Florida Methodists Join Forces To Advocate For Children In Tallahassee

Florida United Methodist Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and AME Bishop McKinley Young will lead a joint delegation to Tallahassee next week to advocate on behalf of policies to help the children of the state. United Methodists have the opportunity to join the effort.

Florida Methodists march to the state capitol April 13, 2010 to meet with legislators and urge them to support bills that would help Florida children and families struggling with food and housing issues. Photo by Tita Parham.

Whitaker and Young and people from their respective jurisdictions will participate in Florida Advocacy Days, a two-day event that brings rank-and-file church members and their leaders together with state legislators. The goal is to push for state laws that maintain programs and funding for the health, education and welfare of children.

The event will be hosted by Trinity UMC of Tallahassee on April 4 and 5 in conjunction with Children’s Week, an annual awareness campaign in the state capital organized by United Way. The delegation will receive briefings on April 4 and the next day walk to the Capitol nearby to meet with legislators.

Conference clergy and lay members are welcome to participate, and in previous years, as many as 100 Florida United Methodists have traveled to Tallahassee for the event.

Registration is open until March 31, and people may register by contacting Tammy Fisher, project coordinator, at 800-282-8011, ext. 182, or at tfisher@flumc.org. Registration can also be completed online by going to http://www.flumc2.org/event_detail.asp?PKValue=3083.

It’s important to register, Fisher said, so that appointments can be arranged with legislators from each participant’s district.

During Advocacy Days 2010, participants take notes on key issues affecting children and families in preparation for visits with state legislators. Photo by Tita Parham. Photo #10-1501.

Participants will be briefed by staff members of Florida Impact, an ecumenical advocacy organization. They will learn which bills or government actions support or adversely affect childhood nutrition and hunger, health care and housing.

Whitaker has been attending Florida Advocacy Days since 2002. He said that he and Conference members do not engage in partisan political activity but rather focus their efforts on broader goals.

“It’s been a worthwhile endeavor. I believe the church’s witness is taken seriously because it’s part of a larger effort,” he said.

Whitaker said advocacy sometimes requires “getting your hands dirty” by paying attention to particular pieces of legislation. This year he is particularly concerned about preserving the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which the Legislature created several years ago to facilitate housing for low-income people.

Whitaker said he and Bishop Young also will advocate for ways to increase the effectiveness of the Summer Nutrition Program, which is funded by the federal government but administered by the state.

Whitaker is tentatively scheduled to meet with Rep. Gary Aubuchon, a United Methodist from Cape Coral who chairs the House Rules Committee. He said he recognizes that legislators are facing difficult decisions to deal with a budget deficit.

“Our advocacy is intended to be a reminder that while they have to make tough decisions, it’s not wise to fail to make decisions for the children of Florida. They are our future. The last thing we want to do is undermine our posterity,” Whitaker said.

Melinda Trotti, director of Justice and Outreach Ministries for the Florida Conference, said legislators do listen to the concerns of people of faith.

“When there is no self-interest, people are able to make their faith commitment clear,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for Christian people whose faith leads them toward justice but don’t know how to approach legislators. We set up the opportunity for that to happen.”

The Florida Conference has participated in Children’s Week for about eight years. For most of that time, participation was organized through the United Methodist Women. In 2009, the Conference’s newly created Justice and Outreach Ministries began coordinating the effort, but United Methodist Women still play a vital role in the effort, Trotti said.

The Conference has a partnership in Florida Advocacy Days with the 11th Episcopal District of the AME Church, and the AME Women’s Missionary Society works with the Florida Conference to recruit and train participants. This year, Bishop Young and his wife will be present during the event.

News media contact: Cary McMullen, 800-282-8011, cmcmullen@flumc.org, Lakeland
*McMullen is managing editor of the e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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