Monday, April 28, 2008

Funding the Gulf Coast Relief Volunteer Center

Second in a series of posts after the April 17-21 UUA Board Meeting

What happened in New Orleans made many of us very uncomfortable - not only did we see a disregard for what was clearly predicted, but the response to the disaster, particularly for those with the least resources, seemed more than inadequate. But what really made it uncomfortable was that we were seeing the "seamy" side of all that one happy family jazz celebration culture - and it appeared that a disproportionate part of the people left with nothing were African American.

Since this disaster, the UUA and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee have partnered in addressing the needs of the New Orleans community, first through the generous contributions of UUs across the world who contributed $3.5 million that was shared with the local congregations and greater community. A second appeal raised funds that went directly to the Gulf Coast Relief Volunteer Center that has been doing a stellar job of connecting the volunteers showing up on its doorstep with the needs of the community - and providing some context and understanding of the systemic racist and economic oppression that helped create what they are seeing.

That funding is coming to an end. The issue is whether or not the UUA should fund the center, either through continued appeals or as part of the annual budget - and what role this center plays in our core purpose in serving congregations. Is the UUA a "service delivery" organization, helping New Orleans to recover? Or is the Volunteer Center much more than that, a living laboratory of racism and oppression? How does this compare to the many other needs of groups across the country - and world? Should the Center be funded by all congregations (as a budget item) or just the ones who choose to participate in its programs? What role, if any, does the UUA have in helping the three congregations in Greater New Orleans to rebuild? We have "bought time" by working with the GA Planning Committee to do another appeal for funding in Fort Lauderdale, but the long term funding depends on the answers to these questions. I encourage your comments to this post.

It is easy to sit in our Bay Area houses, most of which are perched on top of earthquake faults, to criticize those who "chose" to live in below lake level neighborhoods, not have insurance, and did not leave when the warning first sounded, without recognizing that we are doing the same thing. My earthquake insurance cost nearly $1600/year for a 1500 square foot house, with a $50,000 deductible. I am fortunate I can afford to pay it. Many cannot, and are likely to be those who will suffer most.

Next post: Youth Ministry