2015-2016 Social Justice Projects:  Focus on Collaboration

Our Fellowship has expanded its social justice work in the community during this past year. In the Fellowship’s 5 Year Plan adopted in June 2013, a primary goal is to partner with other community organizations. Nothing better demonstrates successful collaboration than the BYILD Youth Garden Project in the spring of 2016, with multiple organizations participating in this accomplishment.

The Community PRIDE Project has offered our Fellowship an opportunity to collaborate with the AmeriCorps program and, for the past eighteen months, to be involved in an ongoing effort to rehabilitate deteriorating housing in our aging neighborhoods and assist low-income homeowners.

The SOAR Project, a recent addition, has the Fellowship working in collaboration with the Anchorage Children’s’ Home, gathering needed supplies and donating them.

BYILD Youth Garden

The BYILD Youth Garden is now a reality! The garden was created in early April 2016, after more than three years of planning, fundraising, and looking for a suitable site. While several sites were considered, land immediately adjacent to the Independence Village apartments was made available for the garden by Big Bend Community Based Care. This is a terrific location, as the garden is now co-located with the residence complex where many foster youth participating in the BYILD program currently reside.

The BYILD Program was created by UUFBC to address needs of foster youth transitioning from a system of care to independent living. Soon after creating BYILD, the Social Justice Team began considering a garden project, as a way of providing multiple learning opportunities, a focal point for social interaction, and fresh produce for a healthy lifestyle.

The Youth Garden design features six raised beds, eight feet by four feet in size, with paths surrounding each bed to give access from all sides. The beds are lined with barrier cloth and filled with a special local blend of composted dirt.

The garden came into being on April 5th, National Volunteer Day, with the work, cooperation and support of multiple agencies. The Social Justice Team of UUFBC, the steward of funds raised by the Emerald Coast Pagan Community and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, created the design for the garden and purchased all of the materials. The Panama City Marine Institute staff and students built the raised beds on-site. Then, with additional volunteers from UUFBC, AmeriCorps, and the Children’s Home Society, the group dug post-holes, poured concrete and installed the beds permanently. One week later, AmeriCorps lined the beds, and UUFBC volunteers ordered the dirt delivery and filled the beds. The garden was planted by foster youth with direction and assistance from Children’s Home Society staff and the Youth Enrichment Services (YES) organization.

The garden has been maintained throughout the summer by foster youth, who began harvesting cucumbers and peppers at the end of June. Peppers from the garden were included in the salad served for dinner at the BYILD Life Skills Class in July. The garden should be operational all year around by replanting season specific seedlings.

The UUFBC Social Justice Team thanks the many volunteers and donors who contributed to the Youth Garden to make this project happen. Special thanks to the following individuals who came through with expertise and enthusiasm at just the right moment during the arrangements for, and the implementation of the project. Without them, the garden would not exist: Andrea Ziegler, John Shaffer, Don Ward, George Stevenson, Carole Johnson, and Tim Lewis.

Community PRIDE Project

The Community PRIDE Project (Paint It, Repair It, Improve It, Deliver Solutions, Eliminate Blight) began on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2015, in order to honor Dr. King and to offer solutions where they are needed most in the community. Our local AmeriCorps Program created the PRIDE Project, manages it and arranges for the necessary supplies and construction materials. Volunteers work pressure-washing, repairing and painting the exterior of houses of individuals in need of assistance. For older residents who are physically and/or financially unable to do the work themselves, this has made a big difference. By preserving homes, making them safe, habitable and affordable, the homeowners may age in place. The PRIDE Project allows homeowners to stay in their homes while the surrounding neighborhood benefits from the beautification that takes place.

The Social Justice Team made the decision to collaborate with AmeriCorps from the PRIDE Project’s inception and has worked in support of the project for the past eighteen months. The Fellowship is actively demonstrating its commitment to the belief that Black Lives Matter. About twenty UU members have volunteered their labor for this project working on a total of fourteen homes. In addition, the Social Justice Team conducted a Tool Drive in the Fall of 2015 and collected equipment and materials, including ladders, paint brushes, tarps and monetary donations. Special thanks to Bob Gilmore and Judy Stapleton who have remained continuously dedicated to this project.

SOAR, Street Outreach and Recovery

The Social Justice committee would like to thank our UUFBC members and friends for their ongoing support of the Street Outreach and Recovery (SOAR) project.  Administered by staff members at Anchorage Children’s Home, the project’s goal is to maintain contact with the estimated 200 homeless youth aged 16 through 24 years old in Bay County.  While providing these youth with food and toiletry items needed daily, the project’s long term goal is to build a trusting relationship with youth in order to help them make the transition into self-sufficient living, free from the dangers of homelessness and street life.  Since we set up our SOAR donation box in June, 2016, we have delivered items valued at about $500.

As cool weather begins, the staff asks for small cold weather clothing items like warm socks, knit caps, and gloves in addition to the usual food and toiletry items.  In all weather, there is need for pop-top canned food, bottled water, toothpaste, soap, chapstick, hand lotion, etc.  A more complete list will be posted on the Social Justice bulletin board.

At Sunday service on Nov. 20, we made a one-time appeal for cash in response to a request from the SOAR social workers for funds to help provide Thanksgiving dinners to a number of homeless families.  We appreciate the very generous response of $100, as local food banks are currently reporting empty shelves as needs outstrip donations.  However, the Social Justice committee has made no commitment to provide cash assistance in the future.  If you would like to donate cash, please do so in the form of gift cards from WalMart, grocery stores, etc., and we will be happy to pass them on.

For more information and photos, see Unitarian Universalists of Bay County’s Facebook page.