flores." Valley Interfaith, with Bishop Daniel E. Flores of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, successfully lobbied the two congressmen.
Said Pastor Bill Duke, "with Reps. Vela and Gonzalez joining onto the discharge petition, we are still 3 signatures shy of the 218 needed to bring this to the floor. We are discouraged that Congressman Cuellar has maintained his stance and urge all residents who live within his district to call him and urge him to support the discharge petition. As pastor of First United Methodist Church in Mission, I call on him to support the Discharge Petition and to let democracy work!"
After thanking Valley Interfaith for keeping "a congressional solution to the DACA situation at the forefront of the local community," Catholic Bishop Daniel E. Flores acknowledged that the road ahead is very long. But he reaffirmed, "This is a commitment to our young people that they are not alone â€” to give them the opportunity to do what they want to do to share their talents for the good of the whole community....We seek a permanent solution to the limbo so many (Dreamers) are going through right now."
Pressure Grows on Cuellar to Support Discharge Petition, Rio Grande Guardian
Valley Interfaith Asking Cuellar to Sign DACA Petition, Valley Morning Star
Valley Interfaith Pushes Lawmakers to Support DACA, Valley Morning Star
Bishop Daniel E. Flores' Video Testimony, Catholic Diocese of Brownsville
May 7, 2018
North Texas Police Accept DAI-Negotiated Parish ID Cards
After passage of Senate Bill 4, according to Father Michael Forge of Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Farmers Branch, several undocumented parishioners told him that they felt unsafe going to church or taking their kids to school. One year later, his church, with the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, is making parish identification cards available to his parishioners.
Building on a groundbreaking accord between Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI) and the Police Departments of Dallas, Carrollton and Farmers Branch â€” in which the police agreed to accept parish identification cards as alternative ID â€” upwards of 1,100 parish ID cards have been issued since the campaign was launched. With some parishes requiring active membership from applicants for at least six months before issuing the card, the waiting list of submitted applications has, so far, exceeded 2,200 applicants and is expected to grow.
This joint effort with the Catholic Diocese is bringing immigrants out of the shadows and into fuller participation in congregational life. At San Diego Diego Catholic, 1,000 applicants were newly registered as members of their parish, even after years of regular church attendance. Teams of leaders identified by DAI, and trained (in Spanish) through a collaborative effort with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), help keep the cost of the parish IDs affordable for families.
Nearly 300 parishioners of San Juan Diego Catholic Church lined up by 8am on one Saturday morning to apply for a church-issued ID. Five hours later, 500 applications were filed by parish leaders and 300 cards issued that day.
Without an ID, said one parishioner, "we are scared of what could happen if we are stopped by the police." With parish ID, families are feeling a greater sense of belonging and confidence in dealing with law enforcement.
Said DAI leader, Adriana Godinez, "For us, this is a really important document. We cannot take it lightly. It's something that person is going to show to an officer."
In training sessions held this month, police departments have committed to training their officers to recognize these cards as alternative identification. Dallas County Community College has also committed to accepting the IDs, for purposes of enrolling in GED, US Citizenship and English-language classes.
According to one applicant, Antonio Coahila, "It's a bit of a relief. It's like you finally have an identity."
Why Some Parishes are Offering IDs to Undocumented Texas, Catholic News Agency
Iglesias Dan Credenciales a Indocumentados, Dallas Al DÃa
April 13, 2018
Dallas Catholic Diocese, DAI Stop Deportation of Father of Six
When Fr. Daza of Nuestra SeÃ±ora del Pilar Catholic Church heard that his parishioner, Adolfo Mejia, was in deportation proceedings, he immediately picked up the phone and called Dallas Area Interfaith.
"It's the children who suffer," said Fr. Daza.
Together with the Dallas Catholic Diocese, DAI is standing with the Mejia family -- including Adolfo's wife, Lucia, and six US-born children.
"This is not a time for isolation," said DAI organizer Socorro Perales, who went to immigration court with the mother. "This is a time to build relationships. It is not over yet."
US Citizen Kids Face the Deportation of Their Immigrant Parents, Dallas Morning News
Deportación de Padres Traumatiza a Niños, Dallas Al DÃa
April 4, 2018
AMOS-Initiated Skate Park for Youth Gets $1M Closer to Reality
Years ago, AMOS initiated conversations with families about what was needed for local youth. The answer that emerged was surprising: a large, well-developed skate park that could provide multiple outdoor recreational activities. For years, skateboarders had turned a public plaza into an ad hoc skatevpark, sometimes â€” to the consternation of police and adults â€” turning sculptures and handrails into skateboard ramps. AMOS leaders identified a location in Des Moines and leveraged resources for the park design -- which, when built, will be one of the largest in the United States.
The $3.5 Million skate park is now $1 Million closer to construction, thanks to the generosity of a local family foundation. AMOS celebrated the advance in a press conference, and expects the project to break ground in early 2019.
Des Moines Regional Skatepark is Becoming 'a Reality', Des Moines Register
Lauridsen's $1 Million Donation Lifts Skate Park Campaign, Business Record
March 12, 2018
VIDA Training Effectiveness Recognized by National Study
One of nine workforce development programs evaluated under the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE), the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA) was selected as one of the most effective programs as measured by retention, graduation and employment. Findings from the study were revealed at South Texas College's Pecan Campus and celebrated by Senator Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa and leaders from VIDA and Valley Interfaith. The study was a blind study -- essentially comparing what happened to 500 students who enrolled in VIDA and 500 students who enrolled in other programs.
VIDA is a long-term workforce development program established by Valley Interfaith and modeled after the nationally renowned Project QUEST in San Antonio. In a video produced by Valley Central , San Juanita Sanchez describes how VIDA helped her return to college after 20 years to finish her degree in social work.
VIDA: Implementation and Early Impact Report, Pathways for Advancing Careers in Education
VIDA Wins Recognition for Helping Low- Income Individuals Improve Education, Rio Grande Guardian
National Study Shows Impact of VIDA, Valley Central
March 6, 2018
NCLI Leads Second Local Rejection of Industrial Tax Break
For the first time in the history of Louisiana's Industrial Tax Exemption Program, a school board rejected an application in order to preserve public funding for its schools. Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith (NCLI) leaders and Caddo Parish teachers spoke passionately at a Caddo Parish School Board meeting, asking board members to "put the students first." As a result, the Board voted to deny exemptions from school board taxes for Inferno Manufacturing, Inc.
NCLI and Together Louisiana have worked hard to bring public accountability to tax exemptions under this program, helping make it possible for local taxing bodies to decide for themselves whether or not to forgo the public funds involved. Caddo Parish School Board joins the Caddo Parish Sheriff to become the second public entity in Louisiana to use that power judiciously.
Caddo School Board Denies Industrial Tax Exemption, Shreveport Times
February 20, 2018
NCLI Effort Leads to First Local Rejection of Industrial Tax Break
Fighting a four-front battle to better invest local public funds, Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith (NCLI) leaders recently persuaded the Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator to become the first local official in state history to use the newly-granted local authority to reject an industrial tax exemption request.
This month, three more local entities â€“ Caddo Parish, the City of Shreveport, and the Caddo Parish School Board â€“ will vote on multi-million dollar tax exemption requests, one application at a time.
Leaders called on the Caddo Economic Development Board to better invest its economic development dollars in human infrastructure (PreK-12 and long-term workforce development), as well as in systems for drainage, sewage, clean air and water.
February 14, 2018
Power of Together Baton Rouge Recognized by Business Journal
Those who had considered TBR little more than an annoyance suddenly realized it was a force with which to be reckoned. The gloves came off....
Who is Baton Rouge...and Why Has It Driven So Many in the Community Apart?, Greater Baton Rouge Business Report
January 15, 2018
Bishop Flores, Valley Interfaith Celebrate New Las Milpas Library
In the largest celebration of multiple events, Bishop Daniel E. Flores blessed the opening of a new library in Las Milpas, surrounded by Valley Interfaith leaders, children from Carmen Anaya Elementary School and other community supporters. An assembly chronicled the community-driven effort that went into changing the political culture of South Texas, reflected in the construction of the new library that leaders had fought for and won.
Three years prior, Valley Interfaith leaders signed up 1,000 new voters to a community-driven agenda that included the construction of a new library in low-income Las Milpas, the organization of a nonpartisan accountability assembly at one of the local churches and an election upset that replaced a non-responsive mayor and city commission with a slate of new officials that understood what they had to do to stay in office.
The first meeting of the new City Commission in 2015 included all of Valley Interfaith's 6-point agenda and was passed with overwhelming support. Said the then-new Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, "Valley Interfaith has a machine in place and I want to be re-elected. Let's build this library exactly how the community wants it."
The library opened in 2018 to community acclaim. City Commissioner Ramiro Caballero declared, "What VIF leaders did here in Pharr, we need you all to go out and train other citizens in other towns, cities, and county commissioner districts, and teach them to do what you did here with Pharr."
Bishop Flores to Bless New Las Milpas Library, Rio Grande Guardian
Historic Day for Las Milpas as Public Library is Officially Opened, Rio Grande Guardian
Las Milpas: A Case Study in How Civic Engagement Can Improve a Community, Rio Grande Guardian