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 Stephens, Rio Grande Guardian
Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Sister Christine Passes Away, Rio Grande Guardian
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]
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]
Helotes Drivers Want Quick Solution to 'Free For All' Intersection, San Antonio Express-News
This summer will mark one year since the Catholic Diocese of Dallas outlined official requirements for parish identification cards, which would be made available to parishioners who lack access to state-issued IDs. Since then, 20 Catholic parishes have embraced the strategy, organizing teams of lay leaders to help screen applicants and issue the parish identification cards according to Diocesan standards. Parish IDs are now accepted by four police departments in North Texas: Carrollton, Dallas, Farmers Branch and Mesquite. Acceptance by these police departments was negotiated in 2017 in collaboration with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Rev. Jesus Belmontes attest that the IDs have brought relief to a vulnerable community. The acceptance of these cards by the police communicates that "they want to protect us rather than harm us. This is a ray of light that, little by little, has the potential to enlighten us all."
Parish IDs Bring Relief to Immigrant Community, Dallas Catholic Magazine
ID Parroquiales Traen Alivio a Comunidad Inmigrante, Revista Católica
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)
Citing a statewide affordable housing crisis, Nevadans for the Common Good threw their political weight behind a proposed tax credit program (recommended by an interim state legislative committee) as the most significant and winnable step forward to improve access to affordable housing. Leaders succeeded in pushing the bill, expected to create 2,400 affordable units over 4 years, through the state legislature. The new program is designed to encourage private housing developers to build affordable housing for low-income households, and will provide developers $10 Million per year in tax credits to do so.
NCG leaders laid the groundwork for this legislative change with a listening campaign and nine months of research actions in 2018. They organized nonpartisan accountability assemblies (photos above), secured the Governor's commitment to support this legislation, and included a call to support this legislation in their postcard campaign. Leaders furthermore testified at the legislature and met with individual legislators to remind them of their commitments.
NCG recognize that this action alone will not solve the Nevada housing crisis, but are celebrating this as an important step in the right direction.
Nevada's Affordable Housing Crisis, Nevadans for the Common Good
Against Major 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
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
Texas IAF Advances EDAP Legislation for Economically Distressed Areas & Continues Push for Restoration of ACE Funding
One month after 300 Texas IAF leaders descended on the Capitol to call for investments in human development, delegations have been visiting the Capitol daily to engage legislators around school finance, the ACE fund, payday lending and infrastructure support for economically distressed areas.
Legislative allies in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso crafted a proposed constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of bonds by the Texas Water Development Board for projects in economically distressed areas. The proposal is almost to the finish line.
With ACE funding already in the draft budget, leaders are working to restore it to its original $10 Million. When economist Marc Elliot from Economic Mobility delivered a presentation on the effectiveness of the Project QUEST job training model at the Capitol, representatives from over a dozen legislative offices attended.
The QUEST model is hailed as the hitting on a "formula with a proven track record" and Texas IAF organizations across the state have applied it in Houston, Dallas, Austin, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.
Texas ACE Fund Return on Investment, Texas IAF
Nine Year Gains: Project Quest's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility
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]
Growing up in a San Antonio in which pernicious neglect by an Anglo-controlled "Good Government League" left low-income Mexican-American neighborhoods flooded each year, Andy Sarabia helped transform the political landscape of the city and mentor generations of community leaders. In partnership with Ernesto Cortes, Sarabia not only reshaped the City, he launched COPS/Metro and the modern Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).
A civil engineer with the Kelly Airforce Base and active at Holy Family Church, Sarabia was first approached by Cortes after a pastor recommended they meet. Standing ankle deep in a front yard pool of water after recent rains, he grew agitated when Cortes asked him whether he liked standing in floodwater. Reflecting on that question, Sarabia decided that he did not like standing in floodwater and went about shifting the racial and class dynamics in San Antonio so that his family and neighbors would not have to stand in floodwater again.
“Andy was quiet and methodical, the master of checklists with an ability to systematically organize,” says Cortes. “He had a natural talent as a negotiator, to make trade-offs, to reach a deal.” Sarabia soon found himself at the epicenter of a seismic shift in local politics as Mexican-American congregations began to band together -- not to march in the streets, but for quiet engagement in parish classrooms and union halls to identify barriers that chafed at the dignity of hard-working families. Through the formation of the broad-based organization Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), Sarabia worked for the advancement of lower-income families, inducting them into a discipline of careful political research and targeted public action, and thus initiating sweeping structural changes (see Texas Monthly piece from 1977 below). Monied Anglos were fearful of the changes. Others, like bank founder Tom Frost, eventually welcomed them.
As the first president of COPS, Sarabia shaped the culture of the organization. During the 1970s, change was stirring across the nation, and a generation of young people explored local activism, party politics and candidacy for elected office. Sarabia believed in institutional change and regularly spurned invitations to run for office. He created a culture of organizing in which accountability to an institution was required and organizational leadership positions awarded to those that produced results. At the end of his two-year tenure, he continued to remain active from the sidelines -- mentoring new presidents, coaching first-time public speakers, and reminding subsequent generations of the organization's history and traditions.
“The most important thing for people to know is that none of the work was ever about him, it was about the betterment of the community, siempre para la gente,” said Linda Ledesma, Sarabia’s widow. “He was compassionate, he was caring, and he wanted justice, but he went about things his way, quietly.”
Sarabia connected the present to the past -- reminding leaders and public officials alike that it took COPS' power to establish successful programs like nationally-renowned Project Quest and the San Antonio Educational Partnership. The organization he helped establish, now COPS/Metro, has persisted as a powerhouse. This year, the San Antonio Current recognized it as the only community organization on its top ten list of power brokers.
COPS’ success led to the creation of over 30 sister organizations throughout Texas and the West / Southwest US, some of which are approaching 35+ years of age. Andy Sarabia was incredibly adroit with funders, ensuring support for expansion projects in Houston and Dallas through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
Even in retirement, Sarabia continued to work with COPS/Metro -- writing op-eds and consulting with newer organizers. Weeks ago, from his hospice bed, Andy Sarabia watched the COPS/Metro accountability assembly on a NOWCastSA livestream. As the curtain closed, he called individual leaders, congratulating them on the session and evaluating which of the candidates were most responsive to the organization's concerns. On election day, he marked his ballot from bed, urging others: "Get out the vote. I am with you in heart and spirit." Days later he died surrounded by family and friends.
That is how COPS/Metro leaders remember him: passionate about community and democracy -- and committed to the end.
*** *** ***
Services will be held Monday and Tuesday, May 13-14 at Holy Family Church at 152 Florencia Ave. on the West Side. The 5pm viewing Monday will be followed by a Rosary at 7pm. Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11am Tuesday, followed by a reception in the parish hall.
The Sarabia Family suggests that in lieu of flowers, a memorial contribution be sent to Holy Family Church (152 Florencia Ave., 78228) and COPS/Metro (1511 Saltillo Street, 78207).
[Credits: Upper right photo from COPS/Metro archives at UTSA; lower left photo by Carlos Javier Sanchez, San Antonio Express-News; other images provided by COPS/Metro. Quotes by Cortes and Ledesma first published by the Rivard Report.]
Andy Sarabia, COPS’ First President, Dies at 79, Rivard Report [pdf]
Editorial Board: A Man Who Gave Voice to Voiceless, San Antonio Express News [pdf]
Andy Sarabia, 79, Fought for San Antonio's Forsaken and Forgotten, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
The Second Battle of the Alamo, Texas Monthly (1977)
COPS Takes on City Hall, Texas Observer (1976)