Austin Interfaith was a community partner in a spring semester graduate course that focused on health disparities in central Texas .
Two leaders were enrolled in the course itself and Austin Interfaith collaborated with the professors and students to host a public education workshop for Spanish speakers at Dolores Catholic Church and to present at the international Abriendo Brecha: Activist Scholarship Conference. In addition, an undergraduate anthropology student interned with Austin Interfaith to support research and organizing efforts around health care issues.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church's social justice ministry has recently completed a house meeting campaign at their church and St. Catherine of Sienna Church's Community Concerns and Advocacy group is beginning house meetings around health care issues in their parish community. New member Congregation Kol Halev has begun an individual meeting campaign, and institutions such as San Jose, Dolores, and St. Ignatius are using the summer months for individual meeting campaigns as well.
These are the conversations that make it possible to know the people in our communities, stay in tune with the pressures that regular Austinites are facing, and ground plans for action to address them.
When a popular and highly utilized early voting location at the HEB on South Congress and Oltorf was unexpectedly moved, southside leaders organized to work with County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, HEB employees, the media, and member institutions to minimize the negative effect on voter turnout at this location. They helped publicize the new early voting location and, as a result, increased turnout at the new location in the final days of early voting.
Leaders of the organizing team at St. Ignatius secured a much needed crosswalk with safety lights. The walk crosses Oltorf Street and connects the church to the HEB parking lot where many parishioners park.
Austin Interfaith leaders met with Rep. Lloyd Doggett in the summer to discuss the need for a deeper commitment from the federal government to long-term job training for families in Austin. Thanks to the work of Austin Interfaith leaders and Rep. Doggett, the new Federal budget signed 12/27/2007 includes a $238,000 appropriation for Capital IDEA!
Santa Barbara parishioners and their neighbors are seeing the fruits of their labor. The water lines have finally been laid in the community of Plainview Estates where a number of Santa Barbara parishioners have been living without running water for up to six years. In addition to the public funds that Austin Interfaith fought for and won from Travis County this past April, families now also need to pay for their individual hookups. Because their organizing experience was an opportunity for them to build strong relationships and effective organizing strategies, they are working collaboratively to raise the funds needed to connect all the families to the water mains.
Over 600 signatures on Dolores Catholic Church's agenda of issues have been collected in the last six months. One of the issues that was raised during Dolores's house meeting campaign was the need to understand and address the church's budget. The organizing team presented this information to their fellow parishioners during religious education classes and during Sunday Mass, and collections immediately increased, including one mass that doubled its regular contribution.
St. Ignatius, San Jose, Prince of Peace, and Travis Heights Elementary have continued to work with public housing residents to improve the living conditions at the Travis Park Apartments. After several meetings with HUD authorities and other public officials, including U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, Southwest Housing Authority recommended that there be a management change at the apartments. This is an important step in creating a safe and decent place to live for all Travis Park residents.
Since June, 150 house meetings have been held at St. Ignatius, San Jose, Mt. Olive, Dolores, Santa Barbara, and St. Thomas More. This brings the total number of house meetings conducted this year to 250! By holding these meetings the congregations are able to build networks of relationships where leaders are identified, and where people know one another's interests so they are then able to develop agendas of issues that reflect what is most important to the entire congregation.
St. Thomas More organized an assembly on November 22 that was attended by over 100 parishoners who signed on to their church's agenda of issues. The identified issues are education, health care, elderly/disabled care, building a relational culture, and economic realities, especially with regard to employment. St. Thomas More was pleased to have two public officials in attendance, Representative Mark Strama, and RRISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez.