Florida United Methodists prepare to speak out for children



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Florida United Methodists prepare to speak out for children

By Derek Maul | March 26, 2010 {1156}

Each April for the past 14 years, “Children’s Week” in Tallahassee has pooled the efforts of more than 80 nonprofit, corporate, philanthropic, faith-based, and state agencies and organizations to promote children and family issues. The goal is to make sure Florida’s government understands how important such concerns are to citizens.

Bishops Timothy W. Whitaker (left) and Paul L. Leeland of the Alabama-West Florida Conference (center) join the Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, in leading 2009 Florida Advocacy Days participants on their march toward the Florida Capitol. File photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1148. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1002, 04/15/09.

This year’s Children’s Week is April 11-13. The coordinated blitz has continued to grow, according to organizers, because of its collaborative nature and the plethora of organizations gathering under “One Voice” to lobby regarding issues that affect the lives of those unable to speak for themselves.

“Children’s Week is both an event and an organization,” said Melinda Trotti, director of the Florida Conference’s justice and outreach ministries. “It’s run by the United Way of Florida and focuses on children’s issues.”

The annual event has also become an effective vehicle for advancing the particular justice issues of concern to Florida Conference United Methodists — specifically as they relate to children in poverty — during the current legislative session.

Clergy, laity take action

“Florida Advocacy Days” at Children’s Week 2010 provides a coordinated and focused opportunity for Florida Methodists to access quality training and preparation so they can make their voices heard in Tallahassee.

State Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland (left), and Tammy Fisher, event coordinator for the Florida Conference’s justice and outreach ministries, help a child in the preschool program at College Heights United Methodist Church in Lakeland paint handprints onto T-shirts. Volunteers will wear the shirts at the advocacy event. Stargel represents House District 64 and is running for Senate District 15. Photo by Sandy Lovern. Photo #10-1420.

The event — themed “Show Up 2 Speak Out!” — is a joint effort of the Florida Conference and African Methodist Episcopal Church 11th Episcopal District and co-sponsored by Florida Impact and Florida Conference United Methodist Women.

“Participation in Advocacy Days can certainly make a difference,” Trotti said. “We’d love to see 1,000 people in Tallahassee. We’ve been told that last year’s visits moved more than one bill out of committee.”

Trotti says the Florida Conference is specifically interested in three key issues. The first concerns the economic benefits of “Sadowski Funding,” a 1991 initiative designed to leverage monies set aside for low-income housing. In just three years, Florida has lost more than $603 million in federal tax-exempt bonds and tax credit equity due to efforts to balance the budget with Sadowski Trust Funds.  An additional $1 billion will be lost in the next two years, according to Florida Impact leaders, unless housing is fully funded. The Florida Conference wants this practice to end.

The second emphasis is shoring up more resources for Florida’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps. Food stamp applications have increased 50 percent in Florida, but there are fewer staff available to review and process applications. People who qualify are waiting months for approval, preventing thousands of Florida families from accessing critical resources.

Many of Florida’s children could benefit from the federal AFTERschool Meals Act (S.990/H.R.3321), currently before Congress, which would expand the program to all states. The strategy is to secure at least half the Florida bipartisan, congressional delegation and at least one senator to cosponsor the legislation.

“It’s great having the children participate in the process,” said Melinda Trotti (right), director of the Florida Conference’s justice and outreach ministries, which supplied the T-shirts painted by the children and is helping coordinate the advocacy event. “It helps us get in touch with the reality of children’s needs in Florida and how they need us to be their voice in Tallahassee.” Photo by Sandy Lovern. Photo #10-1421.

Participants won’t be going in cold on the issues, however. Time is set aside for them to learn about the issues and how to approach their representatives. After the training, they will go with an experienced small group leader from their district to meet with their legislators.

“They know what bills to talk about, and it does make a difference,” said the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of Florida Conference Connectional Ministries. “Having 140 or so last year gave a lot more leverage to our bishop, the AME bishop and the Alabama/West Florida bishop when they met with senior legislators. It gave them more clout in their conversations to get bills unstuck and moving.”

“It’s people speaking with authority from a position of faith, not lobbying for their own personal benefit,” Trotti said. “People of faith have to be involved in acts of mercy and justice — it’s God’s calling. Acts of mercy, particularly within a congregation, are more natural. Justice work is more
complex, but we must work for justice.”

Fogle-Miller agrees. “Justice and mercy go together,” she said. “Mercy is easier; it’s more immediate. But justice, over the long haul, is what God promises.”

Clergy and laity who would like to participate in Florida Advocacy Days may register online at http://www.flumc2.org/page.asp?PKValue=1653. The cost is $70, including four meals and advocacy materials.

An Advocacy Days brochure and bulletin insert, a Bible study on hunger, and a toolkit offering ways churches can help their communities end childhood hunger are also available on the site.

The Florida Conference established children in poverty as its social witness priority in 2007. Florida Advocacy Days is part of that effort.

Related stories

United Methodists speak out for children during advocacy event

United Methodists called to rally for children in Tallahassee

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.




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