Editor’s Note: Florida Advocacy Days takes place Jan. 21-23, 2018, in Tallahassee. If you would like to join the Florida Conference during this important time of meeting with state legislators, click here to register.
The mission statement for those who participate in Florida Advocacy Days is best summarized in this verse from Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
|Florida Impact, a partner of the Florida Conference for Florida Advocacy Days, has a major focus on child nutrition programs.|
Those words appear on the invitation from the Florida Conference to join Bishop Ken Carter and many others in Tallahassee on Jan. 21-23.
The conference will partner with the 11th District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in lobbying state lawmakers on a variety of social justice issues. They also will join with Florida Impact, an advocacy organization that is dedicated to securing economic justice in Florida by reducing hunger and poverty.
They will push for passage of a bill that would stipulate that first-time juvenile offenders receive a civil citation for non-violent crimes, instead of being arrested and having a police record at an early age.
“We will also be supporting a piece of legislation for the first time, the restoration of civil rights for felons who have successfully completed their sentences,” Florida Impact President and CEO Trudy Novicki said.
“Finally, we will be urging our representatives to support our efforts to amend certain (Department of Children and Families, or DCF) licensing regulations, so that more community sites may offer after-school meals to eligible children. We will also be on the defense looking for legislation that is pending that may negatively affect children and their families.”
Novicki understands how the system of lawmaking works, and her experience is invaluable in helping to bring about the changes the advocates seek. She is a former chief assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade County and has served on many boards to combat child abuse and sexual predators.
She was named Advocate of the Year in 2012 by the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet for her work on child sex trafficking.
Those experiences enable her to guide people through the legislative maze in Tallahassee.
For the Florida Conference, improving childhood nutrition is a longtime aim, and members plan to stress that in January.
DCF regulations are said to hamper some facilities that want to serve food to hungry and needy children. The agency currently requires churches and other organizations to complete a lengthy process to become a regulated child care facility.
That discourages some churches who want only to provide the meals and not other services associated with a full child care business.
Sharon Austin, the Florida Conference director of Connectional and Justice Ministries, said that’s a particularly important issue on multiple levels.
“Hunger is often the first sign to the community that there are children and families in need of support services,” she said.
“Schools and churches can look to see which children need to receive the weekend lunch backpacks that some schools and churches provide. A lack of childhood nutrition is the beginning of what can be a lifetime of challenges, which begin with brain development in response to poor nutrition.”
The Advocacy Days annual outreach is a critically important time for making positive changes in how some of the state’s neediest people are helped.
The intention is to have an audience with as many lawmakers as possible during a time when they are gathered as a group to conduct the state’s business.
Preparation is the key.
That’s why, after an opening-night community worship and reception at Trinity UMC, the first full day in Tallahassee will be devoted to training attendees how to get their message across effectively.
It’s not unusual for advocates to meet with a legislative aide instead of the elected representative. The aide’s time likely will be limited, so it’s important to be organized and to make the necessary points succinctly and directly.
They must be prepared to explain exactly what they’re asking the representative to do, and why it’s important. If convinced this is something the lawmaker should support, the aide will make a positive recommendation before moving on to the next meeting.
It’s a rapid-fire atmosphere with high stakes in the city where life-altering decisions are an everyday occurrence during the session.
“The United Methodist Church, as a global Church, is committed to the work of engaging in ministry with the poor,” Austin said.
--Joe Henderson is a freelance writer based in Brandon.
Editor’s Note: Donate here to the Florida Conference Hurricane Irma Fund to help churches and the neighborhoods that surround them. Volunteer to bring yourself or a team to help with the recovery. Together, with God, we are bigger! #flumcWeAreBigger