Funds used for affordable housing, worker protection, and youth outreach.
The Unitarian Universalist Association/UU Service Committee Gulf Coast Relief Fund made grants of more than $237,000 to seven social service groups on the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi in August and September. With these latest grants, an estimated $1.7 million has been awarded of the total $3.5 million collected by the Relief Fund.
Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans, an organization that supports affordable housing and that works to inform residents of affordable housing issues, received $45,000. This is the third grant for NHS from the Gulf Coast fund. NHS plans to expand its staff from 11 to 20, including hiring a staff person devoted to housing policy analysis, advocacy, and outreach to community organizations.
The Porch Cultural Organization has been granted $25,000 to help protect the rights of residents of New Orleans’ Seventh Ward. The Seventh Ward, located on high ground and including many historic homes, was not devastated by flooding, but the price of housing there has nearly doubled since Katrina because of real estate speculation. The Porch Cultural Organization is working to retain lower-income residents in the ward and to keep them connected. Its projects include debris collection, tree planting, summer arts camps, and a community garden.
Coastal Women for Change will receive $30,652. This new organization, based in Biloxi, Miss., addresses issues and needs of low-income women, especially women of color. Child care is a major focus. The group has also organized community meetings and is actively involved in the planning that will determine how Biloxi is rebuilt.
The Zion Travelers Cooperative Center in Plaquemines Parish of New Orleans was awarded $11,000. The center provides summer care for children and youth from hurricane-affected families. It also organized a community relief distribution center and is setting up a community tool and equipment loan center.
Interfaith Worker Justice, an organization helping to develop public policies that will prevent abuses of Gulf Coast workers by contractors, received $50,000. The organization invites religious communities to join in campaigns that will improve wages, benefits, and working conditions for workers, especially low-wage workers. The organization says that many contractors bring in undocumented workers and exploit them rather than hiring local workers.
The Fund is awarding $46,200 to the Tamb-o-rine and Fan Club of New Orleans, which is working to bring displaced youth back to the city for cultural and political events. It is providing opportunities for their voices to be heard in the reconstruction process and is helping them engage in political activism.
The Fund is giving $29,828 to the Steps Coalition, an organization formed two months ago to help more than 35 organizations that are involved in recovery efforts in Mississippi work together to overcome similar problems. It will use the money in part to launch a website, pay the salary of an executive director, and pay staff for travel throughout the affected region. Melinda Harthcock, a member of the Gulf Coast UU Church in Gulfport, Miss., recently became executive director of the group.
Harthcock said the groups that the coalition supports include those working on housing, labor, environmental, civil rights, and human rights issues. “They all had major challenges even before Katrina,” she said. “The hurricane exacerbated everything and these agencies have been struggling mightily over the past year. We realized that if we were to pool our talents, brain power, and resources we could be more effective in getting the help that we need.”
She also said there is an urgent need for volunteers who can work in areas of social justice and getting out the vote, among others.
People who would like to volunteer in either Mississippi or Louisiana can contact the Rev. Marilee Baccich or Chere Coen at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, (225) 926-2291, or uukatrina [at] bellsouth [dot] net ( uukatrina [at] bellsouth [dot] net).
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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.