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Westminster UCC active in Spokane Alliance

alliance discussion

Gil Escandon of Westminster UCC, right, in small group discussion with Shelly Kornmeyer, Jody Harmon visits with Stacie Wenzel.

“We are stronger together,” said Andy CastroLang, pastor of Westminster Congregational UCC in Spokane, which hosted the Spring Assembly for nearly 200 members of the Spokane Alliance.  Andy was co-chair of of the assembly.

Tom Robinson of Covenant United Methodist Church said that “to create power to usher in change, business, faith, labor, nonprofits and education must be in relationship.”

Conference Minister Mike Denton and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop Martin Wells of the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod were among regional and community leaders of sister organizations.

alliance community leaders

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart converses with PNC Conference Minister Mike Denton and Eastern Washington Idaho Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop Martin Wells.

“The issues hit me personally and as a pastor working with people who are aging in place,” said Mike.  “Churches are closing.  Mental health care and child care are important.

As Martin visits 92 congregations in the synod, he reminds them: “God calls us into the community to work for the common good, to resist injustice and to struggle in the polarized society and politics to work together.”

Andy and others listed the alliance’s accomplishments:

• seeing the need for job training and negotiating for an apprentice program with Spokane Public Schools;

• urging schools to adopt green building standards that have been adopted statewide;

• encouraging homeowners to install energy efficiency through Sustainable Works;

• promoting a jobs bill that brought 18,000 jobs to the state to stimulate the local economy when the economy tanked;

• drawing a medical school to Spokane.

“The Spokane Alliance listens to members’ hopes, dreams, and fears,” said Andy.  “Times are still hard, and we can have an impact on in-home care, mental health care and child care.”

Three members shared their stories.

Amelia O’Dean of the Association of Manufactured Homeowners, a nonprofit promoting rights of these homeowners who rent land but own their homes.  She has visited many.  Some are seniors who downsized to be independent.  Cuts of in-home care force some into nursing homes even though it costs less to have home health care.  Her father, 60, was a steelworker.  She wanted to support him to stay at home.

Gilbert Escandon, a member of Westminster, has worked 24 years in the emergency room.  He has seen a rise in people with mental health needs coming.  In 1965, when his brother came back from Vietnam, there was no program.

“I held him in my arms as he cried about the horrors of war,” said Gil, who has also been a physician in “the largest mental health facility in the area, the Spokane County Jail.”

“People with mental health, drug and alcohol problems struggle,” he said. “So do agencies and jails that are overtaxed.

“It does not cost less to provide mental health care in a jail or emergency room,” he said.  “Funds cuts affect the quality of care.  I want to organize labor, nurses and pastors to research and create a plan to be our brothers keepers.”

Diane Clavel worked before she had four children and became a stay-at-home mother.

Unable to survive on her husband’s salary, she went back to work.  Each had a full-time and a part-time job, arranged around caring for preschoolers.  She arose at 5 a.m. to take him to work and the children to school. She cared for the youngest at home.  She picked up the children and her husband at 3:30 p.m.  She worked from 4 p.m. to midnight for four years until the youngest started kindergarten.

“Our family time was poor.  I was sleep deprived and stressed,” she said. “Child care is important.  We need to organize for child care to happen.”

“Amelia, Gil and Diane tell of the world as it is. We need to work together with faith leaders,” said Andy.

She said the Spokane Alliance’s work on these issues is in its infancy, and there is need to listen to stories to create concrete workable solutions.

john patberg

John Patberg shares how he rediscovered the need for community action.

John Patberg, second year medical student at Riverside, said that in college he burned out by focusing on activism and social justice.  He gave up on community-level changes and decided to focus on changing individuals one at a time.  Early in medical studies, he took a community organizing class led by the Spokane Alliance.  He learned about the need to address patients’ communities to change their conditions.

That reminded him that of the need to work collectively to build winnable solutions.

Shelly Kornmeyer, who is in the grocery business, said that if her four-year-old child is sick, she or her husband has to stay home and lose pay, and then possibly get sick.

Jody Harmon, an elementary school counselor, hears from staff and families struggling to find child care.  If a child is sick, the parent loses pay.  One family had an older child stay at home to care for the younger children.  The fifth grader was a good student but missed so much that his work fell behind.  The mother said it was better than being homeless.

Tom said the Alliance Sick Pay Team met with 12 businesses and nonprofits that offered paid sick safe family leave.  The small business owners finds that providing sick leave for employees improves their wellbeing. When businesses that rely on relationships, it means workers treat customers and co-workers well. 

Stacie Wenzel of the Spokane Regional Health District said that if food handlers are ill, they spread disease and it is a public health issue.

Tom said that sick safe family “is not a job killer, it’s a common-sense policy.”

Ben Stuckart committed to partner to help make safe sick family leave a policy for the city.

Andy concluded, “The Spokane Alliance dreams big.  We organize to improve the quality of life for all.”

For information, call 509-624-1366.


Copyright October 2014 © Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference News


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