Learn Strategies to End the Federal Budget Sequester

Our social safety net is designed to serve as a trampoline of resilience that can elevate families out of poverty. It is meant to support basic public health, housing, nutrition, and education needs that give families the stability to actively contribute to society. Yet, with the federal budget sequester in place, that safety net is developing some significant holes in it. Those holes will get bigger each year if Congress fails to craft a Faithful Budget that reverses the sequester and works for the 100 percent.

Wednesday, October 2 from 2:00-3:00pm ET, join West Virginia Council of Churches Director Rev. Jeff Allen and Coalition on Human Needs Director Deborah Weinstein for a conference call about organizing, lobbying, research-sharing, and media tactics you can use at the national and state levels to advocate for an end to the federal budget sequester. You’ll also get time to share what is happening in your community and ask questions.

The call-in number is: 877-885-3221. The Passcode is: 7889131#

This call is closed to the press.

Sequester conference call

Honor Our Fathers By Telling Their Stories

FathersThis Father’s Day, the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative is joining with Equal Voice News in honoring fathers who are creating positive change and fighting poverty in their homes and communities.

Please send in your story to NCC Poverty Initiative Director Shantha Ready Alonso at info@nccendpoverty.org.  We’ll feature all the stories I receive on the NCC Poverty Initiative blog and post them to social media with prayer requests. All stories received by Wednesday, June 12 will be submitted to Equal Voice News for their consideration to feature on their online newspaper.

In your email to info@nccendpoverty.org, please include:

Your name:

Name of nominated father:

Home city:

Organization (if applicable):

What issue(s) is this dad involved with?

Why are you nominating him?

Please attach a photo of him.

With Father’s Day around the corner, let’s be faithful to our call to honor our fathers. Please take a moment to share a gift of recognition, prayer, and encouragement from a nation-wide community.

Poverty News Round-Up 5/10/13

The top news stories in poverty for the week. Let us know in the comments if you think we missed something worth sharing.

1. The National Alliance to End Homelessness is out with a new report that shows there are 633,782 homeless people in the United States, essentially unchanged from last year. The number of homeless people in families did, however, rise to 239,403 (1.4% increase), which is an estimated additional 3,251 homeless children. Homelessness was done among veterans (7.2% decrease) and the chronically homeless (6.8%) in part thanks to policies targeting those populations. Of those who were homeless, 38.4% did not have any form of housing that was “meant for human habitation.”

Read the report; Read a summary from the blog Poverty and Policy

2. The New America Foundation is also out with a new report, this one on college education. In recent years, colleges have shifted increasingly to marketing towards the rich and attempting to draw wealthy students through both merit aid and increasingly expensive and luxurious housing and student life.

Read the report; Read a summary from wonkblog

3. In the wake of the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 800, retailers are becoming more open about their supply chains. The New York Times reports, “…a group of major retailers and apparel companies, including some — like Nike and Walmart — with a history of controversial manufacturing practices overseas, says it is developing an index that will include labor, social and environmental measures.

“New research indicates a growing consumer demand for information about how and where goods are produced. A study last year by professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard showed that some consumers — even those who were focused on discount prices — were not only willing to pay more, but actually did pay more, for clothes that carried signs about fair-labor practices.”

Mothers Fighting Poverty: Rhonda Case, Portland, Oregon

ImageLeading up to Mother’s Day, the NCC Poverty Initiative is sharing a series of stories lifting up, celebrating, and praying for mothers who are fighting poverty and alleviating suffering in their communities.
Prayer for Rhonda: God, thank you for expressing your love through Rhonda to women in Oregon who draw on her to discover their own resilience. Thank you for filling her heart with love of her neighbor. When times get tough, fill her with your grace and courage. Bless and strengthen her family and her work. In good times and bad, let her life overflow with the deepest joy that only You can give. Amen.
Recognized by: Karen Hessel, who says “Women in or near poverty takes on many dimensions. Those of who have had to deal with the expenses of the legal system, medical and other unprotected costs can plunge women and families into near poverty quickly regardless of education and skill levels. We are all vulnerable. Thank you for doing this project.
Rhonda Case was an educator for more than 27 years. After more than a decade of struggle with legal and safety issues of protecting her own child from serious harm, she felt “called” to act on her commitment to “bring the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence down to earth with a grassroots pilot project in Portland Oregon as a way of transforming our family’s sorrow and suffering into healing for others by working to affect urgently needed social change.”  A colleague in Oregon, whose organization won a Gloria Award in May 2012, and has now become a part of Portland” Communities Inspired to SAIV, wrote, ” You are one of those people whose entire life is a contribution to the cause!”
Rhonda Case deals with issues of child protection from abusive parents, spousal and intimate partner abuse, and all related issues both in terms of protective services and public policy and training in the faith community. Her volunteer leadership in 2012-13 led to the creation of a successful pilot project bringing together faith based and community groups for strategic prevention and healing as a goal; seeking to eradicate intimate violence by transforming the societal structures from which it arises. Rhonda has served as SAIV Liasion, building communities of mutual support for strategic collaboration through “Portland: Communities Inspired to SAIV”.   This new collaborative has formed mutual partnerships to protect the human rights of women children and other oppressed groups whose rights continue to be trampled by violence that is economic, social and personal. SAIV, Portland, offers a way of empowering those whose basic human rights have been violated through intentional connections of key community people engaged in preventing and stopping intimate violence.
Rhonda Case has become a key leader to stop intimate violence in collaboration with faith communities and related non-profits through her partnership with SAIV. She deserves affirmation for her bold leap of faith to risk all for the sake of her “call” to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with her God. We are grateful that she continues with energy, intelligence, imagination and love to reach out to those who can share in this work in ways that are effective and may possibly lead to actual employment in her new vocation (as the scarce personal resources she has garnered are tapped dry). Her resilient spirit inspire me to believe that this is indeed possible!    Happy Mother’s Day to Rhonda Case!
DVMothersDay

Mothers Fighting Poverty: Rev. Traci Blackmon of St. Louis, Missouri

ImageLeading up to Mother’s Day, the NCC Poverty Initiative is sharing a series of stories lifting up, celebrating, and praying for mothers who are fighting poverty and alleviating suffering in their communities.

Prayer for Traci: God, thank you for expressing your love through Traci to the St. Louis community in so many ways. Thank you for filling her heart with love of her neighbor. When times get tough, fill her with your grace and courage. Bless and strengthen her family and her work. In good times and bad, let her life overflow with the deepest joy that only You can give. Amen.

Recognized by: Dr. Deborah Krause and Dr. Martha Robertson, Eden Theological Seminary

Rev. Traci Blackmon is a pastor ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal church and the United Church of Christ, a licensed registered nurse, and a mother of three. She currently serves as the 18th installed and 1st woman pastor in the 156 year history of Christ the King United Church of Christ. Rev. Blackmon uses her access to the profession of health care to connect people living in poverty in St. Louis, Missouri with free access to healthcare – delivering thousands of free flu shots to different centers around St. Louis each year. (This year we offered the shots in the Eden Chapel and over 500 people were served!)

As a licensed Registered Nurse with over 25 years experience in health care, Reverend Blackmon is employed as the Coordinator of faith-based initiatives for BJC HealthCare and as a senior consultant with The Praxis Group, LLC.  Reverend Blackmon has created and facilitated capacity-building workshops on such complicated issues as racism; sexism; heterosexism; classism; interfaith dialogue; congregational grief and domestic violence.

In addition to her work in community health care, Traci’s congregation offers many resources to the families and children of St. Louis – empowerment for young women and girls, an oratory contest to inspire and challenge children, many education programs, and employment help. It is a church with a real passion for social justice.

ImageFinally, Traci is one of the organizing leaders that is bringing Magdalene House to STL which is a transitional and empowerment program to help women move out of sex work and off the streets.

Traci is an incredibly powerful leader, and is the mother of three wonderful young adults: Kortni; Harold II; and Tyler Blackmon.

Mothers Fighting Poverty: Rev. Terry Kukuk of Mexico, Missouri

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Leading up to Mother’s Day, the NCC Poverty Initiative is sharing a series of stories lifting up, celebrating, and praying for mothers who are fighting poverty and alleviating suffering in their communities.

Prayer for Terry: God, thank you for expressing your love through Terry to the children and families who are hungry in her community. Thank you for filling her heart with love of her neighbor. When times get tough, fill her with your grace and courage. Bless and strengthen her family and her work. In good times and bad, let her life overflow with the deepest joy that only You can give. Amen.

Recognized by: Brad Sheppard, Executive Director, Our House: Caring for Callaway’s Homeless

First Presbyterian Church in Mexico, Missouri has a pastor with a passion for keeping children and families free of hunger. When Rev. Terry Kukuk of Mexico, Missouri learned in the Spring of 2012 that the Buddy Backpack program (which provides food on the weekends for eligible school children) for Audrain County, MO, would be reduced substantially due to the lack of funding, she immediately organized an event that raised over $100,000 for the program. That lead her to a broader concern for hunger in Audrain County. Next, she organized a group of community leaders to launch an effort to bring a new food distribution center (food pantry or bank) to the county; that effort is now underway.

Mothers Ending Poverty: MaryBeth Stover, Marietta, Pennsylvania

Leading up to Mother’s Day, the NCC Poverty Initiative is sharing a series of stories lifting up, celebrating, and praying for mothers who are fighting poverty and alleviating suffering in their communities.

Prayer for Marybeth: God, thank you for expressing your love through MaryBeth to her family and community members seeking employment. Thank you for filling her heart with love of her neighbor. When times get tough, fill her with your grace and courage. Bless and strengthen her family and her work. In good times and bad, let her life overflow with the deepest joy that only You can give. Amen.

Recognized by: Lancaster County Council of Churches in Lancaster, PA

ImageA single mom, MaryBeth Stover worked hard to get off welfare and to overcome homelessness and poverty in her own life. Now, through her work, she is inspiring others to follow her lead.  Not only is MaryBeth a caring and devoted mother to her two children, but MaryBeth Stover inspires so many who are trying to build a better life for themselves and their families. In her current job as a career counselor to the unemployed, this bubbly and vivacious woman works with people who are experiencing the desperation and poverty she herself faced three years ago. She encourages them to persist and to hold onto their dreams. “If I can crawl out of poverty,” she often says, “you can, too.”

Only a few years ago, MaryBeth and her two children were living on public assistance in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment. At the time, she worked as a data entry clerk but her job was 14 miles from her home, and, she had no car. She depended on the one bus that came in the morning and the one that returned in the evening to get to and from home and work. But many times the bus came late, or she missed her bus connection while bringing her infant son to child care. Though her  supervisor warned her about lateness and told her she was in danger of losing her job, she saw no way to correct what she couldn’t control. No matter how early she rose in the morning she couldn’t change the bus schedule. Nor could she change her work schedule. While she knew she could lose her job, she didn’t see a solution. She didn’t have the money to buy a car, and the car she tried to borrow left her stranded and in tears.

She felt trapped until she learned about Wheels to Work, a Lancaster County Council of Churches program that sells dependable, used cars below cost to the underemployed. Through the Wheels to Work program, MaryBeth purchased a car. That first Friday night she owned her car, she drove her children the four hours to the Maryland shore. She wanted them to play in the sand, to feel the breeze, smell the salt air,  and watch the ocean waves roll onto the beach. “We arrived about midnight and went on the beach,” she recalls, with tears rolling down her cheeks. “ I didn’t have money to stay anywhere, so we all played on the beach for an hour or so. Then we drove home. We all had a wonderful time.” Having this ability to give her children a trip to the beach, even a brief one, meant the world to MaryBeth, and this beach trip also marked the beginning of a new life for MaryBeth and her family.

MaryBeth’s personality and persistence, supported by an old, reliable Toyota, has changed everything. Now a star employee, MaryBeth has received three raises. “I’m making it,” she exclaims. “I’m paying my bills. I bought a little house with a little garden out front. I love my job, because I get to see other people succeeding, too. I love being able to pay back by helping others, and I love being able to do more for my children.”

MaryBeth is a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Please join us in wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to MaryBeth Stover and to hard-working mothers everywhere.

Mothers Ending Poverty: Dawn Peters, River Rouge, Michigan

Leading up to Mother’s Day, the NCC Poverty Initiative is sharing a series of stories lifting up, celebrating, and praying for mothers who are fighting poverty and alleviating suffering in their communities.

Prayer for Dawn: God, thank you for expressing your love through Dawn to her neighbors in Flat Rock who are hungry, and to her family. Thank you for filling her heart with love of her neighbor. When times get tough, fill her with your grace and courage. Bless and strengthen her family and her work. In good times and bad, let her life overflow with the deepest joy that only You can give. Amen.Image

Recognized by Rev. Dr. Terry Gallagher and Sinclair Gallagher, United Church of Christ ministry team and founders of Sacred Conversations.

We first met Dawn and her children at the First Congregational Church in Flat Rock when we started the community meal program in 2006. 

She and her family were one of the first guests to come.  With the severe economic decline in the area, and her hours reduced driving the school bus, Dawn said coming to the weekly community meal was the only way she could ‘take her kids out to eat’. Over the years, we have seen Dawn struggle to support her family.  We were pleased to be able to provide modest assistance through the Flat Rock Community Meal and the Gibraltar Food Pantry.
When her car broke down, she would walk the 7 miles to work.  When her youngest was 1 1/2 and not walking, she took her to all the specialists available through local Medicaid resources to get the necessary help.  When she was not talking at age 3, she took her to different specialists. When her 10 year old son was diagnosed with autism, she took on that challenge simultaneously dealing with her own health issues.  As a single Mom, struggling to make ends meet, Dawn still found ways to count her blessings, and out of these blessings the means to help others. 
Dawn and her children work as part of the “Feed Da Streetz” Team in the poverty stricken neighborhoods where they live. They seek out left over produce and other food commodities and distribute them to neighbors. They have now expanded this work to include harvesting salvageable items from homes slated for demolition and again disperse these items to neighbors in need. This past Christmas, when asked what gift we might purchase for the family they asked for a power tool and some work gloves to help their salvage work provide even more items for their neighbors in need.

There is not an “It’s a Wonderful Life” movie type ending to this story. Dawn still struggles to feed, clothe and house her family everyday. Multiple health issues abound, their home still gets extremely cold in the winter, that old decrepit truck still breaks down frequently and so miles & miles need  to be walked by Mom & her kids alike.  But there is something more to this life then a fairy tale ending would provide. There is a sense of purpose & wholeness that derives it’s joy from the life action of “love of neighbor” and this one family’s actions spills over into a life example for all of us. This is the stuff of a way of life that the Gospel calls us to live.

Mothers Ending Poverty: Stephanie Krauss, St. Louis, Missouri

ImageLeading up to Mother’s Day, the NCC Poverty Initiative is sharing a series of stories lifting up, celebrating, and praying for mothers who are fighting poverty and alleviating suffering in their communities.

Prayer for Stephanie: Creator God, thank you for expressing your love to disconnected and dropout youth through Stephanie. Thank you for filling her heart with a passion for “the least of these” (Mt 25:40). When times get tough, fill her with your grace and courage. Bless and strengthen her family and her work. In good times and bad, let her life overflow with the deepest joy that only You can give. Amen.

At age 15, Stephanie Malia Krauss dropped out of high school. In her teenage years, she experienced adversity, but thank God she found support to get her GED, go to college, teach with Teach for America, and continue on to get two master degrees in Education and Social Work. Her experience of feeling lost in her teens led her to found the Shearwater High School, a college-preparatory public charter school serving disconnected and dropout youth, ages 17-21 in St. Louis, Missouri.  Inspired by her faith and her hope for a better future for other youth like her, she has raised millions in financial and in-kind contributions to the school. Now, she is president and CEO of Shearwater Education Foundation, an organization that aims to lead policy change and program design efforts that positively impact the education of disconnected youth, which includes supporting the growth and development of Shearwater High School. She serves as a member of the St. Louis Regional College Access Pipeline Project, and as an advisory board member of Preferred Family Healthcare.

Stephanie leads with confidence but also humility, ensuring the school and Foundation are focused on the students and not on a charismatic founder (although she has a gift for making fast friends!). Stephanie’s always being mindful of working to put family and faith first in spite of the demands and importance of her life’s work. She lives with her husband, Evan in St. Louis with their two young sons, Justice Hi’ilani and Harrison Drew Koali’i. Her family participates in a Mennonite community.

Recognized by: Shantha Ready Alonso, for whom Stephanie is a dear friend from social work school and a great inspiration.

Frequent Flyers Move the Hearts of Congress.

ImageMany have already begun to experience the harsh impacts of the foolish Budget Sequester that set in motion indiscriminate slashes to government funding on Friday, March 1, 2013. Budget experts said it would be very difficult to reverse the sequester, and most did not have insight into how to help the 600,000 women and young children projected to lose nutrition aid from the Women, Infants, and Children program, or the estimated 70,000 young kids projected to lose access to Head Start preschool. All we could do was keep advocating for a change of heart in Congress and to finally create our long-awaited “grand bargain” bipartisan budget deal. Some thought we’d have to wait for the second coming before that happened.

When the Sequester created furloughs for air traffic controllers who ensure flight safety, Congress received many complaints about delays from those who fly and the industries that support them. Lo and behold! Where there is a will, there is a way. The U.S. Congress speedily responded. Fight delays have been eliminated overnight. Then, they went home for a week long recess.

They went HOME?! They should have been just getting started.

Christians have long looked to Matthew 6:21 to understand the federal budget from a faith perspective: “Where your treasure lies, there will your heart be also.” Where are the hearts of Congress? Why respond with such urgency to flight delays, and leave waiting – indefinitely – the thousands for whom the sequester could mean homelessness, hunger, and family hardship. If our hearts are with “the least of these,” that is where we should invest our treasure. We have a Congress whose actions just sent our nation’s most vulnerable a message that their hardships are less of a priority than the inconvenience of light delays.

We are also a people of hope, and long before the sequester started, we said that there are faithful alternatives to sequestration. We still believe that, and we see the hope in Congress’ action, however flawed the timing and prioritization. It is not too late to reverse the sequester and pursue these faithful alternatives.

It is up to us to generate the will in Congress to make a better way forward. Tell them they must fly back from recess, fix the sequester, and set things right.

Please adapt and personalize your message to your Senators and Representative. If you or someone you know are personally impacted, it is important they know, so they can put face those who they are harming, and put you and those you care about in THEIR hearts. Ask them to reverse the sequester’s impact on the most vulnerable, and instead embrace a Faithful Budget that creates a Circle of Protection around the programs serving the most vulnerable — a budget that puts our treasure where our hearts lie.