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.
This is the signature accomplishment of the Legislative Session. The congregations of Austin Interfaith and the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation have been credited with playing a key role in working with the Lt. Governor to pass legislation that would add 127,500 children to the Childrens Health Insurance Program. (approximately $70,000,000 new dollars) This was the work of countless visits to the Capitol and 4 press conferences. The Lt. Governor has guaranteed that all eligible children will be covered, so it will be up to us to begin enrolling new children through our congregations and schools.
Leaders at Santa Barbara Catholic Church in East Travis County as well as Austin Interfaith pastors and leaders came together to get a $475,000 water infrastructure deal passed by County Commissioners Court and Hornsby Bend Utility. After 40 families had been without running water for 5 years, Santa Barbara joined Austin Interfaith last year and began organizing to secure this money. It took a lot of house meetings, block walks, and meetings with public officials, but all 40 families will have running water by the end of the summer!