Faith in the Valley: Putting Our Faith into Action

Faith in the Valley (FITV) is a faith-based grassroots community organization in California’s Central Valley, representing over 100,000 families in Fresno, Kern, Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin Counties. Our work is led by volunteer leaders who are among the people most impacted by equity gaps and focuses on issue campaigns such as healthy air quality, restorative justice, dignity for all immigrants through just policies, and affordable housing for all. Funded in part by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Faith in the Valley empowers its members to work together to transform their communities into places of opportunity.

We believe that a different, better future is possible for the residents of the Central Valley if we work together. A future in which everyone is included, treated as sacred, has a chance to thrive and live a healthy, decent life. A future in which no one is seen as “less than” or lives in fear because of the color of their skin, their legal status, or the amount of money they earn. A future where everyone has access to good jobs, clean air, clean water, alternatives to incarceration, quality healthcare, and safe neighborhoods.

A powerful way we choose to carry out this prophetic vision is to ensure that our democratic process is accessible to the people that are the most impacted by policy decisions. The Catholic bishops of the United States encourage Catholics across our nation to engage in the political process: “The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith.” Leaders at Catholic parishes across the Central Valley are living into this holy calling! Striving to be peacemakers of our nation, and as followers of Christ, we are committed to standing up for the dignity of all and seeking the common good of our neighbors through participation in faithful citizenship and civic engagement.

Over the last few months, our leaders engaged in conversations with several political candidates* to ensure that, regardless of political lines, our future elected representatives heard what is important to us as a community of faith. We are confident that the stories shared by the thousands of previously disengaged voters will give us the power to hold our elected leaders accountable to the demands of justice and dignity for all.

Faith in the Valley leaders and community members also knocked on hundreds of doors and made phone calls to those previously disengaged voters, who have oftentimes felt marginalized and unrepresented. We educated them on important propositions around affordable housing, increase in investment for public spaces, and protection of school funding, and encouraged their communities to have their voices heard by voting on November 6th.

Here are some of the highlights and powerful testimonies of some of our leaders:

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Maura, from St. Joseph’s Church in Selma, CA, inviting her congregation to pledge to vote as a symbol of holy commitment on October 21, 2018.

 

 

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“Many of the local measures have the power to directly impact and make an immediate change if we take the time to educate our community and encourage them to vote.  I’m involved because I know what has been given to me. I may never know any of them, but I have deep gratitude for the people that advocated for the amnesty laws of 1986, and thanks to the commitment of so many people, I am now a citizen. Now it’s my turn to pay it forward.  My faith in God also grounds me. My only son had serious respiratory problems as a baby, to the point of being hospitalized. From then on, it was hard for me to sleep because I was afraid of him choking. I would sit up all night having him in my chest as I pray to God for my child. A year later, my son was diagnosed with asthma and received medication. That was an answered prayer. For all the blessings He’s given me, it’s important that I pray and step into action for others.” –Amador, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Selma, CA (left)

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“I volunteered to encourage people to vote because since I am a minor, I cannot vote. So I want to do everything in my power to try and make life better for my community, my family, and myself.” Kazzandra, Saint Anthony Mary Claret in Fresno, CA (back row, left)

 

Our efforts around the November 2018 midterm election were just one of the many issues Faith in the Valley leaders are organizing their community around. As people of faith, we will continue our commitment to our holy values by standing with the most marginalized and vulnerable in our communities.

Going Deeper!

Looking for ways to support groups like Faith in the Valley in your own community? Discover where in the country there are community groups working to address the root causes of poverty that receive funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Use the interactive map to locate and contact a local CCHD group in your area and learn how you can get involved!

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Faith in the Valley is new faith-based grassroots community organization in California’s Central Valley of 120 congregations representing over 100,000 families in Fresno, Kern, Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin Counties.

(*FITV is non-partisan and is not aligned explicitly or implicitly with any candidate or party. While FITV is working to promote civic participation including voter registration and education, we do not endorse or support candidates for office.)

 

The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering: Inspiring, eye-opening faith-in-action

This past February was my first opportunity to attend the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC. Having recently begun working at the Catholic University of America as an assistant campus minister, I took several of our students to participate in the Young Leaders Initiative. We met with over one hundred other young people from college campuses across the country, all of whom are active in works of service and justice in their particular communities. It was a time to share ideas, learn new things, and be inspired by the many speakers and participants who are working for a better world in many different fields and in all different corners of the globe.

The opening mass set the tone for the whole conference. The room was packed, and Monsignor Ray East’s energy and liveliness woke us up to the strength and beauty of a faith lived through action. Songs and readings were done in languages from the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and the room of people of all ages and races were united by a love of God and love of justice. It was impossible not be touched by the Spirit moving in that room.

Sunday evening we were honored to meet several members of Living Hope Wheelchair Association. Founded by people with spinal cord injuries, they serve others with spinal cord injuries and wheelchair-confining disabilities. They told stories of how they were founded, how they have grown, and how they have fought to overcome obstacles both external and internal. Seeing people who are physically limited have so much strength and resilience, and who have done so much for others who suffer, helped us to have a more hopeful perspective. These people were truly shining examples of positivity and solidarity in a world more and more threatened by negativity and individualism.

Throughout the conference, we heard from many different speakers and participated in different discussions about social justice issues both domestic and international. One of my students has spent a lot of time tutoring low-income students in a predominantly black school, and he was able to learn more about racial inequality in our educational systems, criminal justice systems, and even in our own Catholic Church. One of my students is a social work major, and was able to learn more about affordable housing and the homeless population in the U.S. Another one of my students, who would be leading a group of his peers to the U.S./Mexico Border the following month, was able to learn more about immigration and the struggle of Latino immigrants. Having lived the last several years in Latin America myself, I was fascinated to hear speakers from Ecuador and Brazil, and attend presentations on Colombia and Cuba. The diversity and the expertise of the speakers and presenters was fantastic.

The final day of the conference was spent on Capitol Hill, meeting with Congresspersons and staffers, and advocating for those victimized by unjust policies and systems. This was the first time I, and most of my students, had lobbied on the Hill. Armed with the knowledge gained at the conference, and our own experiences, we united our voices to call for change.  Though it may be a drop in the bucket, civic participation is the responsibility of every citizen of a democracy, and the experience has spurred us on to continue advocating.

The CSMG conference was inspiring and eye-opening. It was an opportunity for growth, both for myself and my students, and something we will not soon forget. Let us pray that it was also an experience that will continue to move us to more action and a more authentic and lively faith.

Going Deeper!

Join us for the 2019 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on Feb. 2-5. Registration is open until January 11, 2019!

Student leaders from colleges and universities and accompanying campus staff can participate in the Young Leaders Initiative (YLI) by filling out the YLI Interest form before December 12, 2018!

Harrison Hanvey

 

Harrison Hanvey is Assistant Campus Minister for Mission Trips and Community Service at The Catholic University of America.

My CCHD Internship Helped Me Respond to Christ’s Call

CCHD postGrowing up in the South Valley of Albuquerque, NM, I was blessed to have been able to incorporate my Catholic faith into everyday life due to the extensive Catholic community in my neighborhood.  My parents taught me at a very young age about Catholicism, and I practiced best as I could. As I grew up I became more involved with my parish’s youth group and Confirmation leadership team. Since beginning to pursue my masters in social work, I’ve learned that my Catholic faith and social work ethics tie had in hand, so it has become clear that my faith has drawn me towards social justice.

When I decided to apply for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) internship, I was nervous because I applied once before and to no avail, I wasn’t picked, but I still knew that it was in my best interest to try again.  In the spring of 2018, my best friend sent me the internship description, and the same day, my mom sent me the same intern job announcement that was posted in our Archdiocese’s magazine, the People of God, so it definitely felt like God was speaking to me through those around me.

As you might be able to tell, I was chosen to be the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s office of Social Justice and Respect Life’s CCHD intern, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. Through the office I am working out of, I have been able to meet and work with Pastors, priests, deacons, CCHD funded groups, community organizations, youth ministers, Confirmation teachers, Catholic school superintendents, Catholic school teachers, and many Catholic individuals and families that are a part of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.  I have made many great contacts here in the Archdiocese, and I have been able to contact these groups through email, phone call, and even local community meetings, which has given me a great step up in starting to get the word out about CCHD, the annual national collection, as well as giving informative presentations.  The topics I have been presenting on are Catholic social teaching, the two feet of love in action, sacraments and social mission, living the gospel through being disciples, an overview of CCHD, Catholic charities, and poverty awareness.

As the CCHD intern, I have been able to promote the CCHD collection and teach youth, and adults about what the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is and what it stands for, Catholic Social Teaching, and poverty awareness.  So far, I have given presentations to youth groups, youth conferences, Confirmation groups, and to adult faith formation groups.  I have seen a growing impact in the Archdiocese and a growing awareness of social justice that affects each group to whom I present.  As the CCHD collection approaches (November 17-18, 2018), I have been active in outreach and giving presentations to ensure that not only priests are aware of the collection and important work of CCHD, but Catholic parishes as a whole, including the youth, are informed and given the opportunity to could learn more about those living in poverty, as well as ways they can help if they are unable to donate to the collection.

A hope of mine as I continue my presentations and outreach to parishes, schools, and faith formation groups is to educate my fellow Catholics on why and how our faith ties hand in hand with social justice. Catholic Social teaching is the epitome of who Jesus Christ calls us to be. If I could have people understand this, I would be thankful to God for giving me a hand in molding His people to become socially aware to help those who are vulnerable and living in poverty.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has offered me a great opportunity to continue growing in my own faith and to help people learn, grow, and act in their Catholic faith so they can also become stewards and advocates for those living and overcoming poverty.  What makes my job a tad bit easier is knowing that I can rely on my fellow CCHD interns in dioceses throughout the country, as well as the resources that CCHD and USCCB provide me to ensure that my presentations and outreach are productive and are making a difference.

If I can offer one piece of advice for anyone considering being a part of CCHD, whether by becoming an intern, donating, participating in a CCHD funded group, or supporting CCHD on social media, I would say DO IT! As Pope Francis stated in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), “The poor person, when loved, ‘is esteemed as of great value’, and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest. Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation” (no. 199).

Going Deeper: 

This weekend, November 17-18,  is the CCHD Collection! Be part of the effort to break the cycle of poverty in the United States. Learn more about how to give!

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Rachel Baca is a masters of social work student currently fulfilling an internship in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s Office of Social Justice and Respect Life as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development intern.

 

Living Hope: A Voice for the Vulnerable

Noe Ramirez of Living Hope Wheelchair Association receives the Sister
Margaret Cafferty Development of Peoples Award in Houston, TX.

Noe has been a quadriplegic for more than twenty years, ever since a drunk driver knocked him off his bicycle as he rode to work in Houston. Without a trace of bitterness, he told us, “I thank God for putting me in a wheelchair.”

Despite his struggles to get help—perhaps because of them—he and nine other people with spinal cord injuries came together to address their immediate need for medical supplies. The local public health district had stopped providing catheters, adult diapers, and urine collection bags to people with irregular immigration status. At first, the members of Living Hope focused on raising funds to buy supplies for fellow wheelchair users. Then the organization began to address the root causes of marginalization and poverty for immigrant workers with disabilities.

Today Living Hope is a strong voice for the rights of both immigrants and people with disabilities.

After Hurricane Harvey devastated south Texas in August 2017, Living Hope’s network helped identify and aid people with disabilities who were stranded. Its post-hurricane work has reflected Living Hope’s consistent call to community. Without their assistance and outreach throughout the year, many people with mobility concerns would be physically and emotionally isolated. The group uses Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) funds to train quality-of-life promoters to help reintegrate people facing debilitating injuries back into the community and ultimately help them return to full participation in society.

We were honored to present our 2017 Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of Peoples Award to Living Hope Wheelchair Association in November and at this year’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. The group embodies the criteria of the award with its community-based self-help model that helps poor and low-income people improve their situations and change the structures that keep them and others in poverty.

Living Hope members are strengthened by their faith in God and help from one another to advocate for basic rights and respect for their human dignity. Because of their persistence in engaging elected and appointed officials and speaking publicly about their plight, Living Hope has won small but significant improvements to health care access, transportation, and public safety.

Living Hope is a tangible example of how the preferential option for the poor translates from concept to action.

Thank you for helping CCHD address the needs of the vulnerable and poor through its support of people like Noe.

Ralph McCloud serves as the director of the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Learn more about the work of CCHD.

Going Deeper
Learn more about Living Hope in the latest edition of the CCHD quarterly newsletter Helping People Help Themselves. Visit PovertyUSA.org to learn more about Living Hope and hundreds of community groups that receive funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Photos Courtesy of Living Hope Wheelchair Association

Remarks from Fr. Matthew O’Donnell, the 2018 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award Winner

On June 13th the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) presented the 2018 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award to Fr. Matthew O’Donnell, the pastor at St. Columbanus Parish in Chicago, IL. Fr. Matt was honored for his exemplary leadership as his parish works to address the poverty and violence in their community. To learn more about the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, please see the USCCB press releaseFr. Matt’s remarks offer reflections on the call to work for justice and peace in our communities:

Good evening to Bishop Talley, your eminences and excellencies, Ralph McCloud, and all that are gathered here this evening. Pope Francis, in reflecting on the Beatitudes in his recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, wrote “We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity, and skill. Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness” (Par. 89). These words speak deeply about the ministry I share in with the people of St. Columbanus Church on the southside of Chicago. The reflections of the Holy Father are a call to action for Christians, and all people of good will, around the world. They are more than words or reflections, for they are an invitation for each of us to grow in holiness.

My ministry is one that often makes me feel that I stand in the crossroads of life and death. This year there have been over 1,100 shootings in the city of Chicago, resulting in the deaths of nearly 200 individuals. Chicago is not alone though in facing the epidemic and sin of violence in our country. The violence in our country is not from guns alone. We know all too well the stories of our people who experience the pain and trauma from domestic violence, economic disparities, racism, unemployment and underemployment, underperforming school systems, lack of affordable housing, and the increasing hostility to the sacredness of life. The life and story of each victim of violence in our country is far more than the act of violence that either harmed them or ended their life. They are men, women, and children that come from every part of our country. They are our parishioners and neighbors, they are the people that come from our dioceses and communities, they are the ones entrusted to our pastoral care.

Stories such as these remind me daily of the great mission that Jesus Christ calls me to as I seek to live as a priest in our fractured world. We are invited to be artisans in our ministry that minister from a place of creativity to respond to the many challenges that we face. Our story, as the People of God, is one that teaches that God is love and that ultimately we are created in love, to love. It is when we live the Beatitudes we can help others to “Rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:12). How lucky we are as pastoral ministers, baptized believers, to be entrusted with the sacred ministry of listening to stories, encountering one another, and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Church’s work for peace and justice is truly a ministry of hospitality and action.

Serving as a priest in Chicago allows me to hear the stories of so many individuals that inspire me to see the beauty and the hope that is alive in my city, in our country, and in our world. At St. Columbanus, we are committed to working to eradicate poverty. In 2017, our parish’s Food Pantry distributed 2.5 million pounds of food to our neighbors in two zip codes of Chicago. Our charitable work to feed the hungry is an important ministry of our parish, but we want to do more! Last year we established a Community Service Center that has several components. One program, Project Chance, offers skills training and part-time employment in our parish. From this, we have been able to offer our first full-time position for a custodian in our church and school. We will begin GED classes this fall and we are working diligently to open a coffee shop in our neighborhood. Our coffee shop, which we plan to name Holy Grounds, will focus on economic development in our community by providing several jobs, and it will be a place of hospitality that our neighbors can use for community meetings and programming. All of this reminds me, that we must strive with even greater zeal to make disciples, build community, and inspire witness.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has been an important part of my life since 2005 when I served as the CCHD intern for the Archdiocese of Chicago. I recall visiting housing projects with Cardinal Francis George, sitting with residents at kitchen tables and listening to their stories. I remember reviewing grant applications and visiting community organizations committed to justice. I was inspired to be a part of a cohort of other young Catholics who desired to spread the message and work of CCHD as interns.

It was during my time as a CCHD intern that I discerned my vocation to the priesthood. The stories of people, the witness of priests, and the commitment of the Church in the United States to eradicate poverty allowed me to finally accept God’s invitation to explore my desire to become a priest. As a priest serving in the Black Catholic community of Chicago I am reminded daily of the important and sacred work that God calls me to. I would be nothing as a priest if it were not for the witness of faith shown to me by the people I am blessed to serve. At St. Columbanus it is part of our mission to be “an inclusive, welcoming, and loving community.” Our mission as a parish is rooted in the ministry of Jesus Christ and fortified in a spirituality that is “Authentically Black and Truly Catholic.”

I believe that a Gospel commitment to the poor can only come from authentic encounters with the poor. Such encounters require our presence and commitment to remain present with those who are hurting. This is something Cardinal Blase Cupich reminds me, and all in the Archdiocese of Chicago, of consistently. As the leader and shepherd of our local Church, he stands with the poor, even coming to St. Columbanus to distribute food to our neighbors, and calling for all of us to put in the hard work to foster stronger bonds of community. I hope the leadership I bring to my parish community is one that shows others what it means to live the Beatitudes.

Tonight, it means so much to me to be the recipient of the 2018 CCHD Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award. Cardinal Bernardin was my Archbishop growing up and his lessons on the consistent ethic of life inspire me to work harder to build a culture of life in Chicago. Cardinal Bernardin’s example is lived by so many of the Bishops gathered here this evening, and for that I am grateful. There are so many in the dioceses across our country who work tirelessly to show that every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. It is when we work together, following faithfully the call to holiness that God places upon each of our lives, that we have the power to eradicate injustice and build the Beloved Community that God desires us to be.

Thank you to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the staff of CCHD for this award. Thank you to Cardinal Blase Cupich and the Auxiliary Bishops of Chicago who support me in my ministry. Finally, thank you to the people of St. Columbanus Church who have loved me and formed me as a pastor. May we all be reminded that sowing peace all around us is holiness. Thank you.

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Fr. Matthew O’Donnell is the pastor of St. Columbanus Parish in Chicago, IL and the winner of the 2018 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award.

 

How One Worker-Owned Cooperative Offered Hope and Economic Development

When the big industry in a region closes its doors, or moves out of state or out of the country, there is justified anger, grief, and hand-wringing. Workers who depended on the jobs, checks, and benefits may have few employment alternatives.

Unemployment benefits can’t make up the lost income. The economy sags. The human toll follows.

But Opportunity Threads, a group that receives funding from the Catholic bishops through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), offers a story of hope amid such adversity.

For much of the last century the economy of western North Carolina has depended on furniture and textile industries. But when these industries closed operations in the area, local people stepped in to develop an alternative model of economic development.

Opportunity Threads is a “cut-and-sew” cooperative that employs 23 full-time workers, who in turn support at least 100 family members. Molly Hemstreet, now the general manager of Opportunity Threads, grew up in the area and taught English as a Second Language to recent immigrants. She and several community members pals identified a growing consumer interest in local, sustainable goods that support the “triple bottom line” of social, economic, and environmental benefits to a community.

Working with one used sewing machine after hours in a borrowed room, they helped start a local renaissance in micro-manufacturing. Together they turned the excess inventory of irregular socks from a local small producer into winsome stuffed animals, and introduced “up-cycling” to the area.

With grant assistance from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the U.S. Catholic bishops’ domestic, anti-poverty program, Opportunity Threads was soon established as a worker-owned business that draws on skilled un- and underemployed people in the community of Burke County, North Carolina, to create sustainable livelihoods and put a new face on textile production in the rural South.

Molly supports worker ownership because it gives people responsibility and a voice in the company and promotes dignity and respect. The long route to worker-owner may take a worker up to 18 months, but the painstaking training and vetting pays off by creating a group that works together as a balanced team. As further proof, Opportunity Threads has yet to lose an owner or “pre-member” to a vote of the worker-owners.

But that’s not all. Opportunity Threads has actively helped other suppliers and producers work together and share jobs. Molly calls it “co-opetition.” The work has developed into the Carolina Textile District, which aggregates work, screens producers, and determines who’s best for a job. Molly said the pie of the textile industry is large enough for everyone to have a piece without competing and being at each other’s throats.

In fact, so many other groups have asked Opportunity Threads how to establish a successful worker-owned model that Molly and others formed The Industrial Commons, which also got a grant from CCHD. The Industrial Commons now helps small- to mid-sized industrial firms and networks create economic opportunity for low-income workers, improve livelihoods, develop democratic workplaces, and root ownership in communities to create sustainable change.

From where I sit, that looks like a tremendously positive alternative to handwringing and despair.

Beth Griffin is a free-lance journalist with an abiding interest in social justice.

 Going Deeper

In most dioceses in the U.S., Nov. 18-19, 2017, was the national collection to support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic bishops. Nov. 19 was also the first World Day of the Poor.  Use this Poverty Map to find out about work in your part of the country that is supported by the bishops through CCHD.

Five Things You Need to Know about Poverty in America

Connor Bannon, intern for the Catholic Campaign/USCCB

If Pope Francis has taught us anything during these last four years (and I would submit that he has taught us quite a few things), it is that “poverty in the world is a scandal.”  It is a cry “in a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone.”  It is especially a scandal in a nation like the United States, which, despite possessing more than enough money to end material poverty, consistently exhibits one of the highest rates of poverty in the “developed” world.

Recently released to little fanfare, the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 report on Income and Poverty in the United States reveals that 40.6 million, or 12.7 percent, of Americans live in poverty.

After spending several days pouring over this report and its close relative, The Supplemental Poverty Measure, I’d like to share five things that you should know about poverty in the United States.

1. Family matters.

Family Matters is not just an iconic television show.  It is also an important fact about poverty in America.  The Census report reveals that 13.1 percent of families with a single male householder and 26.6 percent of families with a single female householder live in poverty, whereas only 5.1 percent of married households live in poverty.

At the same time, nearly one in five children are living in poverty. That’s 13.3 million kids. Although children only make up 23% of the U.S. population, they disproportionally represent 33% of people living in poverty.

 2. Education matters.

Education Matters is not an iconic television show.  Nevertheless, it is an important fact about poverty in America.  This year’s Census data shows that formally educated Americans are much less likely to live in poverty than Americans without formal education.  More precisely, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that, whereas 4.5 percent of people with a Bachelor’s degree or higher lived in poverty, 9.4 percent of people with only some college lived in poverty, 13.3 percent of people with only a high school diploma lived in poverty, and 24.8 percent of people without a high school diploma lived in poverty.

3. Work works, except when it doesn’t.

It has been said many times and in many ways, but the fact remains: the best anti-poverty program is a good job.  The current Census report shows that only 5.8 percent of all workers live in poverty.  That said, it also reveals a dichotomy between full-time, year-round workers (2.2 percent of whom live in poverty) and part-time, year-round workers (14.7 percent of whom live in poverty).  The best anti-poverty program is not just any job.  The best anti-poverty is a good job, which is to say a full time, year-round, job that pays a living wage. Learn more: Demanding a Living Wage

4. The safety net saves.

While it is true that the best anti-poverty program is a good job, it is also true that the social safety net saves many vulnerable men, women, and children from the grips of poverty.  In this regard, the supplemental poverty report reveals that Social Security keeps 26.1 million people, including 1 in 3 seniors, from living in poverty.  Moreover, the reports show that refundable tax credits, food stamps (i.e. SNAP), Supplemental Security Income, and housing subsidies keep a combined 18.2 million people out of poverty.  Learn more: Safeguarding and Strengthening the Social Safety Net

5. Healthcare costs.

The Census Bureau also measures the impact of select household expenses on low-income families and individuals. The Census Bureau found that an astonishing 10.5 million people were made poor because of high healthcare costs and that “medical expenses were the largest contributing cost to increasing the number of individuals in poverty.”  Achieving affordable healthcare, in other words, is not merely a matter of healthcare policy, it is an essential part of any “war on poverty.” Learn More: Making Healthcare Affordable

Learn more! Our interactive map at PovertyUSA.org now has updated statistics for your state to inform your advocacy efforts.  Additionally, the county-level view of our map highlights programs across the country doing this critical work with help from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Connor Bannon an intern for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a student at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Going Deeper!

During Poverty Awareness Month, join the U.S. Bishops, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the Catholic community in the United States in taking up Pope Francis’ challenge to live in solidarity with the poor!  Join us this January, as we reflect daily on the reality of poverty and respond with charity and justice.  Sign up to receive daily reflections in your inbox during Poverty Awareness Month.

Keeping Housing Affordable For Generation After Generation

A photo of playful parents holding sons's hands in new house. Happy and playful family are with cardboard boxes. They are in casuals.Earlier this year, Proud Ground was invited to attend the U.S. World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, CA. During this event, people from all over the world came together to discuss and brainstorm ways that they can work together to heal the many ills that exist in this world. Some of the attendees were faith leaders, and others, like the Proud Ground, were representatives of non-profits focused on social justice issues.

Unaware of what the event would fully entail, Proud Ground was quickly and thoroughly struck by the motivation and determination of the hundreds of people ready and willing to join together to help bring about social justice. For Proud Ground, specifically, this means a continued commitment to addressing the inequitable housing conditions by providing permanently affordable homeownership opportunities to those most impacted and displaced by the affordable housing crisis.

Proud Ground provides affordable homeownership opportunities to working families through its Community Land Trust model – a proven model that helps homes remain affordable for generation after generation, despite the fickle up and downs of the for-profit housing market. In the Greater Portland metropolitan area, Proud Ground has educated and counseled 340 first-time homebuyers and provided grants that reduce the down payment amounts required on homes that would otherwise have been unaffordable.

Through Proud Ground, families like Nicole and Joshua Patrick have found family stability for themselves and their son who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and needed stability in his home, school, and community. Prior to owning a home through Proud Ground, the family’s housing situation was precarious, constantly having to move from unit to unit as rental prices displaced them. With every move, the family’s overall stability was negatively impacted. Now, they receive peace of mind knowing that they can put down roots in their community.

Proud Ground also serves single-parent households like the Macfie family, who faced housing insecurity before their Proud Ground home. After years of uncertainty, Paula Macfie is now able to provide a stable home for her two daughters and has actively participated in the lives of others within her community by volunteering with local organizations and being more involved with her children at school. No matter what the family make-up, Proud Ground is committed to breaking down barriers for the families that need it most in our communities.

Proud Ground’s success goes beyond our own efforts and can be attributed to our partners and supporters – from other non-profits and grantors to individual donors and activists. For example, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development has provided indispensable support to Proud Ground throughout the years through its grant making. Anyone, no matter what their ability, has the opportunity to join philanthropists like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in supporting the organizations and good Samaritans that support our neighbors in need. There are a number of ways to give back – from contributing financially, testifying on behalf of the community at city hall, and even supporting a co-op or local Community Land Trust in your community.

Pope Francis reminds us, “Among us, who is above must be in service of the others,” and Proud Ground is committed to living up to this idea. As a result of the support of community members, faith leaders, and other organizations, we have been uniquely positioned to help others. What will you do?

Briauna McKizzie is Communications Coordinator at Proud Ground.


Going Deeper!

Learn about how the U.S. Catholic bishops are advocating for access to decent, safe and affordable housing for all.  See how community groups that receive funding from CCHD, the domestic anti-poverty program of the bishops, are working to protect basic human rights like housing.

How Can You Honor Workers? A Perspective from Austin

Our faith teachings call us, Catholics and all people of faith, to care for our neighbor and to work for justice for all. As a long-time organizer, I have worked alongside leaders to address pressures on families and improve their lives through acting on issues. We identify these issues from relational conversations, such as those that members of our communities have with each other. Then together we address them to bring change. With support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Austin Interfaith Sponsoring Committee leaders have organized to create initiatives and marshal resources that have benefited Austin-area children, families, and residents.

Austin Interfaith leaders gather at city hall to call for a living wage (2013)

One area of particular concern is ensuring that more workers have meaningful work, livable wages, and worker protections. We are taught that the dignity of the human person is tied to the dignity of work.  In Laudato Si’ no. 128, Pope Francis writes that “We were created with a vocation to work. … (and) To stop investing in people…is bad business for society.” That’s why Austin Interfaith has led the campaign in Austin to increase the city living wage floor over time to now $13.50/hour for all city workers and workers employed through contractors with the city. In addition, we’ve worked with allies to require worker protections for all construction workers on city contracted projects.

Our perspective, like that of a grandparent, is not simply on the next year or the next election cycle, but on the next generation.  In 1998, the congregations of Austin Interfaith created the Capital IDEA job training and workforce intermediary, which provides a pathway for low-income Austin residents to access new, high-paying opportunities in healthcare, technology, and manufacturing trades – jobs that provide benefits and a career path. Nearly twenty years later, over 1,400 low income adults have started new lives as nurses, sonographers, network administrators, electronic technicians, electricians, and many other careers. In 2016, Capital IDEA participants went from earning an average salary of $10,500 to an average beginning salary of almost $41,000.

An immigrant from Mexico, Elizabeth Soltero cleaned university offices overnight and cared for her young daughter during the day while her husband worked construction. They barely saw each other as a family. For three years, Capital IDEA provided tuition, fees, books, child care, and case management so Elizabeth could attend and graduate from the local community college as a network administrator. Elizabeth Soltero became Capital IDEA’s 1,000th graduate in 2012. With a specialization in information security, she now she manages a computer network for IBM, works during the day, and has bought a new house.

An even more fundamental achievement is the next generation. Through Elizabeth’s example, her daughter is well along a path to become a college graduate herself. An analysis of local school district data found that 70 percent of the children of Capital IDEA graduates go directly to college after high school – 25 percentage points higher than otherwise expected.

Capital IDEA is part of a network of model workforce programs that bring the civic, business, and public sectors together in partnership to expand opportunities for more workers to get training to qualify for jobs that can support them and their families.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we recall the contributions and sacrifices of workers that are critical to all of our lives, and call for all to work together across income levels to bring public policy and resource changes in your communities to increase opportunities of low-wage workers.

Kathleen Davis is Lead Organizer with Austin Interfaith — a broad based, nonpartisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue organization of congregations and institutions that together develop the leadership to address issues that affect the well-being of low and moderate income families in the Austin area.


Going Deeper

Read the U.S. Catholic bishops’ annual Labor Day statement here, and learn more about Catholic teaching on the dignity of work and the rights of workers here.

 

Voices Unite to Reform the Justice System

Persistent injustice, mind-boggling greed, and downright confusing twists in the legal system can wear down the strongest people. It’s almost easier to give up and give in than try to change things. But once in a while, like-minded individuals lean on one another, share their frustrations and dreams, and commit to an action plan that lifts everyone. And the plan develops and changes as the needs and strengths of the people change.

Essentially, that’s how DART was established in Florida more than 30 years ago and then became an eight-state network. Two groups of people associated with religious congregations found common ground in their shared beliefs and commitment to justice. And the Archdiocese of Miami had its shoulder to the wheel with them from the beginning. DART’s formal name is Direct Action and Research Training Center, but like your Aunt Sis and Uncle Buddy, everyone knows them by the shorter name.

The Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment (PEACE), an affiliate of DART, builds justice ministry in Polk County, FL. Members tour a drug rehabilitation clinic that PEACE helped open.

The network helps congregations form larger organizations that reflect their common interests and values as they negotiate solutions to the root causes of problems in their community. Each of the 22 DART organizations is an independent entity, but all the groups and the more than 400 diverse congregations they comprise are united by a belief in the biblical concept of justice. They also use a “bottom-up” model to identify issues, develop leaders, and figure out realistic solutions.

The DART model is based on the Scripture account of Nehemiah, who brought people and their leaders together to devise solutions to a system that impoverished the citizenry. Nehemiah insisted that the nobles, magistrates, and people be held accountable for the promises they made.

Members of St. Ann Catholic Church were part of the 2,000 Attendees at a recent Nehemiah Assembly. At this assembly local officials from the juvenile justice system learn about the problem of youth arrests and make commitments to address them.

Recently, the DART group in Florida turned its considerable attention to a disturbing trend to criminalize young children. I was shocked when Holly Holcombe, Assistant Director, told me 12,000 children were arrested in 2014 for generally minor offenses. During a tantrum, for example, a five-year-old Special Education student knocked a tissue out of a teacher’s hand. He was charged with assault.

There is, however, an alternative: civil citations. The civil citation process, as provided under state statute, would allow non-arrest restitution and diversion for non-serious offenses. “It’s not a slap on the wrist,” Holly said.

From 2010 to 2014, 5,000 children ages 5-10 years old were arrested for offenses for which they could have received a civil citation. At first, the provision could only be used once for each youth and only 38% of those eligible received citations. Through the efforts of ten Florida-based DART organizations, 52% of eligible children were diverted to civil citations without arrest in 2016, and legislation was enacted to allow children to receive up to three citations. Nonetheless, civil citations are at the discretion of local law enforcement, which results in uneven application of the provision. Holly points out that 8,000 youth who were arrested last year were eligible for the citation, but it was not applied to their cases.

Training participants enjoy lunch between workshop sessions. Here participants learn to build their justice ministry through witnessing, evaluating, and engagement.

Clearly, there is more work to be done, and DART’s work is advancing steadily. Groups like these help people surface their deeply held concerns, engage with their feet on the ground, act on the Biblical mandate to do justice, and hold public officials accountable to work for the people they serve. This is what we are called to do.

As Pope Francis said at the 2nd World Meeting of Popular Movements, “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you.”

Beth Griffin is a free-lance journalist with an abiding interest in social justice.

DART in Florida receives funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have long been vocal about restorative justice.  Read the bishops’ statement on Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice and find out what’s happening now.