Central Texas Interfaith Launches with 320 Institutionally Embedded Delegates

Building on a successful 32-year history of broad-based organizing, Austin Interfaith officially renamed and re-founded itself as Central Texas Interfaith (CTI) with over 320 leaders from Bastrop, Comal, Hays, Travis, McLennan (Waco) and Williamson counties. 

Emerging leaders told impactful stories that informed a revised agenda of issues, and delegates from an expanded 10-county region committed to a broadened identity, fundraising goals, and GOTV strategy to promote the affirmed agenda. 

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Corridor Interfaith Expands Capital IDEA into Hays County

Leveraging $25,000 for long-term job training, Corridor Interfaith leaders from Living Word Lutheran and San Marcos Unitarian Universalism succeeded in persuading Hays County Commissioners to invest local dollars into Capital IDEA.  Once matched with state ACE funding, the investment will allow 7-10 Hays County students to train out of poverty and into middle-class careers. 

Leaders met with their Hays County representatives over several months to educate them about Capital IDEA and to advocate for the inclusion of funding in the 2020 budget.  At the final budget hearing at the commissioners' court, the request was quickly moved forward and approved!

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Civic Academy on Community Policing Engages 100 East Austin Leaders

Over 100 East Austin congregational members and officers packed the house at Holy Cross Catholic for Austin Interfaith's Community Policing Civic Academy.  The event was jointly hosted by leaders from Holy Cross, Ebenezer Baptist, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic and Mount Olive Baptist Churches. 

In this session, congregational leaders told stories, shared a brief history of community policing and broke out into small groups for conversations rooted in local experience.

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Sr. Christine Stephens, CDP: 1940 - 2019

Sister Christine Stephens, CDP entered eternal life on July 18, 2019 at the age of 78. She was the younger of two daughters born to Walter Irving and Frances Louise (Bulian) Stephens. She was born December 22, 1940 in Austin, Texas and was given the Baptismal name, Mary Christine. She entered the Congregation of Divine Providence on September 7, 1962 and professed first vows as a Sister of Divine Providence on June 22, 1964. Sister Christine graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics prior to entering Our Lady of the Lake Convent. She later earned a Master of Arts in History from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

Sister Christine attributes her faith formation to her parents who set the example of perseverance and seeking justice for one’s family and community. Her father was a member of the pipe fitters union. This foundation served Sister Christine in her first seven years as a teacher, then as a social worker for eight years, and expanded and deepened when she became an organizer 45 years ago.

Sister Christine did not choose organizing as a ministry, it chose her. She was spotted by her now close friend and mentor, Ernesto Cortés, Jr., who said it was her anger that caught his attention. That was the first time she viewed her anger in a positive light. The work of justice was at the heart of her ministry and her life. Her work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was the vehicle to funnel her anger against injustice.

Sister Christine’s commitment to identifying, training and transforming leaders and organizers throughout the country worked to bring millions of dollars for water and waste water to the colonias along the Texas/New Mexico Border, instrumental in developing the Alliance School strategy that impacted hundreds of schools across the country, plus the creation of nationally renowned job training programs modeled after Project QUEST in San Antonio.

Her advocacy work during the past four decades in her various roles, as National IAF Co-Director and Supervisor of organizations across the IAF Network will be greatly missed. Her organizing career began with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) in Houston where she was a founder, followed by Lead Organizer of C.O.P.S. in San Antonio and Dallas Area Interfaith.

She enjoyed seeing ordinary leaders who worked across multi faith traditions, economic lines and race to do extraordinary things in their communities. She breathed and lived the Gospel values of justice and leaves a legacy to be continued. She had an enduring faith in the values of democracy.

She is survived by her sister Sarah Howell, and all her Sisters of Divine Providence. She is also survived by her niece Angela Duhon (William), their children, Emma and Nathaniel. She was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Frances Stephens.

[Photo Credit: Nuri Vallbona, National Catholic Reporter - Global Sisters Report]

Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]

Christine Stephens, COPS/Metro Alliance Leader, Remembered for her Faith, Sense of JusticeRivard Report

Sister Christine Passes AwayRio Grande Guardian [pdf]

Stephens was an Early COPS OrganizerSan Antonio Express-News [pdf]

Obituaries: 

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Austin Interfaith Commends Mayor and Council for Reforming Ordinances That Negatively Impacted People Experiencing Homelessness

Austin Interfaith commends the Mayor and City Council for addressing the negative impact of ordinances that criminalize many of the everyday activities people experiencing homelessness need to do to get by.  Austin Interfaith clergy and leaders have long expressed concern about the precarious conditions experienced by people facing homelessness.  During the elections last fall, at our accountability session, Austin Interfaith leaders called on the mayor and City Council to change these ordinances.    

Passing the proposals last night is a significant step towards achieving that goal.  

[Photo from footage by CBS Austin]

Video of Testimony at City Hall

Austin's Police Chief Says New Homeless Laws Will "Fundamentally Change" EnforcementCBS Austin

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CTI Leaders Protect Capital IDEA Funding in Rapid Response

On Thursday, June 6th, Central Texas Interfaith (CTI) and Capital IDEA leaders successfully protected a $319,000 increase in workforce funding the Mayor and City Council committed to this past summer.  In response to the Texas Legislature passing legislation this session that places a future 3.5% cap on property tax increases, a move was made to reevaluate and potentially reverse this $319,000 investment and other budget items that were set for approval yesterday.   

CTI and Capital IDEA leaders mobilized to call and write their council members while Rabbi Alan Freedman, of Temple Beth Shalom and Co-Chair of the CTI Clergy Caucus, explained to the Mayor and Council how even a short delay could postpone and jeopardize the recruitment and enrollment of 50 new students.   

When a motion was made to delay the Capital IDEA funding, it did not receive a second.  Council Member Alison Alter made a counter motion to immediately award the funding for Capital IDEA, and it received unanimous support.  Kudos to all the Council Members who supported this funding, and to Rabbi Freedman, CTI leader and Capital IDEA Board Member Joy Penticuff, and Capital IDEA Executive Director Steve Jackobs, and all the CTI leaders who worked on this intensively in less than a 24 hour period! 

Nonprofit Funds OK'd Despite Flannigan QuestionsAustin Monitor [pdf]

Click links below for videos about two Capital IDEA graduates:

 

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Recognizing the Stranger Strategy Persists with Twelve Institutions

Spanish-speaking Catholic leaders from 12 parishes across the Austin Catholic Diocese participated in Central Texas Interfaith “Recognizing the Stranger” training today on a rainy Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.  

The follow up session was conducted in partnership with the Austin Catholic Diocese and Catholic Charities.

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Central Texas Interfaith Leaders Push for Restoration of ACE Funding and, with Texas IAF, Advance EDAP Legislation for Economically Distressed Areas

One month after 300 Texas IAF leaders descended on the Capitol to call for investments in human development, delegations have been visiting the Capitol daily to engage legislators around school finance, the ACE fund, payday lending and infrastructure support for economically distressed areas.  In photos above are Central Texas Interfaith leaders from the Congregational Church of Austin, Wildflower Church (including Reverend Brian Ferguson), Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic, and Capital IDEA.   

Legislative allies in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso crafted a proposed constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of bonds by the Texas Water Development Board for projects in economically distressed areas.  The proposal is almost to the finish line.

With ACE funding already in the draft budget, leaders are working to restore it to its original $10 Million.  When economist Marc Elliot from Economic Mobility delivered a presentation on the effectiveness of the Project QUEST job training model at the Capitol, representatives from over a dozen legislative offices attended. 

The QUEST model is hailed as the hitting on a "formula with a proven track record" and Texas IAF organizations across the state have applied it in across the state, including in Austin through Capital IDEA .

Texas ACE Fund Return on InvestmentTexas IAF

Nine Year Gains: Project Quest's Continuing ImpactEconomic Mobility

San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled into Middle ClassHouston Chronicle [pdf]

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Central Texas Interfaith Calls for State Investments in ACE Fund & K-12 Education

Hundreds of Texas IAF leaders bused in to Austin from El Paso, the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and West Texas, to join 100 Central Texas Interfaith leaders for a press conference calling on state legislators to increase spending on adult and K-12 education. 

After a morning briefing on school finance, the Texas Innovative Career Education (ACE) program and other issues -- including healthcare, payday lending, and infrastructure in the colonias -- leaders were publicly recognized in the Gallery with a House resolution in support of the ACE program.  Immediately afterward, they convened on the South Capitol steps for a press conference in which they were joined by five state legislators from Central Texas who pledged to continue working for investments in people, including Gina Hinojosa (HD-49), Vikki Goodwin (HD-47), John Bucy (HD 136), Erin Zweiner (HD-45) and James Talarico (HD-52).

In photo above, the Rev. Miles Brandon from St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church and Central Texas Interfaith energizes the crowd of Texas IAF leaders.

After the press conference, leaders broke out into smaller delegations to meet with legislators that represent their geographic regions, including in Austin, Western Travis, Williamson County, Comal and Hays.     

Organizations Call On State Legislators to Support Adult EducationUnivision 62 [Spanish video] 

Piden a Legisladores Texanos Más Fondos Para Apoyar la Educación de AdultosUnivision 62 

Valley Interfaith: State's Share of School Funding Has Dropped From 50% to Barely 36%Rio Grande Guardian  

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'Recognizing the Stranger' Strategy Launches in Austin with Support of Bishop Joe Vasquez

The CCHD-sponsored 'Recognizing the Stranger' strategy launched in Central Texas with the support of Catholic Bishop Joe Vasquez, the Diocese of Austin, the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF and Austin Interfaith. 

50 trainees from 13 institutions participated in Spanish-language sessions including the Body of Christ,  the Baptismal Call of the Church and Qualities of Leaders through the lens of the Beatitudes.

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