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New Gulf Coast grants total $130K

UUA-UUSC fund supports antiracism training and rebuilding projects.
By Donald E. Skinner

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Rev. Tyrone Edwards and a volunteer

The Rev. Tyrone Edwards (left) of the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center in Phoenix, La., an organization funded in part by the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund, talks with a volunteer at the Center. (Robin Hoecker)

Two grants totaling $130,000 were awarded November 27 to organizations on the Gulf Coast by the Unitarian Universalist Association-UU Service Committee Gulf Coast Relief Fund Panel.

The panel awarded $100,000 to the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, a group of organizers and educators based in New Orleans who are dedicated to antiracism education and organizing. The grant will help the Institute complete the rebuilding of its headquarters and reestablish regional offices where workers can provide a model of antiracism mentoring, training, advocacy and support to Katrina evacuees and community groups.

The second grant of $30,000 went to the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center in Phoenix, La., a community that was under 14 feet of water after the levees broke. The center was founded by members of the Zion Travelers Baptist Church in Phoenix when they returned to their homes and found no government support or help for their community. They organized themselves into a community-based relief and recovery organization that has become a dynamic force in the region. They have a commitment from one organization to provide volunteer labor to rebuild 100 homes in three communities including Phoenix. The Gulf Coast Panel funds will be used to support a construction manager through the Cooperative Center.

“Zion is doing amazing work,” said Martha Thompson, the UU Service Committee’s program manager for Human Rights in Emergencies and Disasters. “It’s a shining beacon of hope down there. It has mobilized many resources in its small town and now it is sharing them with other communities.”

She explained that Zion got an architect to work with the community to make a plan for a house that would cost $36,000 in materials. The owner has to put in a foundation, and volunteer labor will be used to build the house. Zion also started a tool distribution and lending center funded by the Gulf Coast Fund and is working on a computer center for kids.

For more on the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center and the rebuilding efforts in Phoenix, see the related story, “Tyrone Edwards leads his town back to life,” in the sidebar.

Grants from the fund have helped returning residents have a visible presence in their communities, said Thompson, and a voice in the rebuilding process. The fund helped pay for the equipping and staffing of community centers where people could get information and support. Grants from the fund also made it possible for one group to bring professional community planners into low-income neighborhoods and even to meet with displaced residents in places like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio so all residents would have a voice in the restoration of their communities.

As people returned to the Gulf Coast, the fund began to address the growing human rights violations against the thousands of undocumented, immigrant, and guest workers who had come into the region, said Thompson. “And now many groups are taking a serious look at the lack of government response and are beginning to focus on how to better impact policy.”

Below are some of the gains made by organizations the fund has supported:

  • Organizations were able to stop wholesale bulldozing of homes in the Lower Ninth Ward.
  • City officials finally re-opened the Lower Ninth Ward in June to let residents place trailers on their property and gut homes.
  • The city connected water and electricity to the Lower Ninth Ward over the summer.
  • A residents’ group, the East Biloxi Center for Coordination and Relief, completed a professional plan for rebuilding the city and is negotiating with the city for implementation of the plan.
  • Almost all the homes in East Biloxi were gutted for free for low-income residents.
  • ACORN, a national advocate for low- and moderate-income families, gutted more than 1,500 homes for free in New Orleans.
  • The Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance has won more than $1.2 million in back wages for undocumented workers in Mississippi.
  • Thirty organizations have formed the STEPS coalition in Mississippi and are negotiating with the governor’s office over the availability of public housing and other issues affecting low-income residents.
  • Organizations were able to extend the deadline for gutting homes in New Orleans from August 28, 2006, to the end of the year.

    The Gulf Coast Relief Fund raised more than $3.5 million after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Approximately $2.35 million has been spent and $1.1 million remains.

    See sidebar for links to related resources.

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