The New Orleans Network had just run out of money when word came last week that $43,750 was on its way from the Gulf Coast Relief Fund of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the UU Service Committee.
The network’s four organizers coordinate the efforts of an array of social justice and community groups working in hurricane-devastated New Orleans, talking with them daily, keeping them informed about the multitude of projects to rebuild the city’s drowned neighborhoods, and providing an online calendar of relevant activities and meetings.
The network, which was organized after Hurricane Katrina to fill the need for local communication among social justice and civic groups, had two previous grants: $18,000 from the League of Young Voters and $15,000 from the Service Employees International Union. That money had just run out, said Shana Sassoon, one of the network’s organizers.
“The UUSC/UUA grant is a massive help to us,” she said. “We’ve been operating on a real shoestring, moving from one donated office to another and sometimes working in coffee shops. Now we can really set up shop and focus fully on the work we’re doing. This is important work, but it’s not very sexy to funders. It’s great to have someone like the UUSC and the UUA understand what our reality is and respond to it. The next six months is a very crucial period for setting policy for the rebuilding of New Orleans.”
The generosity of Unitarian Universalists and their congregations made the grant possible. The relief fund has raised more than $3.5 million with the goal of addressing the needs of the most disadvantaged and marginalized communities in the affected areas. Including the grant to the New Orleans Network and five others announced last week, more than $1 million has now been disbursed in a series of grants to help hurricane-impacted UU congregations rebuild their ministries and to community groups.
“It’s very inspiring work to get this money out to the people who can use it,” said the Rev. Meg Riley, chair of the relief fund’s grant-making panel. “Some of these grants are going to groups that aren’t getting a lot of other support, but they fit very well within our principles. You can feel Unitarian Universalism’s presence in these grants. People are beginning to know who we are.”
Grants approved February 21 totaled more than $300,000:
$125,000 to the Post Hurricane Katrina Advancement Project, which provides legal support to a range of community and grass-roots organizations in New Orleans that are helping their members return and rebuild in the face of evictions and demolition plans. The project has two goals—to build the Grassroots Legal Network, which will pursue legal action in support of low-income communities and communities of color, and to ensure that workers rebuilding the region are no longer exploited or discriminated against. It will interview workers, expose bad conditions, provide legal support, and document and publicize labor abuses, particularly among immigrant workers.
$63,000 to Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans, Inc., which aims to establish 13 community centers, called Beacons of Light, in low-income neighborhoods. The centers will develop neighborhood councils, provide a place for community organizing, and offer encouragement, respite, and services to residents whose lives have been disrupted. Each center will be staffed by a community organizer.
Angie Cavanaugh, the agency’s director of resource development, said that to deal with the impact of the storm the center needs to double its budget to $2 million. “We have about half that,” she said. “People have been incredibly generous but the need is so great. We’re very grateful for what Unitarian Universalists are doing for us.”
She said two of the centers should open in the next few months. “Doing this work is like slogging through mud,” she said, “but it’s important for the residents of New Orleans that we do it. And we’re grateful to have allies who help us do it.”
$60,000 to PICO-LIFT, an interfaith group, to pay an organizer in New Orleans and to provide transportation costs to meetings in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. PICO is a national network of faith-based community organizations; LIFT (Louisiana Interfaith Together) is an umbrella for six local and regional federations working in 12 cities across Louisiana. Together these organizations represent the most broad-based and diverse grassroots presence in Louisiana, and PICO is lobbying at both the state and national levels. PICO-LIFT is working to reconstruct PICO ACT (All Congregations Together), its New Orleans member, as a strong voice in rebuilding the city.
$28,500 to Turkey Creek Community Initiatives, a nonprofit community development corporation engaged in the revitalization of the Turkey Creek community and watershed at Gulfport, Miss. Turkey Creek, which was devastated by Katrina, was founded by a group of freed slaves after the Civil War. Most residents are descendants of these freemen, and many still reside in homes built in the Reconstruction era. This grant is to help TCCI recruit staff, develop strategy, and work with neighboring communities in rebuilding.
$10,000 to the Neighborhood Math Project, sponsor of an intergenerational community grief ritual held last week in Audubon Park in New Orleans. The ritual, supported by various religious, mental health, and cultural groups in New Orleans, was facilitated by Sobonfu Somé, an African spiritual healer, author and teacher who has worked with groups across North America and Europe. The math project provides help with math learning, especially for African-American children, and works in more general ways to improve the lives of children, families, the community.
- Continuing Coverage: Hurricane Katrina. News about the impact of last year's hurricanes on Unitarian Universalists and their congregations, reported by UU World writers.
- UUA Responses and Resources. Links to official statements, UU Trauma Response Ministry resources, and information about grants for Gulf Coast relief. (UUA.org)
- Make a Donation to the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund. Donations will provide disaster relief to marginalized people through Unitarian Universalist ministries in the region affected by Hurricane Katrina. (UUA.org)