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.