The UUFCO Social Justice Committee has a history of leading our congregational commitment to affirm and promote world community with peace, liberty and justice for all, and respect for the interdependent web of all existence. Presently a redesign of the committee structure is being considered, but teams and individuals continue to provide energetic leadership for social justice projects and inform the congregation about important initiatives and legislative actions.
Project GRACE (Giving Respect and Choosing Equality) was initiated in the summer of 2015 as UUFCO’s response to the UUA Congregational Study Action Issue of escalating inequality. During 2015-16, the Project GRACE team facilitated eight educational sessions focused on the inequality of income, wealth and opportunity in the United States, and the causes and effects of such inequality. The Project GRACE team also led the two Sunday services and held a workshop to identify potential actions the congregation and its members might consider in response to escalating inequality. From that workshop, six action teams worked over the summer of 2016 to develop more specific action proposals, which were shared with the congregation in September 2016. Proposals being explored are: 1) funding for student sports and activities; 2) an innovative, inclusive early learning program; 3) information about conscious, compassionate consumer choices; 4) changing the narrative to bring the true story of inequality to light; 5) a forum and follow-up on fair taxes for all; and 6) Wildcat Wizards Tutoring Program, which is already being implemented (see description below). Action teams, together with additional volunteers from the congregation, are further researching and refining their proposals for actions to address escalating inequality of income, wealth and opportunity: Project GRACE —Action Team Proposals 9/25/2016
Wildcat Wizards Tutoring Program
The Wildcat Wizards Tutoring Program at Juniper Elementary School in NE Bend, a partnership between the school and UUFCO, has been ongoing for a year. Recruiting of tutors and substitutes is not limited to UUFCO but most participants so far are from our congregation. The program addresses income equality by helping struggling 3rd grade students build self-confidence and strengthen their academic skills, particularly in math and language arts. Staff at Juniper selected 3rd graders because in 4th grade students begin reading as a key way to learn; if they are lagging in their reading skills they will struggle in all areas. Struggling students are more likely to drop out. The one-on-one student-tutor design of the program helps expose students who are often from low income or immigrant families to caring, successful adults. Each volunteer tutor contributes about 35 hours a year and substitutes contribute 10-15 hours.
Since 2008 UUFCO volunteers have prepared and served a healthy meal once a month for up to 100 residents of the Bethlehem Inn, Central Oregon’s largest emergency homeless shelter. Located in Bend, Bethlehem Inn provides a warm, safe place to sleep, nourishing meals, and case management services for adults and children experiencing homelessness. Bethlehem Inn’s mission is to transform lives with shelter, help and hope. UUFCO dedicates the Christmas Eve service collection to Bethlehem Inn every year. In 2015-16, we prepared and served over 1,000 meals and donated $2900 to Bethlehem Inn.
Since 2015, UUFCO volunteers have provided and served pizza meals on the third Saturday of the month to the homeless population in Redmond in cooperation with the Jericho Road Assistance Group. In 2015-16 UUFCO volunteers served 280 meals and contributed more than $700 to Jericho Table.
Greater Community Collections (GCC)
For the past 10 years UUFCO has given a monthly offering to a designated organization from the greater community to honor their work and assist them in carrying out their goals. Recipients are non-profit organizations and non-discriminatory providers of services whose work is consistent with our UU principles. The first collection was for Habitat for Humanity Faith Build in October of 2006. Since then, 67 different organizations have been recognized. Since 2008, the collection for December has been dedicated to Bethlehem Inn.
UUFCO became a Welcoming Congregation in the early 2000s when we had fewer than 60 members. In 2010-11, with the leadership of Rev. Heather Rion Starr, we renewed our commitment through a 14-week series “Living the Welcoming Congregation” and the creation of planning and action teams. Since then we have experienced dramatic membership growth and changes in ministerial leadership. It is time for us to assess and recommit to the work of welcoming and inclusion. We look forward to partnering with our new settled minister in this process.
Other initiatives supported by UUFCO Social Justice Committee members are Health Care for all Oregon, Move to Amend, and Environmental Sustainability. Our congregation is part of the Interfaith Network of Central Oregon, and we have participated in the planning team for the Interfaith Thanksgiving service, which we hosted in 2015. We have hosted the Latino Community Association's Empowering Families Luncheon annually for the past two years. We participate in Central Oregon Pride, sponsored by the Human Dignity Coalition. We also have a UUFCO Social Justice email list that informs interested members and friends about upcoming events and legislative actions.