Virginia Congregation fights anti-immigrant Sentiment and Reaches out to Day Laborer Community
Wellspring UCC in Centreville, VA is a very small congregation (a new church start, about 10 years old) but is making a big impact in its community. In fall 2007 they began a series of Immigration Forums, open to the community, for sharing opinions and clarifying the facts about immigration. There was strong anti-immigrant feeling that led to negative legislation in neighboring towns and counties, and they wanted to combat it with a community-wide approach.
They received a strong response with many voices heard on all sides, and good local press reporting. Presentations were given by several nonprofits who work with immigrants, and by political leaders and government agencies whose work involves the immigrant community. Generally, the Forum was successful in reducing the tension and feelings directed toward the collection of 100 or so day laborers who gather on a local street corner.
In 2008-2009 the Forum direction changed and they are now forming a coalition of churches and social service agencies who have programs that serve low-income immigrants. This has become critically important, since resources are increasingly limited and need is growing.
Lately they are seeing the size of the day laborer group grow as unemployment rises. They are working on lists of resources, exchanging ideas about recruiting volunteers, and even sharing volunteers for our various programs.
In addition, Wellspring UCC has hired a Spanish speaking organizer to work with the day laborers "on the corner" one morning each week, to stay in contact with the men and help connect them with services. This week, we are beginning Sunday afternoon ESL classes at the public library, which is walking distance from the area where many live. (Other ESL opportunities in this suburban community require transportation, and are offered at times when many are not available.) Additinoally they will be joined in their efforts by students from George Mason University who are assisting these day-labor support programs, as field work assignments for their Conflict Resolution & Transformation class with the church’s pastor, Rev. Al Fuertes.
Finally, Wellspring has begun a series of monthly evening gatherings for the day laborers at the library, where they are able to learn about services and work together to support each other. There are a number of Spanish-speaking people from various agencies who are assisting with this, providing legal aid for day laborers, and mental health social workers.At the last gathering, there were 90 men present.
Update: On Feb 22 Wellspring had a bilingual Sunday service, and some of the workers joined them in worship. Together they shared prayers, scripture and song in Spanish & English. Participants described the experience as inspiring and hope to do it again soon.
To get connected to the work being done at Wellspring UCC or to support their efforts email firstname.lastname@example.org.