The 2017 recipient of the Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action is Foothills Unitarian Church of Fort Collins, CO.
Foothills Unitarian Church has partnered with numerous community organizations, living out their vision “to Unleash Courageous Love”. La Familia, the Islamic Center of Fort Collins, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the Fort Collins Interfaith Council are a few of the local organizations they have partnered with over many years. Foothills has been active in rapid response work, showing up for the people who need it most in the times they need it most. They have also developed sustained partnerships to support the survival and stability of homeless and migrant individuals and families.
While Foothills Justice ministry engages in systemic and structural change, they are rooted in a commitment to on-the-ground work and relationships. Foothills led the way, bringing local faith leaders together, to create Faith Family Hospitality(FFH). This partnership is the most long-standing of any that the Justice Ministry program has developed. FFH provides shelter, meals, and year round hospitality to families experiencing homelessness in northern Colorado. Foothills provides leadership support and hosts up to four families for one week, four times a year. From the inception of FFH through its growth and establishment as a 501(c)3, Foothills leaders have provided support and served on the steering committee. Currently, a member of Foothills serves on the Board of Directors.
Powered by spiritual connectivity and love, the justice work of Foothills is far reaching, it is local and global, individual and familial. In 2015, through One Village One Family(OVOF), Foothills was able to support a young single mother of seven. Foothills’ partnership with OVOF, a non-profit that empowers families experiencing homelessness to regain stability, secure permanent housing, and achieve self-sufficiency, began with the inception of the organization in 2014.
In addition to their involvement with OVOF, congregants of Foothills volunteer for the Street Outreach Program, serve on the Board of Directors, organize the collection of gear and resources, and are working to develop educational and training programs with Homeless Gear.
The partnerships that Foothills has developed have been authentic and rooted in love. The statement in the letter of endorsement given by David Rout and Chelsey Mandell, Directors of Homeless Gear Nation, speaks to the impact Foothills Unitarian has had in their community:
“As an organization that interfaces with hundreds of people and groups each year (in 2016, more than 1,000 unduplicated volunteers contributed well over 15,000 volunteer hours to Homeless Gear), we have been in awe of the influence of one congregation. Foothills’ ability to provide multi-level support exemplifies the power of collaboration and brings to life the unlimited possibilities to further social justice. In 2016 alone, Foothills touched thousands of lives.”
Foothills continues to reach lives through their work with La Familia. This collaboration has allowed for Foothills to tutor over 60 members of the migrant community in Fort Collins. They have provided tutoring for English language learners as well as provided general support and companionship.
These authentic relationships led to the building of a coalition of over 20 area congregations to stand in solidarity as Sanctuary Churches. Their work and relationship with the immigrant families they serve propelled the urgent response to collaborate against hate and fear through the citywide grassroots effort “This is Our House”.
Their street facing sign affirming “We love our Black, Immigrant, Muslim, GLBTQ Neighbors” is more than just welcoming and inviting, it is a pledge that the Foothills Justice Ministry has worked to uphold. The Foothills Unitarian Church Share the Plate collection has allowed their entire congregation to work together to generate resources and sustain the efforts of the many organizations named above. Foothills also provides space and facility support for little or no cost to grassroots community organizations. This in turn has led to the congregation becoming a gathering spot for community events and town hall meetings with congressional representatives. Through collaboration, love, and leadership Foothills is living the life of service.
Update: Foothills Unitarian Church became a Sanctuary congregation in October 2017. On October 22nd Ingrid Encalada Latorre took sanctuary in the church. The congregation has two funds and provides volunteers for the Interfaith Sanctuary and Accompaniment Coalition and the Emergency Immigration Fund so that can provide not just physical sanctuary but accompany people targeted by ICE and help provide legal support and community outreach.