Monday, March 7, 2016

Social Justice Spotlight: IMPACT

On the third Sunday of each month we highlight a non-profit in the Charlottesville/Albemarle area and, then, take a collection to support their work.  This year we’ve begun to highlight one of our own justice groups on the first Sunday, and I am happy today to be lifting up IMPACT.

We’ve been involved with, and talking about, IMPACT for quite a while now, yet it’s always a little surprising to me to find people who don’t really know what it is.  IMPACT is an acronym – Interfaith Ministry Promoting Action by Congregations Together.  It’s also the name of the organization’s goal – to have a real impact on our community.

Do you remember when Barack Obama was first running and how the right derided him for his work as a community organizer?  IMPACT is an example of what’s known as congregation based community organizing.  Rather than trying to leverage the people power of, say, a neighborhood, IMPACT brings togethercongregations – 27 the last I knew a number.  When IMPACT goes before, say, the City Council, or the “powers that be” at UVa, it is with the support of the thousands of people who count themselves as members of those various faith communities.  That’s power.  That’s the kind of power that makes a real impact.

The way IMPACT organizes is really quite cool.  In each congregation there is a core Team of folks who are the primary coordinators of that congregation’s IMPACT efforts, and liaisons to the larger organization.  These Team members look for 8-10 people (each), who are known as Network members.   They’re the real backbone of things.  The Team members keep the Network members up to date with the issues being studied and the solutions being proposed, and do their best to keep them pumped up.  The Network members commit to bringing 3 people (again, each) to the large, public Nehemiah Action (that’ll be happening on Tuesday, May 3rd).  At the Action the “power people” of our community are invited to indicate their support for the solutions being proposed to whatever issue is being addressed that year.  (And it should be noted that these solutions have generally been developed in collaboration with these prime movers and shakers so they know what they’re being asked to support.) 

IMPACT’s Nehemiah Action is the largest public gathering of any kind in our area, and the largest interfaith gathering in Virginia.  (I believe I have that right.)  Over the years we have gotten a new bus line and extended service on some of the other lines so that public transportation will be more available for some of the people who need it most.  There are now more locally funded Pre-K programs, and there’s a free dental clinic with full-time dentists who’ve provided care to over 600,000 people since 2008.  IMPACT was responsible for the creation of “Healthy Transitions,” which provides transitional psychiatric care for people recently released from jail or prison – a program that has been shown to reduce recidivism.  (Statewide, 25% of ex-offenders will return to prison, whereas in the areas reached by Healthy Transitions that number has been reduced to 10%.)  This year IMPACT continues to work to increase the availability of local residential substance abuse treatment for both women and men, and is working on the issue of elder care.  IMPACT makes an impact, and it’s another part of our TJMC social justice ministries.  (Sarah Peasley would be a great person to talk with if you want to know more about how you can get involved.)