The Common Good
January-February 1999

Hands-On Experience

by Carol Fennelly | January-February 1999

A historic gathering on the churches and welfare reform.

In April 1997, Gen. Colin Powell convened the Presidents' Summit for America's Future in Philadelphia. It became known as the "Volunteer Summit." Until the last minute, faith communities were excluded from the plans and ultimately were only minimally represented. In this context the Call to Renewal conceived the "National Summit on the Churches and Welfare Reform," planned for February 1-3, 1999, in Washington, D.C.

It is well known that churches and faith-based organizations have consistently delivered services to needy people. Over the years they have offered prophetic voices of advocacy as well as fed the hungry, clothed the naked, housed the stranger, and visited the sick and imprisoned. From Catholic Charities and the Catholic Worker movement to the Gospel Missions and the Salvation Army, people of faith have sometimes quietly, sometimes not so quietly, been there throughout the years.

While we come together in our various affiliations, we rarely come together as a whole—crossing affiliation, theological, ideological, and political lines. Now more than ever before, crossing those barriers is critical.

As the true impact of the 1996 welfare bill begins to manifest itself, it is important that we strengthen our ties with one another and encourage the ongoing development of a network of faith organizations to monitor the results. We have much to learn from each other, much to share, and many lessons to offer our national leaders. While the welfare bill lacked provisions to track those leaving welfare rolls, we know that more people are just disappearing than are actually finding meaningful living-wage employment. Despite the politicians who would have us believe that "happy days are here again" for America's poor people, and despite all of the best efforts of many, we need to be asking the critical question, Where are they?

We must take this time to listen to and learn from each other. Lives depend upon what we do. It is crucial that we bring our various hands-on experiences together with those who develop policy to create policy recommendations from the ground up. We must lift up "best practices" that offer true models for change in our communities.

On February 1-3, 1999, in Washington, D.C., people representing hundreds of faith-based organizations from around the country will come together for a National Summit on the Churches and Welfare Reform. We will begin to strengthen the network of faith-based organizations that are the backbone of welfare-to-work efforts. On the first two days, we will look at best practices across the United States, develop policy recommendations from the ground up, and learn about resource development and other nuts and bolts skills necessary to make faith-based programs work. On the third day, we will take our concerns, recommendations, and witness to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress. We have all learned much since the welfare bill passed; now it is time to share those lessons with lawmakers.

Featured speakers will include Mary Jo Bane, Tony Campolo, Sharon Daly, Yvonne Delk, John DiIulio, E.J. Dionne, Bryan Hehir, John Perkins, Rev. Eugene Rivers, and Jim Wallis, with the music of Ken Medema. First-day workshops will look at public policy and examine best practices in child care, family mentoring, juvenile programs, transportation, housing, incarceration, economic development, homelessness, job and life skills, and substance abuse. The second day will cover issues including resource development, partnering with business, capacity building, charitable choice, asset-based community development, social entrepreneurship, and faith-based organizing for social change. We are bringing together the best and brightest as Summit faculty to educate and inspire us for the new millennium.

The setting for this historic gathering is the 4-H Center, located on a scenic 12-acre campus in Chevy Chase, Maryland (adjacent to Washington, D.C.). It offers a comfortable, affordable, and educational environment suitable for this kind of session. The location is self-contained and creates an atmosphere that enhances the possibility for networking and community building.

Mark your calendars today and register for this historic event. The ad on the inside front cover of this magazine contains a registration form. You can call the Call to Renewal office if you need assistance. This is a time to renew, and find encouragement, inspiration, and strength from each other. Be there! —Carol Fennelly

Sojourners is an active participant in the Call to Renewal network, providing leadership and organizing support. Write Call to Renewal, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; call (202) 328-8745; fax (202) 328-8757; e-mail: Call_to_Renewal@convene.com or see the Call to Renewal home page at www.calltorenewal.com.

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