New Orleans service and learning center, founded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, is closing at the end of November.
The front doors of CELSJR in New Orleans. (Courtesy CELSJR)
After fourteen years of serving the greater New Orleans area, the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR) is closing its doors on November 30.
Founded by three Unitarian Universalist congregations—First UU Church of New Orleans, Community Church UU of New Orleans, and North Shore UUs in Lacombe, Louisiana—after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the center was a clearinghouse for UU volunteers from around the country who went to New Orleans to help rebuild the community. Initially focused on direct service, over time the center strengthened its partnership with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond to create transformational, anti-oppressive learning opportunities for people wanting to support the New Orleans community. The center instituted a mandatory orientation on racism and white supremacy culture for all UU volunteers, and in collaboration with the UU College of Social Justice, it began hosting weeklong racial justice intensives for youth from around the country.
In recent years, as fewer people went to New Orleans for direct service volunteering, the center’s revenue slowed. Staff have been working without pay since August. CELSJR asked UUs to contribute to its Burn the Debt campaign. After staff have been paid, the remainder of funds raised will go toward paying the center’s debts.
“Based on my experiences among the UU community, racial justice continues to be a place of discomfort for our faith,” Ruth S. Idakula, who resigned as executive director effective September 30, told UU World. “We have a huge amount of work that we need to do internally as individuals and as congregations/organizations.”
“I want to lift up Quo Vadis Gex-Breaux, the first director of CELSJR, and the Rev. Deanna Vandiver, the second director, for the hard work they did before I arrived,” Idakula said. “I also want to lift up my current colleagues, Coleen Murphy, Martha Sarfaty, and Gahiji Barrow for being a true team and for their dedication to our mission.”
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.
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