Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Civic duty and our call to do justice

I don't think I need to remind you of the importance of voting today.

IMPACT is non-partisan.
Our civic duty calls us to vote.
Our faith calls us to do justice.

Please pray and reflect and choose the candidates you feel best represent the issues of justice on which IMPACT has been focusing. Remember, these are the leaders with whom we'll be dealing come next March and the Nehemiah Action. The wonderful, non-partisan site Charlottesville Tomorrow has voter guides available.

To refuse to participate in the shaping of our future is to give it up ... Each of us must find our work and do it. Militancy no longer means guns at high noon, if it ever did. It means actively working for change, sometimes in the absence of any surety that change is coming.

- Audre Lorde, from her book Sister Outsider

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Year of the "Unthinkable"?

The article in yesterday's Daily Progress titled "County mulls once 'unthinkable' cuts" got me thinking about the term "unthinkable."

I accept that we're in uncharted waters, economically. I also understand that the county is faced with some very difficult work in the days ahead. But proposing cuts to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund is very "thinkable," and it is one of the reasons IMPACT is so important.

We're all trying to cope with uncertainty these days, and it is certainly pushing us out of our comfort zones to contemplate job loss (our own or our neighbor's), high mortgages and rent, the increasing cost of health care. The list is long. But it's our responsibility to think - think long and hard - about what kind of world we want to create out of this fiscal ruin.

Do we want a return to the policies and attitudes that deny basic human rights of affordable shelter and reasonable access to health care, or basic services and safety, to people in Charlottesville and Albemarle County?

The possibility that we will retreat to the self-preservation bunker is very "thinkable." We need to be brave, to trust in God's abundance, and to continue to press forward to build the foundations of a community where justice is not only "thinkable," but essential.

A reminder - and this is going to be in a large font:

IMPACT Annual Assembly
Tomorrow night - October 19
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church

We'll be choosing an issue to focus on for the year, in addition to pre-school education. Please come and let your voice be heard as part of this important process!

I found this quote interesting on a number of levels:

When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why so many people are poor they call me a communist.

- Dom Helder Câmara, late archbishop of the Brazilian diocese of Olinda and Recife. Wednesday, Oct. 13 was the 10th anniversary of his death. (Source: Guardian)

See you tomorrow night!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Justice, Awareness and Memory

I was struck by the article in the Daily Progress yesterday on Charlottesville City Council's consideration of making an apology for it's former participation in the Massive Resistance pro-segregation movement 50 years ago.

This gesture has meaning. It's a position on justice. It says, "Charlottesville is a different city than it was 50 years ago. We find the actions and attitudes of the past reprehensible, and we are committed to a higher standard of justice." It's commendable.

Now, an advantage of writing about yesterday's news is seeing all the comments made by online readers. Calumny and praise in more or less equal measure. Standard stuff for the internet, I suppose. But the strong feelings elicited by this topic - recognition of past errors - reinforces my belief that the dialogue on justice must continue - respectfully, plainly, strongly.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Great News! Charlottesville Free Clinic Expansion Completed

The Charlottesville Free Clinic, which was a key player in the 2008 IMPACT issue of expanded dental care for the uninsured and under-insured, has moved into its expanded space. This is excellent news for ALL those earning between $10,000/year (for individuals) and $20,000 (for a family of four) in need of health care.

It's really great to see that we're making such progress in this important area. There's still much we can do at a national level (no further comment necessary), but for folks in Charlottesville and Albemarle County (and beyond!), this is significant.

This quote really struck me:
“[Patients] were delaying care because they couldn’t afford it and they were suffering from it. The response from local [medical personnel] in setting up the clinic and in volunteering was amazing,” said Dr. Mohan Nadkarni, whom clinic officials credit as the clinic’s founding father. “It’s really taken off, but I have mixed feelings about it. I wish it didn’t have to be here. We had no idea in 1992 that 15,000 people would be served. We thought it would be a short-term solution.”
Access to health care really is a justice issue - and I like to think we are making progress. And it's good to remember that there is still much to do:

To attain the promises of God, we need above all continuous exercise in the virtues; for however firm one’s commitment to some good may be, if it is not renewed daily, it quickly dies out.

John Trithemius
from the 'Rule', quoted in Essential Monastic Wisdom: Writings on the Contemplative Life by Hugh Feiss.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

IMPACT Listening Process for 2009/2010

The listening process for the 2010 Nehemiah Action has begun. Each congregation, through a series of house meetings, gathers input to identify a issue of justice in our community which we believe would be well served by the IMPACT method of seeking a commitment from critical stakeholders on that issue. In addition, there's time to discuss IMPACT's evolving process, successes, and opportunities for development.

This year, we're trying something new. In addition to the congregational meetings, we'll also hold interfaith meetings, where different faith communities can share ideas and gain insight into the problems affecting different populations. St. Paul's has been teamed with Evergreen Ministries and Holy Comforter Catholic Church.

I am excited about this process - introspection, action, progress, justice. The interfaith side is a welcome addition. It reinforces the connection between the individual and their faith community, the connection between all faith communities united for justice, and the connection between all of us as residents of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Here's a very nice quote:

Maybe I’m not making big changes in the world, but if I have somehow helped or encouraged somebody along the journey then I’ve done what I’m called to do.

- Sister Thea Bowman
African-American Franciscan (1937-1990)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Nehemiah Action TONIGHT @ 6:15pm at U Hall

I hope you can make it to University Hall at 6:15pm tonight, March 30, for the Nehemiah Action. Music, testimony, prayer, and a strong call for justice in housing and education.

Great prayer for today:

O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries; open my heart so that they need not be without succor; let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich ... And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.

- Alan Paton

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Survey says: Childcare is getting tough and tougher

NBC29 did a piece on survey results from a group called Smart Beginnings on child care options (Survey Results: Child Care Struggles Flow Over into the Workplace) . I was mainly struck by this comment from a respondent:
"The cost (of child care) is just too much and I can't afford it and because of that, I feel my child won't get the early education she deserves to get her ready for school!"
It's striking to me when I hear the voice of parents who need to work multiple jobs, but who understand that child care needs to be more than a pair of eyes on their child. They know that if they don't find a place that engages well with their kids, it will have a strong negative effect on their children's future.

That's a frightening dilemma. You need to work to pay for rent/mortgage, food, etc., but you know your pre-schoolers need positive, engaging care to have a better chance when they get to school. But that costs money - and the space might not be available.

Please consider coming out on Monday night at 6:15PM at U Hall. Show that you want to see better opportunities for those in our area, our friends and neighbors who work in minimum wage jobs in businesses in the city and county, who are faced with the prospect of little to no affordable housing and who worry about their children falling behind in school.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Funding priorities and IMPACT

In an article ("Reserve proposed to fund new projects") in the Daily Progress yesterday, there were a lot of numbers thrown around. There's this much in the reserve fund, that much needed for programs x, y, and z. And it's noted that the Charlottesville Housing Fund is to get $400,000 less than the previous budget.
“Whenever funds are cut, it’s saddening to our community,” said Rickey White, pastor at Union Run Baptist Church and a member of IMPACT, a local interfaith group that has been credited with affordable housing accomplishments. “But we understand the economic situation that we’re in.”
I think it's wise to move our focus away from the dollars spent on one program or another, especially this year. Not that the programs aren't important, or that the money isn't needed. But putting a number on a program is always tricky, and fluid. The question shouldn't be, "How much are we spending?" but "Are we doing enough?"

"Doing enough" includes requesting public funding, but also includes asking questions about existing programs, looking for creative solutions, creating awareness in our community, building a group of people who believe strongly enough in these issues that they won't let them go, because they understand that we won't come out of these difficult times any stronger if we don't do enough.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I'm going to post some inspiring words I've come across that I feel are relevant to IMPACT's goals and methods -  if you've already committed to coming on March 30, please send them along to a friend, neighbor, or relative who might be encouraged to join you!

"It is so important not to let ourselves off the hook or to become apathetic or cynical by telling ourselves that nothing works or makes a difference. Every day, light your small candle.... The inaction and actions of many human beings over a long time contributed to the crises our children face, and it is the action and struggle of many human beings over time that will solve them—with God's help. So every day, light your small candle."

Marian Wright Edelman
Guide My Feet

Great primer on affordable housing

Charlottesville Tomorrow has published a terrific and thorough introduction to the topic of affordable housing in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

They don't spend a huge amount of time talking specifically about those earning below 30% AMI (around $20,000/year), which is what IMPACT is focused on, but there is this powerful quote:

"... the problem of a shortage of affordable housing is more complicated than examining incomes and ensuring that an adequate number of units exist for households at each income level; it is not only people who qualify as “low income” that try to save money on housing.  Since people with higher incomes and University students look for inexpensive housing within the City and there are a limited number of affordable rental units, low-income earners have to spend a higher portion of their pay on rent in order to be competitive in the rental market.  The situation has been exacerbated by the slowdown in the housing market; as the demand for rental units grows, rental prices within the City and County are increasing while unemployment is on the rise and salaries are staying the same or decreasing."

Thanks to IMPACT efforts, some progress has been made (City budgets, joint task force), but the economic climate makes a "perfect storm" for affordable housing, particularly for low wage earners. Please come out on March 30 to support our neighbors who can't find a suitable place to live at a livable price.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

IMPACT's Issues are OUR Issues

It seems as though I can't open the paper these days without seeing how the topics IMPACT has identified as critical issues of justice have become part of the fundamental platforms of many politicians running in the upcoming elections.

First up, Dennis Rooker:

[Rooker] also said he has his eyes set on improving the county’s affordable housing system, as well as “making certain that we fund excellence in education in this county.”

Next, Dave Norris:

But Norris said the city is still not where it needs to be in terms of providing affordable living choices for its residents, though a dent has been made.

And Julian Taliaferro:

Taliaferro emphasized many of the issues elected officials have been confronted with over the past few years — such as public education, governmental efficiency and especially affordable housing and the regional water supply plan — and vowed to continue work on these matters.

It's clear that IMPACT has help shift the dialogue in a positive way - we know that there are no easy solutions for the issues facing us all, and we look forward to working with elected officials to make progress. It's good to know that the elected officials are on board and understand how important affordable housing and education are to us and to our community.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The university take on affordable housing

Brian Plum (lead organizer for IMPACT) let me know about this article by Sarah Wooten in the Cavalier Daily - "Living through the crisis".

The majority of the facts in the article have been discussed before. The most interesting comments, to me, surrounded the effect (or perceived effect) that the student population has on the amount of affordable housing available to those earning below 50% AMI (average median income).

 "University Off-Grounds Housing Manager Vicki Hawes, however, said the housing that University students predominantly live in has been rezoned as “university high density” for students.

“I don’t think it affects affordable housing available for the general population of Charlottesville,” Hawes said of the student presence in the city."

Some city residents see things differently:

"Another reason finding affordable housing is difficult, Johnson said, is the student population in the city. Students are taking up a majority of the housing in Charlottesville, she noted.
“You can get a lot of students in one apartment and they can pay it,” Johnson said."

Adding the University to the debate complicates things, so I'm glad that they took part in the conversation about the future of affordable housing (see IMPACT Behind the News). And I'm glad that the Cavalier Daily finds this issue important enough to devote a fair number of column-inches to it. I hope that many UVA students read the article and understand that housing is, fundamentally, a human rights issue - and that many many students will come out to the Nehemiah Action on March 30 to show their support for their neighbors who struggle to find a place to live.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Economic Stimulus and IMPACT

Did you happen to see the article by Rachana Dixit in the Daily Progress yesterday about the economic stimulus package? (How will stimulus package benefit region?)

I'm encouraged by the mention of both affordable housing and education, though I admit it's not clear specifically how "the region" will take advantage of money for affordable housing. And the money for education seems targeted on specific programs, which may or may not be the most pressing needs for the community.

Still, I've noticed a fair amount of coverage of affordable housing in the local media recently - people are starting to gain awareness the dire straits of the folks in the economic margins of our city and county, possibly because they're the first to suffer job losses and foreclosures in these difficult times.

On Thursday, Feb 26, the IMPACT research committees for education and affordable housing will present their status reports, as we begin to gear up for the Nehemiah Action on March 30. Whatever issues the committees have chosen, I'll be glad to be there in support. In these times of turmoil, there's no better time to come together with brothers and sisters of other faiths to shine a light of justice in our city and county. I hope to see you there!

Image courtesy of NY Times

Friday, February 13, 2009


Due to a typo and some inattention on my part, I just now noticed that there was a discrepancy in the calendar I was using for the date of the Rally - the date is not February 15 (this Sunday), it is in fact THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 26. The location and time are the same (6:30pm at Church of the Incarnation).

My sincere apologies, and I really do hope you will consider coming out for the event on the actual date that it occurs.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

'Tis the Season for IMPACT

Well, it’s getting to be that time of (the IMPACT) year again - we’re starting to ramp up for the Nehemiah Action in March, and there are a number of meetings lined up.

First, there’s a team assembly on Monday, February 9th at 7pm at Wesley Memorial United Methodist. The team assembly is an opportunity for people who are relatively new to IMPACT organizing to hear about various ways to get the word out to more folks at our congregations. For those interested in hearing more about the methodology of IMPACT, please consider attending the meeting at Wesley Memorial United Methodist at 1901 Thomson Road (across from Memorial Gym at UVA).

Next, the IMPACT Rally is going to be held on Sunday, February 15th at 6:30pm at Church of the Incarnation. Members from the 30 member congregations will gather to hear reports from the research committees on affordable housing and education. We’ll then reach out to fellow parishioners, friends, relatives, and anyone who might be interested in seeing long-term change effected in our community. It’s a great event – smaller than the Nehemiah Action, but very energetic. There’s music and testimony, and it really gets you fired up to reach out to as many people as possible for the Nehemiah Action.

Finally, the Nehemiah Action is on Sunday, March 30th at 6:15pm at U-Hall. About 2000 people attended last year, and we’re expecting to surpass that number this year. That 2000 included over 125 people from St. Paul’s, and with your help, we’ll share the experience with an even greater number of friends and family this year.

2009 is a year of changes – some welcome, some not so, but all transformative. We all know that the correct response to  the challenges we face is not “every person for themselves” but “we’re all in this together.” It’s never been more critical that we gather, as people of faith, to show our commitment to forward progress for social justice in our city, our county, our neighborhood, and our community. I hope and pray that in addition to joining me at the meeting on March 30th, you will make an effort to reach out to family, friends and neighbors and give them the opportunity to share this experience and support those in our community who are most often forgotten.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What is IMPACT?

In case you might not be fully aware of what IMPACT is or does, here's a small introduction.

"What is IMPACT?"
IMPACT (Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together) is a grassroots initiative bringing a diverse group of congregations together to live out our religious traditions' call for justice. IMPACT congregations (30 at the time of this post) range in size from 20 to 1,500 people and include predominantly black and predominantly white congregations as well as Protestant, Catholic, Unitarian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations.

More information, including our successes and some background details, are available at the Charlottesville IMPACT blog.

Gov Kaine: "If there's a slam dunk in education research, it's early investment"

There seems to be a lot of IMPACT-related issues in the news these days. Yesterday, Bryan McNeill reported in the Daily Progress on Governor Kaine's visit to Covesville Presbyterian Church (home of the Covesville Child Development Center). Gov Kaine was in the area working to increase awareness and support for a modest budget increase for early childhood education.

Stating that early childhood education was his "number one priority," Gov Kaine described the state's two-year plan to spend $75 million per year on early childhood education, which is an increase of $25 million annually. No question that is a good use of state funds, but the problem is: if the state feels they should spend money on something, it's probably a more serious issue than you think.

IMPACT's education research committee has been working very hard on crafting a solid goal for presentation at the Nehemiah Action on March 30th. At the last board meeting on January 12, Joan Burchell presented a status report for the education committee. Though they have yet to identify a specific area, through their meetings with officials and educators the committee has identified the following problem areas:

1. achievement gap
2. availability of pre-school
3. quality of child care (in terms of experience, education, and licensing)
4. social services and support for families at risk

The committee will have their goal finalized by the rally on February 15th (which is when the member congregations will gather to hear the research committee results and build momentum for the Nehemiah Action).

This is a tough time for people to focus on justice - uncertainty can certainly be paralyzing. But I would argue that this is the most important time to work on these fundamental societal problems. Remember, we're not just looking for more money, for handouts, for charity. We're reminding our leaders that, in a pinch, some are pinched harder than others, and unfairly. We're looking for solutions that will last into and beyond the much-desired economic recovery. The relationships we create, both among the member congregations and among the various experts, public officials, and issue stakeholders, are a valuable investment indeed.

So let's work on getting as many people out to this year's Nehemiah Action - the kind of investment that is low cost (one evening a year!), but which will reap immensely valuable long-term dividends.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

IMPACT Behind the News

If you read Rachana Dixit's Daily Progress article "Group: Housing affordability crisis require regional effort" in yesterday's paper, you were reading about a product of IMPACT's affordable housing task force. A result of our first Nehemiah action in 2007, we got Charlottesville city council, the Albemarle board of supervisors (BOS), and UVa's Board of Visitors to sit down together and come up with recommendations for improving the affordable housing situation in our area.

It's great that the groups universally acknowledge the pressing need for affordable housing. Given our ever-tightening budget belts, however, the challenge will be getting these programs funded. David Slutzky expresses the contradiction well:

Because of the economy, Slutzky said, “affordable housing is going to become an even more critical issue.”

It will be vital for IMPACT members to continue reminding our local officials of the need for affordable housing. There are some city council and BOS meetings coming up in early February, and we're encouraging people to come out and show their support for the task force's recommendations. I'll provide more detail on these meetings shortly.