Welcome Your Neighbors

Welcome Your Neighbors
by Rev. Nancy Gowler, First Christian Church of Puyallup

No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.

It started as a simple, hand lettered sign in front of a Mennonite church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. That one message of welcome in English, Spanish and Arabic posted in a multicultural neighborhood in 2015 created a groundswell. Soon a digital design for a yard sign followed, and before long signs were being distributed as quickly as they were printed. To encourage others the congregation made the design available online for anyone to print. Now signs are appearing throughout the United States and Canada, proclaiming a message of welcome.

2017 is the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Camp Harmony, the assembly center at the Western Washington Fairgrounds where 7,390 Americans of Japanese descent from Washington and Alaska were held before being transferred to relocation camps. We in the Northwest live with the painful legacy of times when fearful distrust of neighbors held sway. One wonders whether things might have turned out differently in 1942 if people of faith had posted yard signs throughout our state proclaiming, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” in English and in Japanese?

We can’t change the past, but we can create a better world now. Count our small congregation in—together, we can spread a word of welcome and compassion in our neighborhoods and throughout Pierce County.


Learn more about the movement at https://www.welcomeyourneighbors.org/.  You can print yard/window signs directly from the website or have them professionally printed.  Consider working together with your local faith community neighbors to order from your local print shop in one bulk order to reduce costs!

Associated Ministries’ Community Quarterly Meeting

Thank you to all those who were able to make it to Associated Ministries’ first Community Quarterly Meeting and to those of you who wanted to be there, but couldn’t make it.  We’ll see you next time.

Associated Ministries hosts an on-going quarterly meeting for people of faith and goodwill to continue learning about homelessness and to work together on strategies to end homelessness.

During the latest Community Quarterly Meeting, people of faith were charged with identifying projects to impact homelessness, and triumphantly, they stepped up to the plate! 

Three work groups formed and envisioned the following projects:

  • Connections Network: using social media to better connect people of faith with those experiencing homelessness.
  • Strengthen Catholic Community Services’ Family Housing Network, and
  • Explore ways people of faith can better partner with Associated Ministries.

Some GREAT ideas surfaced from some pretty amazing people!   There were a few exciting and tangible takeaways from our meeting:

  1. The Family Housing Network may have identified one more church to house five families experiencing homelessness;
  2. A church that is already participating with the Family Housing Network may be able to extend their service by one week. 

That is FOURTEEN additional nights to house FIVE families experiencing homelessness!  What a FEAT WE ACHIEVED in less than a 2 hour meeting!

Join us during our next Community Quarterly Meeting on Thursday, June 15th from 4-6pm at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 4818 East Portland Ave, Tacoma, WA 98404 as we continue this work. 

We need a lot more people in the room to create the wave needed to end homelessness, so reach out to people you know want to be involved and invite them in.

In solidarity,

Valorie Crout | Chief Program Officer

253.383.3056, ext. 108  valoriec@associatedministries.org

Housing and homeless advocacy–your voice is important!

Punxsutawney Phil had a much smaller spotlight on February 2nd this year because hundreds of advocates were out in Olympia for Housing and Homeless Advocacy Day, learning about the need for affordable housing, how family homelessness can be ended, and meeting with legislators to compel them to take action on local needs.  Four members of the Associated Ministries’ team were honored to be among that crowd of activists.

“My experience at Advocacy Day was both empowering and enlightening,” said Andrea McKinney, who works in Centralized Intake as a Screening and Diversion Specialist.  “I had heard of Advocacy Day for unions but had never attended one myself. What really stuck out to me was the opportunity to increase my knowledge and sit with those advocating that housing should be a right, not a privilege. Even the elderly and disabled have barriers to affordable rental housing in front of them. Family size, race, and sexual orientation—against fair housing laws–are still finding their way into rental decisions.  Your source of income can determine whether a landlord rents to you–it shouldn’t be like that but right now that’s within the law.”

Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home.

Thursday, March 2nd, marked the halfway point of this year’s 105-day legislative session. But our work as a community continues. Your voice is important. Your legislators need to know what you think about the crisis of homelessness and the ideas you support to be enacted into policies and laws. Your action makes a difference. Your advocacy changes lives.

A great place to learn more and get the most current updates is www.wliha.org.

Sacred Activism: Mystical vision and pragmatic action

Vania Kent-Harber, Sacred Activism at the Interfaith Women’s Conference

The first workshop to fill up at AM’s March 4th Interfaith Women’s Conference was Sacred Activism: Creating Peace Through Contemplation and Action.  Vania Kent-Harber led the workshop and I was one of the lucky attendees.

The teaser for the topic was this: Our world is so frantic – and we all need the balance that follows quiet contemplation. Vania explored the connection between contemplation and action and how this connection is rooted in all of our faith traditions to give our lives meaning, purpose, and peace.

Vania said she was influenced by the work of Andrew Harvey and characterized Sacred Activism as a kind of midwifery. In Harvey’s words, “When, however, the deepest and most grounded mystical vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic, and social institutions, a holy force and power of wisdom in action is born, a force and power that can re-fashion all things in and under God, and bring humanity, even at this late desperate hour, into harmony with its self and original nature. This force of Sacred Activism I believe will be the source of the birthing power that humanity will need to create a new world from the smoking ashes of the one that is now passing away.”

These were some of the themes that arose during the workshop:

  • Activism is railing against the world. Sacred activism is a response to the moment.
  • Sacred activism is coming face to face with the real, with willingness to be broken open by it.
  • It is solidarity in the suffering of God and collaborating with God. A way forward always comes if we are attuned to listening.

A Jewish woman who came to one of her past workshops gave Vania interesting new definitions for obedience and humility rooted in Jewish thought.

This quote from Mark Nepo gives a good sense of the definition of obedience that Vania shared:

To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.

Humility is conceived as limiting oneself to an appropriate amount of space, while leaving room for others. Vania emphasized the key concept of taking up the appropriate amount of space for the situation. This could mean giving space to others, but women often don’t take up enough space. She said, if truly humble, we find the courage to step into our gifts.

Vania Kent-Harber is a yogi, contemplative, and writer exploring the intersection of yoga, new monasticism, feminism, and social change.

Good news if you want to learn more from Vania! She is a co-founder and co-director of Samdhana-Karana Yoga, a nonprofit healing arts center in Tacoma, and has over 1,000 hours of teaching experience focused on underserved populations for whom yoga is not readily accessible.

 

Local Agencies Seeking New Leaders

If you or someone you know is ready to play a critical role in serving the vulnerable in our community, three local agencies that partner with AM are seeking to fill key leadership roles. We encourage you to spread the word about these unique career opportunities. Please contact each agency directly with any questions you have.

REACH Center: Deputy Director

Apply online at http://reachtacoma.org/join-our-team/

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Peace Community Center: Executive Director

Apply online at https://peacecommunitycenter.org/employment/

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Society of St. Vincent de Paul: Interim Executive Director

Send an email to Charlie Thompson at cthompson@svdptacoma.org

Subscribe to AM’s Monthly Faith Leaders’ Update

Once each month our Executive Director, Mike Yoder, sends out an email highlighting engagement and educational opportunities that may be of interest to Pierce County faith leaders (see a copy of the latest issue). Your congregation should subscribe! If your congregation’s pastor or outreach coordinator does not receive this email, please contact us at communications@associatedministries.org and we’d be happy to add them to our list!

Community in Action – Helping a Family in Need

When Lana* came into the Rapid Rehousing program at Associated Ministries, she was struggling; pregnant and had two little girls sleeping in the car with her. She began working very hard to find housing and applied at a few different places and was denied the same amount of times. The reasons varied; her credit, her criminal record, her income, but she did not stop. The Rapid Rehousing team worked alongside her and we finally found a landlord willing to give a young mom another chance at success.

Through Rapid Rehousing, Lana received help with move in costs and from that moment on Lana was making great progress including paying 100 percent of her rent, her electric bill, getting her oldest child into school, and even working during her last month of pregnancy. She was working very hard and was making it, but she had one big concern; her home had begun to show the signs of a roach infestation. She bug-bombed the place a couple of times on her own, but was unsuccessful.

As time passed and her tries to end the infestation failed, and as her pregnancy advanced, she grew more concerned. Lana had gotten used to cleaning incessantly and watching her children around the clock to make sure that no bugs got close to them, but once she realized that her newborn baby would be exposed and in danger, the thought of staying there was becoming less a safe option. At that point Associated Ministries put out the word to the community for assistance. We needed help in preventing Lana’s housing from becoming insecure.

RAMBO Pest Control answered the call. RAMBO offered a completely pro-bono fumigation service for the entire four-plex! They got out there right away and took care of the problem, then offered a discounted monthly service that Lana was able to present to her landlord and neighbors, in hopes of keeping the homes free of bugs.

“We appreciate how RAMBO stepped up so quickly to lend a hand to a family in need”, stated AM staff member Alexis Agee-Cooper. “Their willingness to go above and beyond to ensure the entire four-plex was fumigated, was a wonderful gift to the all of the tenants and the community.”

Since then, Lana’s baby was born and the efforts of RAMBO have helped her keep her home and feel safe and secure. We are so grateful for the efforts of RAMBO who took care of a vulnerable person in need, and proved that there are many ways in which we can help end the problem of housing insecurity. They showed how we can all be a part of the solution in different ways.

*For confidentiality, the name of the client has been changed.

Free Tax Preparation

Tax season has begun! Once again, Associated Ministries, in partnership with several other local organizations, will offer FREE tax preparation services to low and moderate income taxpayers and seniors at 23 different locations in Pierce County. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals.

Why get your taxes done through VITA? 

  • You will receive help from IRS certified tax preparers, and you are helping people expand their experience and resume to find jobs in the financial field. 
  • Volunteers will help eligible taxpayers claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other similar credits.  A large number of taxpayers who could qualify for the EITC do not claim the credit.
  • It’s free for low and moderate income taxpayers (incomes up to $54,000), and seniors.

Before going to a VITA site, be sure to bring:

  • Income documents such as W2s from all jobs worked, and 1099 forms for other income
  • Documentation of expenses you want to claim, such as child care expenses, home mortgage interest, higher education expenses, and charitable donations
  • Bank account information for refund direct deposit
  • Photo ID for the primary taxpayer (and spouse, if married). 
  • Social Security Cards or ITIN cards for all family members. 

Please note that VITA volunteers are unable to do tax returns for married taxpayers filing separately, or returns with some complex tax situations.

VITA sites are located throughout Pierce County.  Call 2-1-1 or visit www.VolunteerTaxHelp.org to locate a site near you.

ECF-Boeing Puget Sound Champions Client Safety

ECF-Boeing Puget SoundIn 2016, Associated Ministries received a grant of $40,000 from the Employees Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound (ECF-Boeing Puget Sound) for the greater part of a multi-faceted Client Safety and Security Project. With their grant, we were immediately able to upgrade our security system and install six video surveillance cameras outside AM’s direct service center. By the end of April, we will acquire a new data-management copier with high security for client documents and we will finish installing solid-core interior doors for better protection of clients, staff and volunteers within the building.

We couldn’t take these important steps without the support from the ECF-Boeing Puget Sound!

The Hilltop Action Coalition, Hilltop business Association, 8th & I Neighbors and AM have done great work together to increase the safety of the Hilltop over the years. But throughout 2016 we had to take action again. Our staff often intervened to keep the vulnerable people who were waiting for our services from becoming targets for drug dealers and others. Our grounds were being used at night as a gathering place and dumping ground for debris.

We invited Tacoma Police Community Liaison Officers to advise us on best practices for keeping our clients safe in a neighborhood beginning to trend towards a higher crime rate again. Installing security cameras around our building was a key measure. The cameras enable us to provide actionable evidence to authorities against those preying on our clients and we can safely monitor hidden corners to stop criminal activity day or night.

Our building also needed to be more defensible against unsettling instances of violence in the Hilltop. Our flimsy interior doors are no protection against aggressive or armed intruders. ECF members on their visit to Associated Ministries readily agreed that replacing all of them with durable doors and frames was a vital step that needed to be taken.

Finally, a less visible security threat was being posed by our electronic handling of client documents. To keep our client data secure, the ECF allocated grant funds for part of the cost of a data management system. This system will allow us to scan client information directly into secure files, receive encrypted fax documents, and safeguard client identity documents.

Associated Ministries is extremely grateful for the support from ECF, an employee-owned charitable giving program managed by Boeing employees. Without question the employees who make the fund possible have a big heart for the needs of people experiencing poverty and homelessness in our community. Their generosity has afforded us ways to improve safety and security for vulnerable people coming to Associated Ministries for assistance. They have given us tools to improve our neighborhood environment and make it safer.

Thank you Employees Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound!

The Employees Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound, known as ECF, is an employee-owned and managed charitable giving program. Since 1951, generous Boeing employees have contributed over $600,000,000 to local Puget Sound nonprofits. ECF grants enable local Health & Human Service agencies to purchase much-needed equipment, renovate their facilities and build new construction that directly benefit their clients.

Pierce County’s Plan to End Homelessness

A Plan to End Homelessness
by Valorie Crout, Chief Program Officer

The Continuum of Care (CoC), Pierce County’s Oversight Committee for the Homeless System, is currently developing a 5-year strategic plan to end homelessness.  The overall goal will be to significantly reduce the number of households that are unsheltered or experiencing homelessness.  This effort comes with great leadership from all sectors of the community.  Leadership from local government, city and county officials, public housing authorities, homeless organizations serving all population, school districts and many more are represented at the table.  Associated Ministries’ seat represents the faith-based community.

As a faith-based agency, we are committed to see this work through and have taken on some of the responsibility outlined in the plan to end homelessness.  One of our first tasks will be to form focus groups for people of color, veterans, youth and young adults, LGBTQ, and those that are chronically homeless to assess for equity within the system.  We are committed to assuring that ALL people gain access to the same opportunities to secure and maintain housing, which is the foundation for wholeness. 

We are interdependent on one another-each person’s success will be our own.   With that said, every person of faith will have a role to end homelessness.   We are the spirit, the heart, and the voice for social justice.  As people of faith, we do NOT accept homelessness in our community! 

Together, we can do this!  I have faith!

To learn more about what homelessness like in Pierce County, please plan to attend any or all of our upcoming quarterly meetings: Thursday, March 16th 4-6pm at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 7410 South 12th Street, Tacoma, WA 98465; Thursday, June 15th 4-6pm at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 4818 East Portland Ave, Tacoma, WA 98404.

The final draft of the Plan to End Homelessness is scheduled to be completed by the end of March 2017.  We will present the plan at one of the upcoming quarterly meetings.

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