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New York Times: Job Training Can Save 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 [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 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]


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]


Sr. Christine Stephens, CDP: December 22, 1940 - July 18, 2019

Sister Christine Stephens, CDP entered eternal life on July 18, 2019 at the age of 78. She was the younger of two daughters born to Walter Irving and Frances Louise (Bulian) Stephens. She was born December 22, 1940 in Austin, Texas and was given the Baptismal name, Mary Christine. She entered the Congregation of Divine Providence on September 7, 1962 and professed first vows as a Sister of Divine Providence on June 22, 1964. Sister Christine graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics prior to entering Our Lady of the Lake Convent. She later earned a Master of Arts in History from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

Sister Christine attributes her faith formation to her parents who set the example of perseverance and seeking justice for one’s family and community. Her father was a member of the pipe fitters union. This foundation served Sister Christine in her first seven years as a teacher, then as a social worker for eight years, and expanded and deepened when she became an organizer 45 years ago.

Sister Christine did not choose organizing as a ministry, it chose her. She was spotted by her now close friend and mentor, Ernesto Cortés, Jr., who said it was her anger that caught his attention. That was the first time she viewed her anger in a positive light. The work of justice was at the heart of her ministry and her life. Her work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was the vehicle to funnel her anger against injustice.

Sister Christine’s commitment to identifying, training and transforming leaders and organizers throughout the country worked to bring millions of dollars for water and waste water to the colonias along the Texas/New Mexico Border, instrumental in developing the Alliance School strategy that impacted hundreds of schools across the country, plus the creation of nationally renowned job training programs modeled after Project QUEST in San Antonio.

Her advocacy work during the past four decades in her various roles, as National IAF Co-Director and Supervisor of organizations across the IAF Network will be greatly missed. Her organizing career began with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) in Houston where she was a founder, followed by Lead Organizer of C.O.P.S. in San Antonio and Dallas Area Interfaith.

She enjoyed seeing ordinary leaders who worked across multi faith traditions, economic lines and race to do extraordinary things in their communities. She breathed and lived the Gospel values of justice and leaves a legacy to be continued. She had an enduring faith in the values of democracy.

She is survived by her sister Sarah Howell, and all her Sisters of Divine Providence. She is also survived by her niece Angela Duhon (William), their children, Emma and Nathaniel. She was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Frances Stephens.

The Rosary and Wake were Thursday, July 25, 2019 and Mass of Resurrection on Friday, July 26, 2019.  All services were held in Sacred Heart Chapel, next to Our Lady of the Lake Convent Center in San Antonio, Texas.

In lieu of flowers, you may make a memorial contribution to the Sisters of Divine Providence, 515 S.W. 24th Street, San Antonio, TX 78207-4619.

Tribute to Sister Christine StephensRio Grande Guardian 

Stephens was an Early COPS OrganizerSan Antonio Express-News [pdf]

Christine Stephens, COPS/Metro Alliance Leader, Remembered for her Faith, Sense of JusticeRivard Report

Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]

Sister Christine Passes AwayRio Grande Guardian 

Obituaries: 


TMO Leverages Wage Win of $14/hr for Houston School District Workers, Impacting Lowest Paid 3,000+

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]

Push for Pay Raises for HISDKHOU

HISD Board Lays Out Compensation Package for 2019-2020 School Year, FOX News

Activistas Exigen Aumento del Salario Mínimo Para Trabajadores del Distrito Escolar Independiente de HoustonUnivision  

Houston ISD Trustees Approve $1.9 Billion BudgetHouston Chronicle 

Video of clergy statements [first skip to 14:33 and then to 19:05]


COPS/Metro Urges TXDOT to Address "Deadly Curve" Near Church and School

When Lucia Hernandez (top photo above) was hit from behind by a car speeding through a blind curve, she turned to her parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Helotes, and COPS/Metro for help.  With other leaders, Hernandez organized an assembly of 170 parish and community members to discuss ways to address a blind spot on FM 1560 near her church and Helotes Elementary School.  Helotes is a rapidly growing suburban community outside San Antonio.  

At the assembly, engineers and officials from the Texas Department of Transportation were confronted by angry parishioners.  Declared Hernandez to the team of uncomfortable engineers: “There’s evidence that you’ve made a terrible mistake.  Didn’t you study those angles?” 

Other parish and community leaders weighed in, agreeing that the curve between FM 1560 and Bandera Road had become deadly due to the construction of a new wall that now obstructed drivers' view, and would only get worse when school started again in the fall.   

The Mayor of Helotes and TXDOT Advanced Planning Director pledged to work with the leadership to "refine" the traffic situation, and to meet again within three weeks.

At the follow up meeting, COPS/Metro leaders brought in their State Representative and State Senator who affirmed that funding was available.  Put on the spot, TXDOT agreed to set up temporary signs and to meet with church/organizational leaders on a monthly basis until a permanent solution was created. 

[Photo Credit: Carlos Javier Sanchez, San Antonio Express News]

Blind Curve, Intersection Worries Helotes DriversKSAT

Drivers Concerned Over 'Deadly Curve' in HelotesFOX 

Helotes Drivers Want Quick Solution to 'Free For All' IntersectionSan Antonio Express-News

Helotes Community Demands Change for "Death Curve"KENS5

Helotes Residents Demand Immediate Solutions to ‘Deadly’ IntersectionRivard Report