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Spokane Alliance gains understanding of pressures people face

The Spokane Alliance member institutions are in the process of engaging in 1,000 conversations to build relational power among people in member institutions by eliciting pressures people face.

“Building relationships in the long haul is about more than complaining about problems and seeking solutions.  It’s about holding ourselves accountable to each other so we can hold our decision makers accountable,” said Lanney Martin of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.

Frances de Paolo
Francesa de Paolo and Brenda Milla-Mai

For example, the Spokane Transit Authority had committed to the Spokane Alliance a few years ago to hold meetings in the evening so working people who use the STA could attend.  As time went on, they considered shifting back to daytime meetings, until the alliance came to their board meeting and reminded them to keep their commitment, he said.

“Every organization may lose members and leaders, so relational power helps us persist and remember,” said the Rev. Andy CastroLang, pastor of Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ, who shared the emcee role with Lanney.  “Relational power stands for the whole in a rich mix of our institutions in the community.”

At the Fall Assembly in October at the Spokane Convention Center, more than 500 participants heard stories from the first 200 of the 1,000 conversations being held by the Spokane Alliance, an organization of faith, labor, education and nonprofit organizations working together for the common good and to strengthen leadership in their organizations.

Thirteen of the 29 member institutions are churches.

“Our power begins in one-to-one conversations, awakening our energy to change more,” said Andy.  “Shared stories link lives so we can go into action.”

Dee Lorenz, also of St. Mark’s Lutheran, described the 1,000 conversations, which began in June as a way to look at pressures on families involved in the member institutions.  She invited several participants to share their own experiences that illustrate the issues of common concern.

Julie Rector of the Unitarian Universalist Church told how she struggles running a small business downtown with three part-time employees, unable to afford to provide them with health insurance.

Carl Fischer of Salem Congregation talked of the expense of finding a house for a family of five, who have been living in a two-bedroom apartment in West Central Spokane.

Christine Halbert of Westminster Congregational UCC is concerned that preschool teachers do not make a living wage, but still make sacrifices so they can have the resources they need to teach children.  Many are overtired.  She asked:  “How can we provide quality child care when staff earns so little and many move on to higher paying jobs?’

Gary Dyer of Central United Methodist said his son started college this year.  The cost of his education will be $17,000 a year.  For a middle-class family, a student who has no scholarships will leave undergraduate studies with a $40,000 debt.  Gary wonders if he should borrow from his home equity.  If his son goes to graduate school, the cost per year is about $30,000.  His second son will be ready to go to college in two years.  Many parents are pushed into staggering debt to assure higher education for their children.

Jeremey Hohnstein of the Sheet Metal Workers #66 was grateful for the sustainable job opportunities offered by the union.  After eight years in the Marines and then entering the Army National Guard, the only experience he had was military.  Out of the military, he bounced from job to dead-end job.  Through the Sheet Metal Union, he has found a career and benefits, not just a job.

Lisa Brown, State Senate majority leader from the 3rd district, then shared pressures she faces in her role: “What you are doing strengthens our form of government,” she said.  “I have been in the legislature for 15 years, and the biggest pressure is balancing my family responsibilities as a single parent with my job, because my family is dispersed around the nation.”

When she started and her son was a year old, she had him in child care, but now he stays in Spokane with his father when the legislature is in session: “I hear similar stories about balancing work and home across the state as I work on policy issues,” she said. 

Lanney then pointed out that the role of the Spokane Alliance is to weave together common interests.

Several speakers then shared examples of “relational power in action” through SustainableWorks and WellnessWorks projects.

Jerry White of the Unitarian Universalist Church said that SustainableWorks overcomes inertia that blocks change by organizing and training workers, and by providing incentives.  Working with Avista, SustainableWorks trains people to do energy audits and to do energy retrofits.

SustainableWorks expands job opportunities along with providing a sustainable environment through “green” building.

The Spokane Alliance worked with a member of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church who has had a floor covering business for 30 years, to improve the energy efficiency of her small business so she can save expenses and pay more to her workers.  They helped her find a loan to make the retrofit possible.

WellnessWorks addresses health care and drug costs, said Ron Dashiell of Covenant United Methodist Church. 

Empire Health, which recently sold operations of several local hospitals and health care facilities to Community Health, had made a commitment to the Spokane Alliance to provide preventative health screenings.

It had provided more than 200 screenings at three churches. 

Those screened were waiting for Empire to do six-month re-screenings.

Gary Cooper of St. Aloysius Catholic Church said five more institutions were promised the chance for screenings and six-month re-screenings after that. 

The alliance wrote and delivered more than 300 postcards to indicate the broad base of community support for fulfilling their commitment.

Progress is also underway to develop the Sound Alliance in several Puget Sound counties. 

The plan is for the two groups to collaborate on a statewide basis to bring proposals and challenges to state entities, the governor and the legislature.

The Sound Alliance will hold its Founding Assembly on June 1, with the goal of bringing a groundswell of concern about issues to the 2009 state legislature.

Austin de Paolo of St. Aloysius Catholic Church explained that the goal is to gain state-wide power to build new relational power with the state legislature, with alliance members in 50 percent of the state’s legislative districts.

“The 1,000 conversations tap into the interests of members, from a need for a traffic light to state-wide issues,” said Austin.

Lisa said she was interested in hearing about the pressures and was committed to being at and inviting the Governor to join her at the Founding Assembly for the Sound Alliance.  Curtis Fackler, chair of the Spokane County Republican Party also agreed to meet with Spokane Alliance leaders and foster participation in the call for state policies that foster the common good.

For information, call 532-1688.