October 31, 2014   7 Cheshvan 5775
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Congregational Director of Advocacy & Tikkun Olam Program
Mar. 14, 2011
Creation of a full-time Director of Advocacy and Communications position to reinvigorate social activism within the congregation.

Community Contact Information:
Central Reform Congregation
St. Louis, MO
www.centralreform.org

 

Goals:

  • Maximize impact on the issues that matter most to congregants
  • Maximize involvement of members in tikkun olam/social justice work
  • Engage members in a way that empowers them and allows them to grow their skills

Overview:
Central Reform Congregation created a full-time Director of Advocacy and Communications position to reinvigorate social activism and educate and mobilize members.

Preparation:
In 2007, Central Reform Congregation’s board, rabbis and social justice leadership team created a full-time Director of Advocacy and Communications position. This came after the realization that the congregation’s existing social action programs had become too fragmented with many people leading various programs, lack of experience programming, wavering leadership buy-in, lack of participation and questionable community impact.

Once hired, the new Director of Advocacy and Communications was provided with an Advisory Committee comprised of the congregation’s rabbis, lay leaders, senior staff and board members to guide the work over the first six months. The Director of Advocacy and Communications met with past and current social action lay leaders; conducted a congregation-wide survey to identify the congregation’s priority issues; created teams of lay leaders to work on the congregation’s top three priorities and met with coalition partners working on those priority issues.   

The congregation was informed of the new position through synagogue newsletters, phone calls, letters and event announcements.

One task for the Director of Advocacy was to re-organize the congregation’s Social Responsibility Circle into a new, more structured Tikkun Olam Steering Committee to provide strategic oversight of all congregational social action programs. This committee is now responsible for considering new project suggestions, identifying gaps in the congregation’s tikkun olam programming, recommending positions on legislation and ballot initiatives to the board and evaluating completed and ongoing projects. Members apply to serve on the committee and make a one-year commitment to regular participation in monthly meetings and responsive online communication between meetings.

Project Implementation: 
Through one-on-one meetings with board members, rabbis and key lay leaders, the dissemination of a survey to identify the congregation’s priority issues, and a congregational open meeting to discuss the survey results, the Director of Advocacy and Communications determined the three top priority issues: health care, education, and the environment.   

A team was formed for each issue. The Health Care and Education Teams were tasked with identifying a major congregational project related to their issue, and the Environment Team was asked to study and recommend ways for CRC to become more environmentally-friendly.   

While the three teams took off running with their projects, the revitalized Tikkun Olam Steering Committee was asked to oversee the issues identified as “second priorities.” At the time, those issues included poverty, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender rights, reproductive rights, racial justice and Darfur. The Steering Committee decided that programming in these areas would be most effective if led by teams of three or more members committed to the program’s success, with the oversight of the Steering Committee.

Finally, the Director of Advocacy and Communications participated in activities on behalf of the congregation in ways that are often not possible for even the most dedicated lay volunteers. These included planning community coalition campaigns around health care and budget legislation, taking a lead role in Missouri Health Care for All and giving presentations on understanding federal health reform to organizations throughout the St. Louis community to Jewish, Christian and secular organizations.

Results:
Health Care Team: Main health care projects project involve advocating for increased access to health care, including participating in Missouri Health Care for All, a statewide, grassroots movement founded at Central Reform Congregation in 2007. Since making this decision, the Health Care Team has been involved in advocating against state budget cuts for health care; supporting a state proposal to increase access to care for low-income Missourians; and a 2008 non-partisan candidate forum on health issues. The team was heavily involved in the campaign to pass federal health care reform by holding three forums to help synagogue and community members understand the law; planning and participating in a St. Louis Region Day of Action and other community events; and bringing groups of synagogue members to the state capitol to educate underinformed state legislators about the new law. The congregation exercised a strong leadership role in Missouri Health Care for All, which now engages 128 faith and community organizations and more than 7,500 individuals statewide in a movement for quality, affordable health care for all Missourians.

Education Team: Focuses on helping youth at the St. Louis Juvenile Detention Center. Members volunteered as weekly tutors, ran a regular workshop on creating a resume and applying for a job and provided programs such as a “Know Your Rights” program presented by attorneys within the congregation, an annual Field Day, a Christmas Day program and a community service project for the victims of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Environment Team: Identified, researched and implemented several ways to make the synagogue more environmentally-friendly such as the elimination of all Styrofoam products, the implementation of single-stream recycling and the use of eco-friendly cleaning supplies. 

Under the leadership of the Tikkun Olam Steering Committee and with the guidance of the Director of Advocacy and Communications, teams of congregation members have led many successful programs since 2007, including:

  • Involving the broader Jewish community in St. Louis Pride Fest to demonstrate Jewish support for equality and inclusion for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. 
  • Providing weekly volunteers in 2009 and 2010 to a free health clinic for low-income children held each summer by medical students at St. Louis University.
  • Two separate yearlong series of monthly speakers at Friday night Shabbat services, one on the myriad issues associated with poverty and one on the many ways in which society still needs to “level the playing field” for all.
  • A January 2010 concert that raised more than $7,000 for relief after the Haiti earthquake.
  • Hosting “Room at the Inn,” a traveling homeless shelter that asks congregations to host ten homeless individuals overnight once a month.
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