Social justice takes many forms. Here are a few of the initiatives in the area that have our passionate support:
Beardsley School Committee:
In the year 2000, our congregation voted to adopt this struggling inner-city school in Bridgeport, CT. Since then, church members have supported the staff and students of Beardsley Elementary School through volunteer work and financial donations for special projects and urgent needs. Most importantly, our volunteers become mentors, tutors and readers for grades K-6. Over the past 9 years, our congregation has provided bi-annual Read Aloud Days, opera and theater, job coaching, financial seminars, art, book clubs, myriad school and teacher supplies, winter coats, backpacks, clothing, many new and used books, scholarships, swimming lessons, musical instruments, anti-violence training, Principal for a Day, speakers, participation in work days, an annual Pot Luck Supper and a Teacher Appreciation Lunch.
Committee to End the Death Penalty:
Legislation was passed in the 2009 Connecticut General Assembly to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut. The Governor vetoed the bill and there weren’t enough votes to override. Legislation will come up again in 2011 so we’re embarked on an educational campaign- films, speakers, reading groups, dramatic reading, and more– to mobilize our congregation in 2011. We’re also coordinating with other local and state-wide organizations. Execute Justice, Not People!
Environmental Action Group / Green Sanctuary:
In support of our 7th Universalist Principle, “to Honor the Interdependent Web of All Existence” The Green Sanctuary Committee, after 4 years of work, acquired Green Sanctuary status for our congregation in 2009. At that point the committee changed its name to the Environmental Action Group.
Some of our environmental successes include: establishment of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), a yearly Earth Day Service, signing up 105 families within the congregation for “clean energy”, an Inter-Religious Earth Day, active involvement in environmental justice legislation in Hartford and banning the use of plastic bags in Westport, and eliminating the use of paper and plastic dishes, cups, glasses, cutlery from our kitchen.
The committee has also organized events involving expert speakers, film showings, “healthy food” potluck dinners at the church, and environmental programming for our children in Religious Education.
We work with GVI (Green Village Initiative), the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network (Hartford), the Environmental Justice Coalition (Bridgeport), and other local and state-wide organizations.
This year we hope to create our own edible garden on the church grounds. This garden will be incorporated in the Religious Education program for children to learn about growing food, nurturing plants and sharing nature’s bounty.
Overall there is plenty of work still to do, and we can always use new members. It’s good to see the amount of activity generated from our small groups and heartening to see the changes that have taken place. Won’t you join us?
Health Care Task Force:
The Healthcare Task Force works to advocate for health care legislation in Connecticut and on the federal level. We successfully worked to pass legislation (2009) in Hartford for a plan to expand health care coverage, SustiNet, to all Connecticut citizens. We are now involved with fleshing out the SustiNet Plan, passing a federal universal health care plan, and passing Paid Sick Day legislation in the current Connecticut General Assembly.
The Health Care Task Force is about advocacy. About educating our congregation and our community about health care issues, about the legislation, and about how we can urge our elected representatives to cast votes that reflect our values. We also work in coalition with other local and statewide organizations. We meet monthly.
Interfaith Sacred Activism / The Peace Labyrinth and the Dances of Universal Peace:
We offer chants, dances, and labyrinths, uniting people to promote peace around the world.
The Peace Labyrinth – Unlike a maze, which is designed to confuse the walker, the labyrinth’s single, spiral pathway leads us inevitably to our own Center, to a place of deep Inner Peace and Communion with the Divine. Many people receive profound insights about their life’s journeys as they traverse the labyrinth’s twists and turns, in what can be a “full-body metaphor” experience.
The Dances of Universal Peace come out of the Sufi tradition, which is the mystical branch of Islam. However, they embrace all faiths and cultures around the world. When he founded the dances 40 years ago, Samuel Lewis (an American Sufi who came from a Jewish background) reasoned that when people hold hands, sing and dance to one another’s sacred chants and prayers, we simply cannot go on being enemies. These special dances are now practiced around the world by people of all faiths, even in Israel-Palestine, where interfaith groups use them as part of their work for peace. It is in this spirit that the Unitarian Church in Westport is offering this peaceful “meditation in motion” to the Interfaith Community of Fairfield County, as a program in its Social Justice work.
Join us on the quarterly Solstices, Equinoxes, and other occasions.
KIVA Microfinance Committee:
The Microfinance Committee lends funds to entrepreneurs in developing nations through a web-based organization called KIVA. On their website, the founders of KIVA describe the service as, “the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend to unique entrepreneurs around the globe.” Its mission is “to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.”
The loans made through KIVA are uniquely risk-free and transparent. We can track exactly who receives our loans, what they are doing with the funding, and when they pay it back. The KIVA website deducts no fees so all loans have 100% pass-through to recipients, whose repayment rates are exceptionally high, averaging 98%.
You can join the UU Westport KIVA lending team by going to the website: kiva.org. Once you are on the site, select the “Community” box then enter “Westport” in the box entitled “Search for a lending team”. The site will then prompt you to request to join the “KIVA/Social Justice Council–Unitarian Church in Westport CT”. From there, you can make donations as part of our team. Alternatively, you can make funds available to the committee to lend for you. You may also want to join the KIVA Committee, which meets on the first Tuesday each month, and help us raise and distribute funds.
Racial Justice Committee:
The Racial Justice Committee plans and implements initiatives to make the Unitarian Church in Westport more welcoming to people of all races.
Members of the committee prepare and present a special service for Martin Luther King Sunday and help to expand the congregation’s awareness of the real and harmful effects of racism through ongoing reading and discussion groups, film showings, and speakers. We are also connecting with community groups working on racial justice.
For starters, please join our e-mail list and we’ll keep you updated on area events, book discussions, and other awareness raising projects.
Rainbow Task Force:
The Rainbow Task Force was formed in 1990, to establish our congregation as an actively welcoming place for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered (GLBT) people. We became a Welcoming Congregation in 1994 and serve Fairfield County as a voice of fairness for all people and a force against discrimination based on gender orientation.
The Task Force has organized the congregation to advocate for marriage equality in Connecticut and has hosted activities and events, including concerts, Fairfield County Gay Pride and political conversations on issues such as gay marriage and civil rights for gays and lesbians, often working in conjunction with Love Makes a Family, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and other local groups.
United Nations Committee:
The United Nations Committee supports the work of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) in educating UUs about the structure, function, and actions of the United Nations. We attend briefings at the United Nations, participate in the Annual Intergenerational Spring Seminar, promote membership in the UU-UNO, and organize a yearly UN Sunday Service. We also take up UU-UNO initiatives like Every Child is Our Child and opposing the genocide in Darfur.
Every Child is Our Child:
Every Child is Our Child educates children in Ghana who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The program operates through a UU-UNO partnership with a local community organization, the Queen Mother’s Organization. Our Youth Group is connecting with children there to share life’s experiences, hopes and dreams.
Volunteer to help raise funds and form relationships between our sponsored children in the Manya Krobo area of Ghana and our own youth.
Or you can donate funds – $80 provides support for a one-year education for one child while $800 provides a complete 10-year basic education for a child. In addition, students and their foster families receive free healthcare.
Raises awareness in our local communities, puts pressure on the U.S. and Sudanese government to end the atrocities and, funds support for the refugees.
You can volunteer to participate in demonstrations, rallies and “teach-ins” as partof the “Save Darfur” coalition, contact US and state legislators to demand mandatory UN peacekeeping forces in Darfur and the divestment of funds from companies that work with the Sudanese regime.
Raise funds for “solar cookers” to provide safe food preparation in refugee camps.
Westbridge is a friendly coalition of six local churches and synagogues that repair and renovate homes and community buildings for families and organizations that cannot afford to or are otherwise incapable of having the work done. We work with ReBuilding Together in this effort to maintain existing housing.
Volunteers, teenagers and adults, no matter what skill level, are welcome. We have skilled crafts people who are excellent teachers. You’re guaranteed to leave knowing more than when you started. We primarily work on Saturdays.
We can always use your help in construction, family and beneficiary selection, telephone and e-mail communication, photography, and fundraising. Or you can donate materials (or money to by them) including windows, doors, insulation, programmable thermostats, grab rails, paint, CFL light bulbs, lumber, plumbing and electrical supplies.
The Religious Education Program at The Unitarian Church in Westport supports social justice initiatives for youth, including maintaining homes of neighbors in need; working on community gardens in Bridgeport; participating in an annual multigenerational service trip (New Orleans for Gulf Coast relief, program for the homeless and hungry in Washington DC) cleaning up Long Island Sound, toiletry kits for shelters, and much more. Youth Outreach supports these initiatives through Sunday Soup Lunch sales and other fundraisers.
Cell Phone Recycling: Everyone who has a cell phone eventually gets a new one. Why not recycle your old phone and generate income for our youth social action programs?
Connecticut Food Bank: We collect food every Sunday for the Connecticut Food Bank, over 3,000 pounds last year.
REEL Justice Film series: The REEL Justice Film Series began in December, 2007 and continues to offer thought provoking, award-winning feature, foreign, indy, and documentary social justice films every month. The films are often connected with the work of our social action committees.
Share the Plate: The first Sunday of the month we split our collection plate with a local social service organization. What could be better than selecting a local community organization that is the recipient of funds that literally “drop from the sky?”
Covenant for Care: Covenant to Care for Children’s ‘Adopt a Social Worker Program’ matches our congregation with a child protection social worker. The purpose is to assist that social worker in providing for the unmet needs of abused, neglected, and severely impoverished children in the local community. The social workers who opt for this program do so on a volunteer basis, above and beyond their job requirements. This is a unique opportunity to donate goods and services without being asked for cash contributions.
Homes with Hope: Monthly food preparation for the Homes with Hope soup kitchen.
Project ReEntry: November/December toy and clothing collection for children of inmates.
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee: Started in 1939 to help rescue victims of Nazi oppression, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) (www.uusc.org) continues to work for human rights and social justice throughout the world by protecting civil liberties and democratic processes, defending the rights of vulnerable people affected by disasters; protecting the right to safe, affordable drinking water and advancing workers’ rights, including the right to a living wage.
Please email David Vita or call 203.227.7205 x14 if you’re interested in more information regarding these programs.