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TIME: 'Trauma Doesn't Go Away by Itself'

Included in recent TIME reporting was an assembly organized by EPISO/Border Interfaith in which 300 institutional leaders gathered alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.  

At one point, the assembly intentionally broke out into small group check-ins responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?"  Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.  

In the assembly, Texas State Representative Cesar Blanco committed to working with the Texas IAF network to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools.  He also committed to developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts. 

At the urging of EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders, school officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.   

Leaders are continuing to focus public officials on a mental health response, as part of a comprehensive approach to recent shootings. 

'Trauma Doesn't Go Away By Itself.' How El Paso is Tackling Mental Health Stigma After the Walmart Mass ShootingTIME Magazine [pdf]


New York Times: Job Training Can Change Lives. See How San Antonio Does It.

[Excerpt]

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 [i.e. COPS/Metro, see comment at right] 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 Save Lives. See How San Antonio Does It.New York Times [pdf]


EPISO Leaders Rev. Matta & De Avila: We Must Not Let Fear Succeed in Creating Distrust, Hateful Fear

[Excerpt below]

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 FearEl Paso Times [pdf]


Standing Against Fear, EPISO/Border Interfaith Charts Path Moving from Grief to Action

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 ShootingEl Paso Times [pdf

Multiethnic Group Holds Vigil to Remember Victims of El Paso ShootingFOX News

What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting AftermathAmerica Magazine [pdf]


'Working Together Jackson' On the Ground in Wake of ICE Raids in Mississippi

[Excerpts below]

Likening the use of about 600 federal agents in an immigration raid carried out Wednesday in seven Mississippi chicken processing plants to an “invasion,” Bishop Joseph Kopacz, who heads the Diocese of Jackson, said some of the families affected by the action appear “traumatized.” And though about 300 of the roughly 680 people who were arrested were released on Thursday, Aug. 8, the bishop said the effects of the raids will only intensify in the coming weeks.

“This is a man-made disaster—literally,” Bishop Kopacz said. “These folks are our neighbors. They’re not criminals, the vast majority of them. They’re hard-working people.” He said he was bewildered that authorities would choose to carry out the operation as these Mississippi communities began the first day of school.

....

Chevon Chatman, who heads up Working Together Jackson, a network of community groups including Mississippi parishes, said...“The kids who were left behind on their first day of school came back to no one,” she said. “There have been some reunifications, but it’s still a work in progress. There are a significant number of children who have not been united with their parents.”

Ms. Chatman said that many companies in Mississippi count on immigrant labor....

[Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis, AP Photo]

After ICE Raids in Mississippi, Catholic Charities Prepares for Long-Term ImpactAmerica Magazine [pdf]


Standing Up to Fear, EPISO/Border Interfaith Organizes a Response Rooted in Hope

[Excerpts from America Magazine below...]

The Rev. Pablo Matta was one of a number of priests who visited El Paso hospitals in the hours after a gunman with a high-powered rifle opened fire Aug. 3 in a Walmart massacre that took 22 lives....“I saw a lot of the people that died,” Father Matta said....

“There’s a lot of grief,” [Dolores DeAvila] said. Ms. DeAvila, a leader with El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization/Border Interfaith, has spoken with many who lost loved ones in the shooting or were in the vicinity. She described the panic that ensued in nearby restaurants, including one where people hid in a walk-in cooler. “We say we’re prepared [for a mass shooting], but we’re not,” she said.

EPISO/Border Interfaith is organizing a community event on Aug. 8 at St. Paul Church, where Father Matta is pastor. In addition to fear, Ms. DeAvila said there is a lot of anger around assault weapons.

“This is a community that was attacked and they understand that,” Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest Industrial Area Foundation, a network of community organizations, said of the attack.

“There is incredible grief, and it’s starting to turn into anger. People are starting to look for someone to blame for this,” Mr. Rubio said. “The church can take part in helping to shape people’s reaction to this. Not just by having a vigil, but in a way people can create public accountability for who bears responsibility for unleashing this kind of destruction and hate.”

Mr. Rubio believes there should be an organized response supporting restrictions on assault rifles and background checks for individuals seeking to purchase firearms. “There’s a prophetic role for the church to play in this conversation,” he said. “We’re going to either proactively save people or they’re going to pay with their lives.”

What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting Aftermath, America Magazine [pdf]


Statement on the Mass Shootings in El Paso & Dayton

FIGHTING AGAINST FEAR
Our Neighborhoods, Our Strength

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.


Remembering Sr. Christine Stephens, the Organizer's Organizer

by Geoff Ripps, Texas Observer

[Excerpt below]

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:


Dallas Area Interfaith Parish Strategy 'Welcomes the Stranger' and Combats Fear

In the face of increasingly public deportation threats, DAI's parish strategy to 'welcome the stranger' has translated into an array of actions designed to combat fear and fortify relationships between individuals, families, communities and religious institutions.  Teams of parish leaders are organizing events that include citizenship screenings, Diocesan-certified parish identification cards, family health fairs (like the one in photo above) and 'Know Your Rights' sessions.   

According to Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul, the church is working to dispel fear and to build community amidst a climate that breeds isolation. 

Trump's Anti-Immigration Rhetoric is Meant to Instill Fear, Not for Enforcement, Advocates SayAmerica [pdf]


Tulsa ACTION Leaders Tackle Student Debt

[Excerpt]

Dr. Gary Sims’ story is one of dozens we have heard about student loan debt. Most of the stories come from public education teachers, social workers and other professionals who will never earn a physician’s salary.

While researching the topic of student loan debt, we have heard from people whose Social Security checks, disability checks and paychecks are being garnished. In response to stories like these and quantitative data, financial experts, economists and politicians are labeling student loan debt as a “crisis,” one that can no longer be ignored.

....

While it may seem overwhelming to think about change at the national level, there are actions that can be taken at the state and local level, and Allied Communities of Tulsa Inspiring Our Neighborhoods (ACTION) is pursuing them. Using tools of broad-based organizing, ACTION teaches members to cross lines of race, ethnicity, class and religion to challenge social injustices facing families and communities.

ACTION has developed a presentation that is being given in Tulsa congregations and universities. This presentation provides guidance on student loan debt. ACTION is also studying how debt collectors engage with consumers. Forty percent of Oklahomans have at least one debt in collections, which can range from student loan debt to credit card debt and medical debt.

As Public Funding Dipped, Student Debt SoaredNonDoc [pdf]