Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers 2013-2014
Social Justice Committee
Lee Interfaith For Empowerment (L.I.F.E.)
LIFE (Lee Interfaith for Empowerment) is an interfaith justice ministry in Lee County that seeks long-term solutions to systemic injustices in Lee County. Each year, LIFE engages in a series of yearly processes that have us, as a faith community, talk about injustices in Lee County, vote on the year’s focus, research with other faith communities about who are change makers and what are solutions, organize direct actions to ask those accountable and in power to commit to a LIFE solution, and for two years, monitor the solution/ commitments to ensure measurable success.
The LIFE 2014 focus was to increase the issuance of civil citations to juvenile first time offenders. Training that occurred due to the LIFE initiative:
- Lee County Sheriff’s Office: 16 trainings (90 officers participating)
- Cape Coral Police Department: 15 participated in a “Train the Trainer” program
Outcomes: Fort Myers Police report an issuance rate of 36% in 2014, an increase from 17%. A LIFE committee meets regularly with constituents to make sure they continue to work toward the goal of 80% issuance rate. The UU minister dedicates a minimum 10 hours/month on LIFE activities and at least six UUCFM volunteers spend at least 10 hours/month on LIFE tasks. About $1,500 in support came from the Church, through Community Sharing Sunday.
Guatemalan Rural Adult and Children’s Education (GRACE) Project began at the UUCFM in 1997 and is now a bi-national agency working to prevent human trafficking (upstream in Guatemala and downstream in Florida), to educate teachers, lawyers and community leaders in both countries about reproductive and human rights and domestic violence prevention through the www.LawsForPeace.com project, and to create peer health educators in low income, farm worker, Spanish-speaking neighborhoods in Southwest Florida.
In 2013 – 14, the GRACE Project brought two groups of volunteers to Guatemala for work-study tours, and worked with the Guatemala Ministry of Education and the President’s Secretary for Women’s Rights, to deliver eight workshops for 500 teachers, community leaders, and lawyers.
In 2013 – 14, GRACE organized and taught Peer Health Educator Training, Women’s Health, Reading in the Family (all in Spanish) in four immigrant or farmworker neighborhoods in Lee County. GRACE collaborates with the Head Start Program and the ACT Women’s Shelter.
Learn more at www.thegraceproject.org
The GRACE Project produced the Take Heart Art Project and the award-winning Lucia’s Letter, http://thegraceproject.org/index.php/en/educational-materials/lucia-s-letters and also co-sponsors the Happe Summer Eco-Camp for farmworker children at the Happehatchee Center in Estero, Florida.
- In eleven trips to Guatemala since 2006, 16 congregants have traveled with the GRACE Project, including UUCFM Minister Allison Farnum.
- Since 2010, the UUCFM has donated Community Sharing Collections to the GRACE Project, bringing between $2,000 and $3,500 annually.
- The UUCFM Endowment Committee gave two $3,500 matching grants to GRACE, and individuals within the Church have made generous contributions for those matches. GRACE advisors/officers in Florida are all active UUCFM members; the Treasurer just finished a term on the UUCFM Board of Trustees.
- Other members volunteer for: childcare during classes, driving participants to and from workshops, selling crafts on Sundays, food prep for workshops, to teach specific classes on immigration or family planning (in Spanish always), to display artwork for educational exhibits, and to make the Fertility Bracelets which GRACE distributes.
- A large basket to collect children’s shoes is in the church, and the shoes are sent, with books and academic supplies, to schools in rural Guatemala.
- Two UUCFM youth volunteered in the Happe Summer Eco-Camp for 20 farmworker children, and GRACE donated $1,500 to the camp. http://www.happehatchee.org
- The UUCFM also provides meeting and workshop facilities free of charge for Peer Health Educator Trainings and couples “Family Health and Communication” Workshops.
- Since 1998, GRACE has received grants from the UU Women’s Federation and the UUA Fund for Social Responsibility in Boston, for education and treatment of survivors of human trafficking, and from the Sanibel-Captiva Zonta Foundation.
South Fort Myers Food Pantry
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers belongs to an interfaith coalition of churches that operates the South Fort Myers Food Pantry. Several UUCFM members are weekly volunteers at the Food Pantry, and food donation is a Sunday regular for the congregation.
Welcoming Congregation, Show up for Love
As a Welcoming Congregation we encourage the participation of all persons, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. Through the Social Justice Committee, we have been advocating for equality in marriage.
October 2014 – Alison Carville led LGBT Pride Worship Service, “In a World Like This”
- June 29, 2014 – Public Witness for Marriage Equality with Alison Carville, Rev. Elena Rigg, Member Toni Latino, Equality Florida Board of Directors Member Ken Shelin, UUCFM Director of Music, Phil Hildreth, Peter & Mary C. Golbitz
- March 30, 2014 – Congregation passes unanimous vote to re-commit to being recognized as a UUA Welcoming Congregation
- December 2013 – Hosted Cape Coral Rainbow Link for holiday party
- October 2013 – Represented UUCFM at SWFL Pride event at the Alliance for the Arts
The Holton Eco-Preserve
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers is a green sanctuary.
The 4.5-acre Holton Preserve is an extension of this status dedicated to helping people steward our earth through classes and events which promote sustainable lifestyles and enhance the native habitat of our community. The Preserve provides land for community gardens, a Labyrinth, Boy Scout activities and congregational environmental events. Learn more at www.holtonecopreserve.org. Many groups use the preserve. Some pay (ex. Medieval Faire), some do not. Groups range in size from 10 to 150.
- Three men oversee grounds, with scheduled workdays where five to 20 church-wide volunteers come to weed, plant, paint, etc.
- Sixty (60) Boy Scouts assist on the grounds as part of their service learning.
- Earth Day Work Party in conjunction with the Boy Scout troop on April 22nd.
- Maintain existing grounds and work on clearing exotic/invasives along the northern boundary of the Preserve.
- Continue removal of stands of Brazilian Pepper, Earleaf Acacia and Maleleuca along the eastern border of the Preserve.
- Maintain Green Sanctuary designation:
- We have made substantial progress on the energy conservation side (Buildings) over the past six years and will be posting that to the UUCFM website soon.
- We are moving to lower energy inputs with nearly all native planting format and less turf with the long range intent of creating a campus-wide “Wildlife Refuge.” as outlined in the State publication: “Planting a Refuge for Wildlife, creating a backyard habitat for Florida’s native animals” published by the Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
Community Sharing Sundays
The Social Justice Committee selects the recipients list of local justice and advocacy agencies to receive the donations and invites representative from each group to speak to the Congregation each month. Organizations which receive support include: Planned Parenthood, Quality of Life Center, FGCU Campus Ministry, Lee County Homeless Coalition, Interfaith Action (migrant farmworkers), Visuality, Inc. (Gay youth), ACT (Abuse, Counseling, Treatment) Women’s Shelter, Our Mother’s Home, PACE School for Girls, the Early Learning Center, and the Gulf Coast Literary Council. Total shared in 2013-4 was: Total $10,506.56