Tuesday, March 23, 2010

People of faith making an IMPACT last night

Last night, the faith communities of Charlottesville gathered at University Hall to show our unity, and to press public officials to support focused solutions to assist the poorest in our community. The issues for the evening were translation services for immigrants and pre-kindergarden education.

I am proud to tell you that more than 100 members of St. Paul's came. We jammed two tiers of seats in the old basketball arena. Our turnout was probably the largest of any Protestant denomination in Charlottesville.

We were there as part of IMPACT, a coalition of 33 congregations including Christians, Jews and Muslims. IMPACT stands for "Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together." You can read more about IMPACT and its successes by clicking HERE.

The cornerstone issue this year was the lack of translation services, and how immigrants get caught in a bind particularly in the legal system.

We heard positive responses from the police chiefs of Charlottesville and Albemarle County who committed their departments to designing and implementing a language translation plan. Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said it was simply common sense so that his officers can solve crimes, control of crime scenes quickly and serve the community.

We also heard from education officials who committed to early childhood education programs and promised to report back to IMPACT in the fall about successes and failures.

In one sense, IMPACT is theater minus the drama. We fill the hall with committed people, and we generally know how the public officials will respond because volunteers from IMPACT have met with them for months to work out practical solutions.

Therein is the genius of IMPACT and its method; the public officials want to be able to stand in front of us and say "yes" and we are happy to oblige them by applauding their "yes." Our being at these large meetings is important precisely because it provides the leverage to get solutions.

The real work has gone on behind the scenes with dedicated volunteers including John Frazee and Joan Burchell from St. Paul's, and many others from other faith communities. They've exhaustively researched the issues, and the public officials know that we are standing behind them.

And make no mistake: IMPACT has had an impact in the short time its been in Charlottesville by bringing dental care to the poor, creating more affordable housing for low-income people, and extending bus lines into poor neighborhoods. None of these successes would have been possible without the faithful commitment of our congregations in finding unity on issues of common interest.

Thanks and blessings to all those who came last night.

Here is more from John Frazee about last night. He is the president of IMPACT this year, and his report has much more detail than mine:
What a great night! Highlights for me: the opening prayer by Dr. Sabri from the Islamic Society, Vickie Johnson-William's impassioned closing statement, and the Education testimony by Jeanette Wingfield with her twin 5-year-old sons in tow.

Thanks to all the nearly 150 (still figuring out the sign-in sheets) St. Paul's members at last night's Nehemiah Action. It was a great success. We got commitments from the city and county police chiefs and the county jail administrator to put an LEP (limited English proficiency) plan into place, and, on Education, the representatives from the city and county school boards agreed to our goals, which were:
- make sure 90% of the kids in city and county funded pre-school are at or below the poverty line (as measured by access to free- or reduced-fee lunch)
- track their progress from kindergarten to 3rd grade, to make sure the program's working
- put a plan in place for phased expansion of the pre-K program

Approximately 1600 people attended last night's meeting. And, for those who were there and wondering why the number of hispanics seemed low, according to an IMPACT member from Church of the Incarnation, there was a immigration scare this weekend, where word circulates that the INS is looking to step up arrests of undocumented immigrants. This person told me that, at a church service on Friday that normally draws 300 people, only 3 showed up. I can't imagine what that feels like.
Also, to read Channel 29's coverage with a link to video, click HERE.

The Daily Progress news story can be read by clicking HERE.

Top photo by Marsha Trimble; bottom photo from my telephone.

1 comment:

John said...

Thanks to all who attended last night - you are the ones who make it possible.

I'm still cross-checking the sign-in sheets, but I think St. Paul's attendance was close to 150 people last night. What a great group of people!