Open FirstSteps Re-entry House for People Returning Home From Prison to Champaign Co, Illinois
-See Stretch Goal info below and News (with photos!) in the Update tab –
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign (UUCUC) is partnering with FirstFollowers to open FirstSteps, a re-entry house for people returning to our community after incarceration. UUCUC has already committed $5500 for this desperately needed program. Many other congregations, community organizations, and government programs are also supporting this cause. Funds raised from this Faithify campaign will be used to cover startup and operational expenses. The FirstSteps house is scheduled to open this Fall. They have already raised 85% of the funds needed to open, this Faithify campaign could get them to 100%. Please consider supporting the FirstSteps home and sharing this campaign with your network.
FirstFollowers is a local non-profit supporting people returning to the community from incarceration. Over the years of providing peer mentorship to people leaving prison, they recognized a stark need for housing.
Housing is very scarce for those with any history of criminal justice system involvement. Historically, the local Housing Authority has banned formerly incarcerated people from returning to their units, even if they have family members living there. This is slowly changing with advocacy, but the demand for public housing still far outstrips the supply. In Champaign, landlords are legally allowed to refuse to rent to people with certain felony convictions. Other obstacles, like application fees and credit checks, exclude most people returning home from prison. With nearly 400 people on state supervised release in Champaign County, there is a huge need for supportive services.
FirstFollowers is working with the Housing Authority of Champaign County to renovate a home on Ells Street in Champaign. FirstFollowers GoMAD scholars are young people with some criminal justice involvement who are being trained in construction skills. GoMAD scholars are currently working side-by-side with contractors to ready the FirstSteps home for its first residents. When the home is complete and enough funds are raised to launch the program, staff and volunteer mentors will welcome up to four residents at a time.
FirstSteps is not just a house or a bed. Individuals living in the house will have the support of FirstFollowers peer mentors. Residents will also be connected with local resources and provided with access to opportunities for employment, training, and education. In addition, peer mentors will help them establish personal plans and goals offering social/emotional support through their networks of allies in the community.
First Followers’ mission is to build strong and peaceful communities by providing support, guidance, and hope to formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones through peer mentorship.
A safe stigma free environment
Assistance with employment searches
Job readiness training
Advocacy for individuals with felony convictions
View website: https://www.firstfollowersreentry.com/
UUCUC is pleased to sponsor this Faithify campaign to help FirstFollowers acquire the necessary funds to make the FirstSteps home a reality. FirstSteps will not just benefit the residents, but the entire community. We thank you in advance for your support. We hope to have many community members present on FirstSteps opening day, to not only celebrate, but to commit to a continuing partnership. Please read the UU Connections tab to learn how UUCUC came to support FirstFollowers and the FirstSteps transitional house.
“I Hope to...
Update: We have a donor who will match any gift toward completion of this campaign!!
“I Hope to Find a Way Out”: Bonding out Asylum Seekers in New Hampshire
On August 24, some 200 marchers from four New England states met at the Strafford County detention center in New Hampshire where immigrants are held. They conducted a mock funeral ceremony for immigrants killed at the Mexican border; as they marched by the prison they could see detainees pressed against the slim rectangular glass windows and hear them pounding against the walls.
The first speaker said:
We gather here today outside the Strafford Detention Center in solidarity, witness, grief, and hope.
We are here in solidarity with our siblings detained within.
We gather here to witness to a broken system that uses black and brown bodies for profit, dehumanizes Muslims, cages children and causes death.
We gather here today to mourn the dead, and we are here today to call for a different future.
The bond fund we are working to create aspires to be part of this different future.
Some immigrants came to New Hampshire just recently, seeking safety after suffering repression at home. Others have lived here for decades, working and raising families. Increasingly, ICE is imprisoning members of both groups. The good news is, many detained immigrants are eligible to be released on bond. But that takes money that they often don’t have. Here are some of their stories. Their names have been changed for their protection:
Harold escaped certain death in the Congo, his home country, for his ethnic identity. His family went into hiding, but Harold fled to the U.S. on a visa —only to be seized by ICE at the NH-Canadian border. His crime? Attempting to cross over to Quebec where people speak French, his native language. Thanks to help from our fund and other supporters, Harold was bonded out and is now living at the UU Church of Manchester while awaiting his day in immigration court. In the meantime, Harold has received his working papers, NH driver’s license, and he has landed a new job.
Sally, from Zimbabwe, was jailed by ICE on a routine traffic stop. She described jail to us as “the worst thing that can happen to a person.” Personal power and choice are taken away. Sally told us that no soap or lotion are provided and there is no opportunity ever to go outside. Officials took her documents and subsequently lost all of them. Sally was bonded out through the help of the United Church of Christ. Recently she had her asylum hearing and she won her case!
John recently wrote us from the Strafford County detention center, where he’s been held for the past year. It’s been harder than he imagined it could be. “I got detained a month after my daughter’s birth,” he wrote. “I feel that I have failed her as a father. I wasn’t there for her when she needed me. She’s been through two surgeries already before she even turned one year old, and I wasn’t there for her…I am in a dark tunnel. I hope to see the light soon. I don’t know how long I can go on.”
Working in concert with immigrant organizers, UUs from across New Hampshire, and other communities of faith, the New Hampshire Bail and Bond Fund is working to pay immigrant bonds, which can be anywhere between $1,500 and $20,000 per person, and to provide other support to immigrants fighting for asylum.
The need for bond money is as great as the cause is compelling. As John wrote, at the end of his message “Because of you I might be saved. I hope to find a way out.”
Fund Spiritual Growth
The Church of the Larger Fellowship has spread Unitarian Universalism to geographically remote people around the world since World War II, through a monthly 8-page publication known as Quest. Originally funded through denominational coffers, since 1970, Quest has been funded solely by subscribers and supporters of the CLF.
Over the years, many people have asked for waivers for their subscriptions and these are always provided. Currently, 38% of our subscribers, over 1,000 people, are unable to contribute to CLF financially, because they are on fixed incomes, incarcerated, or otherwise financially limited. We want to be able to provide Unitarian Universalism to every person who wants to access our saving faith, and yet postage and printing costs keep rising.
Help us to say yes to all who seek to know Unitarian Universalism through this publication.
Double your impact today! All gifts up to $7,500 will be matched.*
With your gift of $50 (or whatever amount feels right to you) you will allow us to provide Quest to someone who really needs it:
“The world shines brighter than the darkness as long as compassion and understanding touches our cultures and human spirits.”
~Robert, a CLF member currently incarcerated,
writing in response to a Quest article about compassion
Help the world to “shine brighter.”
Help us bring Quest wherever our saving faith is needed.
Give today and double your impact. All gifts will be matched up to $7,500!*
* Thanks to the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock for their generous challenge gift.
Create Justice, Not...
Buffalo, NY and the surrounding Western New York region is one of the most segregated areas in the country. There are sharp divides here that separate people by race and class. The work that UU Class Conversations is doing to educate Unitarian Universalists on race and class divisions and how to make changes toward becoming more inclusive will be a vital and important collaboration that will help Unitarian Universalists in Western New York work more effectively toward dismantling systems of racism and class oppression.
Our goal is to raise money to off-set the cost of bringing UU Class Conversations’ “Create Justice, Not Walls” workshop to Buffalo on November 10, 2018. We want to be able to provide this programming to anyone who wants to attend, regardless of income status. With a successful campaign, we will be able to off-set the cost of the workshop and provide this essential programming to a wider audience.
Kansas Poor People’s Campaign Legal Fund
The Kansas Poor People’s Campaign is a participant in the national Poor People’s Campaign. With cities across the state participating, including Wichita, Manhattan, Lawrence, Topeka, Lenexa, Kansas City Kansas, and many participants from rural towns as well, our campaign highlighted the issues of poverty, racism, militarism and the environment and the way in which they are linked.
With weekly press conferences and rallies, we organized moral direct action/civil disobedience designed to draw attention to the conditions in Kansas and across the country that are causing inequality to increase and creating barriers to civic participation. In one action, we occupied the conference room of Kris Kobach, one our state’s most infamous leaders whose voter suppression policies have been touted nationally to conservative leaders trying to decrease the voter turnout of communities of color and communities of poverty. In addition, his anti-immigrant policies and anti-LGBTQ policies and pro-gun policies have been among the worst ideas to be introduced in our state and beyond.
We visited the Governor’s office and pointed out the ongoing refusal of our state’s leadership to expand Medicaid to the 150,000 people in Kansas (many of whom are disabled and/or working) who fall in the gap between the ACA and our current Medicaid qualifications. We stood in front of our Department of Children and Families and highlighted the extremes issues we have had with this agency and as well as the work overload it faces due to the increase in poverty in our state and systemic underfunding by our legislature. 2,000 more kids are in foster care because parents can’t afford childcare and are working too much to try to make ends meet. Our agency has lied and purposely hidden information about child deaths in abuse cases that were inadequately investigated. Missing foster care kids and contractors keeping kids in offices overnight when they unable to place them have also been hallmarks of this dysfunctional institution. We highlighted the simultaneous hyper funding of military efforts around the world and the recruitment of poor kids and kids of color into military programs where they are underpaid in stark contrast to the millions and even billions being made by private contractors. Our young adults come home broken in mind and body and are virtually abandoned–leading to a high suicide rate among veterans and families on the brink of disaster. 15-35 people agreed to commit civil disobedience each week with 100-200 other participants supporting the actions.
Working with a local attorney and an ACLU attorney, we were able to negotiate some of our fees and bonds, but each participant in civil disobedience likely will spend a minimum of $200. Many participants are themselves low income and several participated in civil disobedience more than once.
We hope to raise funds to assist them and to have on hand for the next campaign. As this work continues, we hope to support more and more low income and people of color wanting to commit civil disobedience who have been concerned about the costs.