Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

JLP interns’ experiences multiply as they share with each other

By Hunter Paulson-Smith

Two months into this year’s Justice Leadership Program (JLP), there has been a shift from theory to practice in the interns’ lives.  In Seattle, the JLP, an affiliate of the Young Adult Service Communities (YASC) Network, puts young adults into community organizing and advocacy work.

Top, Leda Zakarison and Jessica Zimmerle of Earth Ministries in Longview Nov. 2 after a hearing. Bottom, E West testified on budget priorities Nov. 1 at Seattle City Hall.

As they have become involved in projects, JLP interns have gone beyond what’s expected of them. The JLP roommates, now good friends, have done much in two months.

Every week, each spends 32 hours at their nonprofit agency, five hours at a UCC congregation, and three hours in class and spiritual sojourning. Each piece of the JLP model benefits their learning as they find connections between the nonprofits, churches and interactions.

As the intern at Keystone UCC and Earth Ministry, I’ve made connections between the two groups and will staff an Earth Ministry “Colleague Connections” event at Keystone later this month.

The event connects folks already involved with Earth Ministry and those interested in being involved. Earth Ministry is a nonprofit doing environmental advocacy with a faith-based lens. Connecting the various nonprofits shows the power of building coalitions.

Leda Zakarison, a JLP intern from Pullman, also works at Earth Ministry. She attended two hearings to ask decision-makers to block new fossil fuel infrastructure projects.

One was a Tacoma City Council meeting hearing comments on a proposal to temporarily halt fossil fuel projects in the industrial Tideflats region. Leda testified for Earth Ministry and people of faith.

In her testimony, she said, “Being a person of faith means valuing responsibility, integrity and justice for all, as well as respecting the land so we may pass it on to future generations. Investing in fossil fuels does not align with these values.

“If we continue to build and expand fossil fuel infrastructure in Washington, my children and grandchildren will not grow up in a healthy, clean and safe environment,” she said.  “Pausing the development of new and expanded fossil fuel infrastructure in the Tideflats region will help secure a legacy of innovation and healthy ecosystems for our children and grandchildren.”

Leda came home late glowing from speaking out about what she believes. She loved being able to put her faith into action by testifying and doing her part to keep Washington a safe, healthy place to live.

In Longview, likely at the final hearing in a seven-year fight to stop the largest coal terminal in North America from being built at the mouth of the Columbia River, Leda didn’t speak, but was empowered to see community and faith leaders come together to stop this seemingly unstoppable project. 

Erica West, known as ‘E,’ from Alexandria, Va., works at Church Council of Greater Seattle (CCGS).  E has testified twice. In October, E spoke in opposition to a housing displacement in a North Beacon Hill community.

“One soon-to-be displaced tenant, Esther ‘Little Dove’ John, is a long-time Black and Native activist and community leader. I had a day’s notice to learn about the displacement and write a speech for public comment at the community meeting,” E said.

“The energy in the room was electric. I was immediately welcomed and gained a sense of the situation by chatting with folks sitting near me,” E said.

“I thought of a mantra I often repeat to myself when I am nervous, ‘Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.’ When I spoke, I abandoned a much of the speech I prepared, opting to speak extemporaneously.

“The audience of more than 200 people interrupted me several times to cheer and whistle support in my two minutes. That moment has been the most exciting moment of my time at CCGS,” E said.

E testified again at a Seattle City Council budget hearing. E spoke passionately on behalf of those unfairly impacted by housing and development policies.

Renee Lumia’s story is separate.

Amanda Agrellas of Seattle and Bri Little of Washington, D.C., are at agencies addressing homelessness.

Amanda, who is at Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said, “Our main work is in city budget advocacy and securing funding for social services homeless people rely on. We registered many to vote and did get-out-the-vote action in shelters and hygiene centers to give people a voice in the democratic process.”

At Real Change, Bri works with vendors to distribute and publish the weekly newspaper. Real Change “provides opportunity and a voice for low-income and homeless people while acting for economic, social and racial justice.” Bri has a column for interviews with different vendors, to shed light on their lives and humanity.

JLP intern Daniel del la Rosa has done multiple campaigns and roles in SLocal 6, a labor union. He worked with security guards, janitorial staff and other service workers at Amazon and at SeaTac Airport.

Each of the nonprofits offers challenges and opportunities.  The most valuable part of JLP is the convergence of the interns’ work. After long days testifying, protesting, creative writing, managing databases, tabling and canvassing, they share a meal and talk about their work and the overlap of their agencies.

The work tackles ideas like equity and justice that seem abstract. These concepts become tangible on the front lines.

Sharing experiences gives us a more holistic understanding of social justice. It’s a crash course in environmental advocacy and faith-based community organizing. Each has six other points of entry into Seattle’s world of social justice.

For information, call 206-632-6021, email or visit


Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ News © November-December 2017

Pacific NW UCC News Nov-Dec 2017



Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share