Friday, March 19, 2010

The invisible population of Charlottesville

We've been in Charlottesville not quite two years. As a newcomer, and as a westerner, I've been struck by a population that remains largely invisible here: Latino immigrants. They live in apartment buildings behind shopping centers, and in other out-of-the-way neighborhoods.

Many work in poorly-paid service jobs, and with limited English, are often at a disadvantage when confronting the legal, health and education systems, and that can become a cruel spiral leading to deeper poverty and isolation. To put it mildly, there is a serious shortage of translation services in Charlottesville.

The faith communities of Charlottesville want to do something about that. IMPACT, a coalition of 33 congregations including St. Paul's, has made translation services the cornerstone issue for the year. It may seem like a simple issue, but it is crucial to the well-being of this disadvantaged population. On top of that, the cornerstone issue from last year -- early childhood education -- remains on the burner.

This coming Monday evening (March 22), we will gather at 6:30 pm at University Hall to hear proposals for translation services and early childhood education, and hear reaction from public officials. Our strength is in our passion, and our passion shows when we come together in large numbers. So, this Monday evening, if you are in Charlottesville, please drop what you are doing and come. This will be two hours that will change the lives of people who have very little voice in our society.

IMPACT is not the only organization working to better the lives of Latinos in Charlottesville. I've also been privileged to attend meetings of Creciendo Juntos, and you can read more about that by clicking HERE.

Here are details about IMPACT provided by John Frazee, a member of St. Paul's who is the president of IMPACT this year:
IMPACT is a coalition of 33 congregations working together to live out our religious tradition's call for justice in our community. Since 2006, we have worked for long term, meaningful improvement in the lives of all residents of the city and county.
Here are some of our successes:
* We have pushed for, and gotten, increased bus service to under-served neighborhoods. Not to mention service on Sundays, allowing thousands of riders to attend church, go to work, or otherwise lead normal lives on Sunday.
* We have advocated, and increased, the funding for and attention paid to affordable housing for those at the lowest level of income - people who are essential to the workforce of our community, but can't afford to live here, or even nearby.
* We have pressed for, and obtained, increased dental health care for those without means, lightening the burden on our emergency rooms, and improving the health of our entire community.
And this year we are working for:
* A commitment to pre-Kindergarten programs - in these difficult times, we can't neglect our future, and we must truly "leave no child behind."
* A commitment to the creation and implementation of language access plans in the local legal system - the law supports this, the community needs this. Ignoring it, or denying access, degrades the performance of the legal system as a whole.

Please consider joining us on March 22 at 6:30pm at University Hall - and PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD! Let friends, family, and neighbors know about the meeting, and that, in exchange for one evening's worth of time, they will get a stronger, more just future for our community.

1 comment:

John said...

Jim, thank you for promoting Monday night's Nehemiah Action.

There's an aspect of the IMPACT research process that is particularly relevant to the points you make about the "invisible population" - the issues we champion are generated by member congregations, and voted on by members.

Through this process, IMPACT congregants have had more and more contact with fellow members who suffer from the lack of interpretive services in the legal system.

No longer the "other," we recognize them as our brothers and sisters, and we gain strength and understanding by working towards our common goal of seeking justice.

On Monday night, we hope the "invisible population" will become a little more "visible," and will be embraced as a vital part of our city and county.