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Social Justice Stories Continue

POWER's Greg Jones

POWER's Greg Jones
This month we are publishing stories of congregational social justice work as a way we can inspire each other. This month we have two stories of new projects from smaller congregations. Unitarian Universalist Church of Utica, New York

Our Social Action Committee came up with a program called "Project Up & Out" that has exciting potential. We will be partnering with Thea Bowman House in Utica to sponsor a family for a year. The staff of Thea Bowman House is in the process of identifying a family for us and spending time with them to learn what their specific needs are . Once their needs are known, volunteers from our congregation will step up to offer support in the specific areas the family identifies such as ESOL, adult education, interview preparation, financial literacy mentoring, etc. Congregants will also contribute a set amount financially to pay for school supplies, clothes and other needs the family has throughout the year. Students from Hamilton College will be studying Project Up & Out to measure our goals and outcomes and to determine whether or not Project Up & Out is an effective and sustainable model for helping families get out of the cycle of poverty. The Youth of our congregation will be delivering updates throughout the year on Project Up & Out. If the outcome is positive, the Social Action Committee hopes to document the model to be used throughout Utica. The congregation is excited about this project and eager to make this the main focus of our Social Action work in 2015, though other initiatives will continue.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Oberlin, Ohio

We have now been in our new building over 2 years. From the beginning we have seen it as allowing us to undertake social justice projects that were not possible without a building. There are three programs that we have chosen because they fitted the space requirements and because we had special people in our congregation with the interest and skills to make the projects succeed:

POWER is a successful environmental organization started by one of our members, Cindy Frantz. Its purpose is to assess by invitation the energy use of area homes, and after assessment to work with the homeowners to increase their energy efficiency. Funding for the program was cut, and POWER was faced with firing one of their 2 employees. They appealed to OUUF for space so they could drop their office space and keep their employees. We found a small room with space for their files and for interviewing clients. We have been pleased to have them in our building.

Students at Oberlin High School have a fine LGBTQQIA group, but the students in Lorain County do not. One of our members, Nancy Boutilier, felt this was a service OUUF could provide. She volunteered to be the advisor, and, along with a few other members, formed a drop in center. It is OUUF’s Welcoming Congregation safe space called Café Q, with monthly meetings at OUUF. They had their first meeting this fall, and students are beginning to drop in.

Our most ambitious project is to join with a large group of Oberlin and Lorain County churches to host homeless families under a program called Family Promise. Fourteen selected families are in the program for 60 days during which they have skills training at a central site and look for housing. The job of each church is to give a week several times a year providing the families meals and a place to sleep. The children are bussed to their own schools. Our first week is December 28 to January 4. Although OUUF is a small group, and a number of us are out of town for the holidays, we have managed to fill all 56 slots with the help of some friends. We are fortunate that the Oberlin Methodist Church is our partner, and they are providing the breakfasts and lunches as well as large quantities of equipment and supplies.