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.
Fund Hope: Sponsor an Incarcerated UU
Thank you so much for supporting our Faithify campaign and for your interest in learning more about what Prison Ministry at the Church of the Larger Fellowship is like. This Faithify campaign is so important to the incarcerated members of the CLF. What we’re asking you to do is support the membership of our over 1,000 incarcerated UUs who live behind prison walls all across the country.
Through our Worthy Now Prison Network, we are able to provide vital programming for people who live in various forms of incarceration across the United States. In practice and on principle, we do not ask for membership dues from any of our incarcerated members. The programming we offer comes in the form of receiving a variety of printed material which includes:
- Two prison ministry newsletters a year
- A printed copy of the UU World magazine
- A printed copy of the CLF Quest magazine
Every dollar you donate will be doubled!
Can you give $50 to fund hope today?
By contributing to the success of this Faithify Campaign,
you will be helping over 1,000 UUs living in prison.
Additionally, with your help, we are able to offer our UU incarcerated members a number of the Tapestry of Faith classes which we have converted into correspondence format. These rich materials supply valuable religious education to our incarcerated siblings. Perhaps the best thing of all is, after becoming members and completing the New UU Class, they are eligible to receive a pen-pal connection with a free-world person (that’s you).
These pen-pal relationships are often the lifeline for giving and sustaining hope within the prison walls. It is the connection to the Power of We that is so vital to our Unitarian Universalist faith. Can you imagine hearing that you’re worthy of love and justice inside a system that often dehumanizes your very presence?
The cost of all this programming is about $150 per person. It would mean so much to the lives of these members if you, your friends, or your congregation found it in you to sponsor an incarcerated member’s cost of $150 dollars. That is less than $0.50 a day to fund this hope-giving ministry to an incarcerated UU.
Maybe that’s a little bit too much, maybe fifty dollars is more in your price range. The truth is, whatever you can give every dollar counts, every dollar helps bring programming and the message of hope and love to people in prison all across this country.
We have over 1,000 incarcerated UU’s depending on us.
Can you give $50 or more to fund hope?
Maybe you don’t feel comfortable standing on street corners and professing your faith but perhaps you would feel comfortable blessing someone’s life with the hope of Unitarian Universalism today! Won’t you bless someone with a membership to the CLF who is living behind prison walls?
* Thanks to the generous challenge grants supported by the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program, every dollar given to this Faithify campaign will be matched.
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.
Fund Hope: Sponsor an Incarcerated UU
CLF incarcerated membership is rapidly growing, and this means that the cost to serve nearly 890 prison members has also increased. It costs the CLF at least $150 per prison member to provide UU programing, and we need the continued support of friends, members, and the community. Many individuals across the United States living in prison are hearing about Unitarian Universalism for the first time. Some learn about the UU message of acceptance and inclusivity through CLF outreach or from a friend, family, or a cell mate.
Can you give $25 or more today?
Every dollar you donate will be doubled! *
So by contributing to the success of this Faithify Campaign,
you will be helping over 130 UUs living in prison.
Your financial support of the CLF Prison Ministry provides vital programming and services to over 800 incarcerated Unitarian Universalists:
~Worthy Now Prison Ministry Newsletters
~Reading Materials from Skinner House and Beacon Press
~New UU Classes
~Tapestry of Faith RE Correspondence Classes
Your generous contributions also help the CLF Prison Ministry run its letter writing ministry, otherwise known as our pen pal program. This ministry provides one-on-one contact between UUs in the free-world (that is, you and me) and one of our members living in prison. There are about 300 of these letter writing partnerships, and we have free-world letter writers living all over the world. Every year thousands of letters are forwarded through the CLF office in Boston to our members living in prison. This program is the heart of our ministry—it is the lifeline to many of our members.
Because of your past support, membership has included something exciting and new this year:
We asked all of our members who are incarcerated what their number one justice issue is while living in prison. The response was heart-breaking: The cost of medical care for people who barely make a wage came up over and over again in the letters. From this information, the CLF team of delegates, volunteers, and staff organized to propose an Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) at the 2018 General Assembly. We are so excited to share that our AIW, Dismantle Predatory Medical Care Practices in Prisons and End Prisons for Profit, was one of the three AIWs that were chosen by the body of UU delegates.
Most importantly, this wouldn’t have happened without the response of our members living in prison. They gave us the information we needed to share with the delegates. It was their passion that led the call of our campaign and made it such a successful and rewarding way to live our UU values.
“Sharing this news with our members living in prison is the absolute highlight of my work at the CLF. What a blessing for all of us!”
—Mandy Goheen, Director of CLF Prison Ministry and Worthy Now Network
But that is not where the story ends. There are other justice issues our members share with us that are equally important. For example, they have described significant problems with living conditions, food, solitary confinement, guards, and so many other examples it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Mandy came across one that she thought all UUs would want to know about. In a religion that values learning so highly, it is important to know that access to information such as books and newspapers and religious materials and publications are all limited by the rules of each particular prison.
Our so-called Library here at Lumberton Correctional Institution, is a broom closet about 10 x 10 ft, there’s no table to do book research and no seating. And proper research books especially legal books are non-existent.
—Jackie Morehead, CLF Member whose facility only allows 5 books per person (including religious books)
One of the benefits of CLF membership is our reading packet program. In an amazing partnership with Beacon Press and Skinner House Books, we are able to send reading materials to our members in prison. Because of the many rules and regulations surrounding books in prisons, we can only do this by the generous sharing of text from Beacon Press and Skinner House Books of UU identified books. The CLF has permission to print a chapter at a time and share them in letter form. This way people like Jackie Moorehead have access to more books—more than what’s in a small broom closet.
But we need your help!
There is significant paper, printing and postage costs that go into this program.
By funding all or part of the $150 membership program cost,
you are amplifying our important message that people living in prison
are Worthy Now of Love and Justice.
Last year we sent over 641 reading packets to our members!
Wouldn’t it be cheaper to send books? Possibly, but prison regulations across the country are diverse and the rules around books are so complex that this is the best way for us to share Unitarian Universalism with our CLF members living in prison. Books such as Testimony; UU Humanist Voices in Unitarian Universalism; Amethyst Beach: Meditations; Our Seven Principles in Story and Verse; and Everyday Spiritual Practice ~ Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life are bringing Unitarian Universalism to CLF members experiencing incarceration.
Can you give $25 or more to sponsor a UU experiencing incarceration?
* Thanks to the generous challenge grants supported by the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock and Unity Church-Unitarian in St Paul Minnesota, every dollar given to this Faithify campaign will be matched.