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.
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.
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!
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.