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.
Seven Austin Interfaith leaders attended a week-long training session conducted by the national IAF (Industrial Areas Foundation). This was the first time for this session to be conducted totally in Spanish, and participants received intensive leadership training so that they will be able to be even stronger, more effective leaders in their institutions. In particular, many of these leaders are looking to develop organizing strategies and leaders in their Spanish-speaking immigrant communities.
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.