Interfaith Group Seeks Justice, Dignity
The Upper Valley’s numerous faith-based congregations perform many great services for their members and their communities. They also come together to support instances of injustice and concern they see happening beyond the borders of their separate communities. One organization that helps form bonds between various congregations to attend to problems occurring in the Upper Valley and beyond is the United Valley Interfaith Project (UVIP).
One longtime volunteer member of the UVIP, Rosemary Affeldt, sums up her reasons for involvement in the organization this way: “How many of us have sat in front of our television screens, aghast at what we see nightly, feeling appalled, distant, helpless to respond, be it to local issues of concern such as high fuel costs, low wages, or undocumented immigrants being stopped at roadblocks... These are only a few of the social, moral, and economic justice issues which UVIP is currently tackling.”
The work of the UVIP focuses on three main areas of concern, says Rod Wendt, executive director for the organization. Those areas are immigration justice, economic justice, and aging with dignity for seniors. These, of course, are complicated matters with numerous issues involved in each area. As such, Wendt points out that the UVIP works with other organizations in Vermont and New Hampshire in taking on these issues. In Vermont, the UVIP teams up with the organization Vermont Interfaith Action in working to address and solve these issues.
Fifteen different area congregations support the work of the UVIP, including St. Barnabas Episcopal Church of Norwich, the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of the Upper Valley in Norwich, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in White River Junction. Members of each congregation interested in the work of the UVIP meet to work on projects and ideas proposed, and each congregation puts forth a member to serve on the organization’s executive council.
Left: Longtime UVIP volunteer, Rosemary Affeldt, promoting higher minimum wages
Though current concern regarding undocumented immigrants runs high in some parts of the country, is it an issue in the Upper Valley? Rod Wendt explains that it is. He finds that DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students at schools such as Dartmouth have many concerns about their status in the current atmosphere regarding immigration. He adds that area migrant workers also have worries regarding their status. As the US Border Patrol has jurisdiction within 100 miles of an international border, the checkpoints set up along major highways including I-91, I-89, and I-93 are also of great concern to the immigrant community here.
In the area of economic justice, raising the minimum wage is a current advocacy issue for the UVIP, particularly in New Hampshire. In 2018, Vermont’s minimum wage is $10.50 per hour, and beginning in 2019, it will increase at the rate of inflation. New Hampshire’s minimum wage is set at the federal level, $7.25 per hour. The UVIP is involved with the Raise Up New Hampshire campaign, an initiative of the NH Alliance for a Moral Economy. This initiative is not only designed to increase wages, but also to secure paid sick days for workers, oppose right-to-work legislation, and to protect the rights of temporary workers.
In the areas of immigration and economic justice, getting those affected involved in the work and process is critical, says Wendt. “It is the foundation of our work.” Still, for numerous reasons, many affected folks are hesitant to participate. “It’s hard work getting them involved.”
In an effort to reach more of these folks, the UVIP is partnering with local service organizations – including LISTEN, The Haven, and the Good Neighbor Health Clinic – to reach their clients and give them a voice in these efforts. Wendt says they are “in the very early stages” of this effort, and he is hopeful for positive results in this partnership in the near future.
Rosemary Affeldt agrees that working with those most affected by these issues is important for her work in the UVIP. “As a member of UVIP... I can engage in a grassroots collective effort to empower community members to find their voices, self advocate for change, and make a difference for themselves and their communities.”
The third aim of the UVIP is their effort called Aging with Dignity. As many members of the congregations that make up the UVIP face this dilemma, educating seniors on subjects such as remaining in their home, staying active in their community, and planning for medical needs is a natural direction for his organization. With their focus on education, the UVIP trains facilitators to work with area seniors, and offers a course entitled Useful Tools for Aging with Dignity. 2018 was the second year for the course, and it will remain a staple of the work of the UVIP.