UUA-UUSC fund supports antiracism training and rebuilding projects.
Two grants totaling $130,000 were awarded November 27 to organizations on the Gulf Coast by the Unitarian Universalist Association-UU Service Committee Gulf Coast Relief Fund Panel.
The panel awarded $100,000 to the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, a group of organizers and educators based in New Orleans who are dedicated to antiracism education and organizing. The grant will help the Institute complete the rebuilding of its headquarters and reestablish regional offices where workers can provide a model of antiracism mentoring, training, advocacy and support to Katrina evacuees and community groups.
The second grant of $30,000 went to the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center in Phoenix, La., a community that was under 14 feet of water after the levees broke. The center was founded by members of the Zion Travelers Baptist Church in Phoenix when they returned to their homes and found no government support or help for their community. They organized themselves into a community-based relief and recovery organization that has become a dynamic force in the region. They have a commitment from one organization to provide volunteer labor to rebuild 100 homes in three communities including Phoenix. The Gulf Coast Panel funds will be used to support a construction manager through the Cooperative Center.
“Zion is doing amazing work,” said Martha Thompson, the UU Service Committee’s program manager for Human Rights in Emergencies and Disasters. “It’s a shining beacon of hope down there. It has mobilized many resources in its small town and now it is sharing them with other communities.”
She explained that Zion got an architect to work with the community to make a plan for a house that would cost $36,000 in materials. The owner has to put in a foundation, and volunteer labor will be used to build the house. Zion also started a tool distribution and lending center funded by the Gulf Coast Fund and is working on a computer center for kids.
For more on the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center and the rebuilding efforts in Phoenix, see the related story, “Tyrone Edwards leads his town back to life,” below.
Grants from the fund have helped returning residents have a visible presence in their communities, said Thompson, and a voice in the rebuilding process. The fund helped pay for the equipping and staffing of community centers where people could get information and support. Grants from the fund also made it possible for one group to bring professional community planners into low-income neighborhoods and even to meet with displaced residents in places like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio so all residents would have a voice in the restoration of their communities.
As people returned to the Gulf Coast, the fund began to address the growing human rights violations against the thousands of undocumented, immigrant, and guest workers who had come into the region, said Thompson. “And now many groups are taking a serious look at the lack of government response and are beginning to focus on how to better impact policy.”
Below are some of the gains made by organizations the fund has supported:
The Gulf Coast Relief Fund raised more than $3.5 million after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Approximately $2.35 million has been spent and $1.1 million remains.
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.
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