This was the annual IMPACT rally. (IMPACT not only describes what we intend to do -- make an impact! -- but it's also an acronym for Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together.) TJMC has been involved with IMPACT -- deeply so -- since it's inception nine years ago. Yet there are always many who don't really know what IMPACT is, what it does, and how we -- as individuals and as a congregation -- can be a part of it.
Each fall "listening circles" are arranged in each of those 27 faith communities. People gather in small groups to discuss the problems they've seen and experienced in our community -- examples of injustices that are crying out for some kind of solution. The lists that these groups generate are then merged together, and in a truly incredible process representatives of this interfaith body select one issue to focus on for that year. Research groups interview people and organizations to get a handle on the needs involved and to develop a proposed solution. In the Spring there is a gathering -- the Nehemiah Action at which local political and civic leaders are asked to make the necessary commitments to create the changes that have been identified. The Nehemiah Action -- named after the Biblical prophet Nehemiah -- is the largest public gathering in central Virginia and it is a display of the resolve of the collective faith communities in seeking justice.
In past years a need for greater access to public transportation to and from low-income neighborhoods was identified. IMPACT provided the show of public support that created Sunday bus service on the two most heavily traveled routes (route 7 and the free trolley), night service on route 5, and the creation of a new bus route to serve the county office building and low-income neighborhoods.
Thanks largely to the impact of IMPACT there is now a free dental clinic in Charlottesville with a full-time dentist and dental hygienist. This clinic has served over 6,000 people since its creation and has cut wait times for uninsured people needing dental care by two-thirds.
Last year we studied the need for improved mental health care for children -- Region Ten, for instance, was only providing 16 hours of psychiatric care a month and kids were having to wait up to six months to be seen. At last year's Nehemiah Action IMPACT received a commitment from Region Ten to develop this year a plan to increase the number of hours of care they offered to 40. Instead of simply making a plan, they've gone further and hired full-time child psychiatrist, greatly increasing their ability to care for the children of our community.
These are the kinds of things that can happen when more than a thousand Charlottesville residents gather together, looking past the divisions that might divide us to the greater good that needs to be done. This is what can happen when diverse voices come together as one voice demanding justice.
This year the focus has been on issues of crime and drugs, with the recognition that each year some 3,150 individuals in our regional jail also struggle with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Additionally, a majority of these inmates are women who are also survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Yet there is virtually no local treatment options to help recently released inmates with the multiplicity of issues they may be dealing with. This year our IMPACT community will be advocating for the creation of local residential treatment options (for both men and women). This will not be a one-year project, but it's one that our community desperately needs.
From the pulpit and in Adult Faith Development programs we talk about the need to get out into the world, as a congregation, and get involved with people different than ourselves. We say that it's engagement that can change The Other into Family. IMPACT's Nehemiah Action is without a doubt the most diverse gathering in Charlottesville, and a way for us to truly ... make an impact!
This year's Nehemiah Action will be on Thursday, April 30th at the John Paul Jones Arena, beginning at 6:30. Won't you show up to demonstrate the we Unitarian Universalists care about our community and are proud to work with others so as to make substantive changes to improve things?
Tickets are available in the Social Hall after Sunday services, and you can also stop by the office any time it's open.