We want to welcome the two newest members of Austin Interfaith, St. Thomas More Catholic Church, a northwest Austin church with 3000 members, and San Jose Catholic Church, a central south Austin congregation with 4000 members.
Pastors and leaders in both parishes have been conducting dozens of house meetings where congregation members have come together to have conversations about the pressures affecting their families. They have been finding new leaders and have also begun to identify some of the issues that are most important to them.
By formally joining Austin Interfaith, St. Thomas More and San Jose are now part of an organization that helps them build the power necessary to relieve some of those pressures.
Welcome, Saint Thomas More and San Jose!
After working with our sister organizations across the state to successfully pass the restoration of CHIP in the 2007 legislature, member congregations worked to sign up their congregants. In cooperation with the Seton Healthcare Network, Dolores, San Jose , Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. James, Sacred Heart, Santa Barbara , and St. Ignatius provided assistance with applications to their members.
Late last fall, Austin Interfaith Pastors and leaders asked the Public Housing Authority to hold off on its plan to demolish all public housing complexes in Austin. (The plan was to redevelop this land to commercial and mixed-use facilities, and give residents section-8 vouchers). One Eastside Alliance school has over 50% of its children living in these complexes. Leaders involved in housing issues testified at public hearings, and the Housing Authority agreed to take 1-2 years to look at the impact of the issue.
Austin Interfaith has always known that Capital IDEA is a stellar job training program, and two awards this year help demonstrate that fact. Executive Director Steven Jacobs won the Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the year, and Capital IDEA received an award from the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Austin Interfaith and Texas IAF leaders successfully advocated for the creation of a Governor's Select Committee to evaluate and redesign the states testing and accountability system. This will allow our institutions to have the important conversations about what our children should learn and how they should be assessed. Leaders have begun to focus our education work on reducing the over-reliance on a single test, and broadening assessment and curriculum. Congratulations also to our Alliance Schools for their commitment this year to the highest academic standards and organizing parents and teachers in collaboration for school improvement.
Leaders secured $2 million from the City of Austin and Travis County for the new year, an increase of $300,000 from last year! In addition to meeting with City Council members and County Commissioners during the budget review periods, over 60 leaders and Capital IDEA participants attended the public budget hearing at City Hall. This increase in funding means Capital IDEA will be able to enroll sixty more students in its program than last year, and provide people the education, training, and support they need in order to secure good, living-wage jobs with benefits.
This past June, 400 people attended orientations at Austin Interfaith institutions regarding Capital IDEA, and new orientations are scheduled for February at Mt. Olive, San Jose, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Dolores catholic churches.
This month three congregations will be kicking off "House Meeting Campaigns" during services. House meetings are small group conversations to surface issues and new leaders…it is one of the primary organizing tools our congregations and institutions have utilized. House meetings campaigns can engage 400-500 parishioners in conversations within a few months, and beyond developing leaders and identifying issues, can help build a relational and "covenantal" culture in congregations. Two other congregations, Dolores Catholic Church and Santa Barbara Catholic Church have already completed house meeting campaigns.
Each year Austin Interfaith Pastors and leaders hold a drive to raise financial investment for the organizing work from local corporations. This year's corporate campaign was held in March, and leaders already raised $24,500, and have several proposals submitted and still waiting for a reply. Leaders have nearly doubled last year's total. This was truly an organizational campaign, with nearly every member institution represented by at least one leader.
Leaders, pastor, and staff at Dolores Catholic Church held a congregational assembly to ratify a local agenda of issues which emerged from the 35 house meetings (small group meetings) conducted at Dolores. The agenda includes Youth Programs, Immigration, Education in Faith, Community Building and Collaboration, and Living Wages. The next step is to have all parishioners to sign-on to support the agenda and begin action.
Congregational leaders from St. Ignatius, Prince of Peace, and San Jose worked with leaders from Travis Heights Elementary (an Alliance School) and other allies from the neighborhood to improve living conditions at Travis Park Apartments. Working with Cong. Lloyd Doggett and HUD, leaders put pressure on the owners to fix leaky sewage pipes, install security lights, repair A/C units, and clean thick mold from many of the units. These conditions were resulting in increased respiratory illnesses and absenteeism among many of the children attending Travis Heights Elementary.