Social Justice -- CCHD: Moving from poverty to self-sufficiency

By Barbara Budde
Columnist

There is good news to share in our diocese because of your generosity to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection. One of our national grant recipients –– Cooperation Texas –– has been working with parishioners at Emmaus Parish in Lakeway. Many Spanish-speaking parishioners have taken advantage of a financial literacy course offered by the education and outreach staff of Cooperation Texas. Now a group has started a savings circle that can help them save money for themselves and their families. Some of these parishioners are unable to use banking and credit union systems because of new rules put in place after 2001. 
The real “pay-off” is not just the money they save and the knowledge they gain, although that certainly is an important component; the real gain is what happens when people form community. At the end of the financial literacy classes, the class leader explained saving circles to the group and left the room for them to decide whether this would be of interest to them. Finances and savings are pretty private matters and so for a group of people to form a community of trust and sharing around savings is counter-cultural but very biblical. 
Remember the stories in the Acts of the Apostles where the community shared everything in common? While savings circles don’t involve that level of common life, they do involve forming a deep communal trust among the members. The classes and savings circle that resulted is helping the individuals and families who are participating to find new ways to accomplish the hopes and dreams they have for themselves and their families. Through learning and sharing, people living on the edge are moving toward economic independence and self-sufficiency while they build community and relationships with others. 
There is also good news from the Bryan-College Station area because of a diocesan CCHD grant awarded to the Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network. For years there has been a need for services for the immigrant community in the Bryan-College Station area. In May 2011 a group of Churches with leaders from Santa Teresa and St. Mary Catholic Center formed the Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network (BIIN) to work collaboratively to address the needs of immigrants in the region. It became clear that the immigrant community needed to organize themselves and have greater ownership for projects of BIIN. 
Through a diocesan CCHD grant, BIIN has been offering leadership training and workers’ rights classes for immigrants in the community so they can be ready to take greater leadership in BIIN and work toward opening a worker justice center in the area. BIIN is becoming an organization where those in need are organizing to help themselves to change the circumstances of injustice and poverty that exist for them.
There is good news because of the diocesan grant to the new Predatory Loan Conversion Program of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. A large diocesan grant from CCHD helped add to the collateral the Society raised, which allows them to convert huge unjust loans with more than 100 percent APR to Credit Union loans under 3 percent APR. The financial literacy staff from Cooperation Texas – same group as above – is offering financial literacy classes to the SVdP clients so they can be empowered to have greater control over their financial lives. By mid-October, 21 loans totaling nearly $17,000 had been  converted for 15 clients and the repayment rate is at 99 percent. The APR of those predatory loans averaged 303 percent. The new loans are at 2.2 percent APR. This is a gift that keeps on giving!
All of this good news is possible because of your generous donations to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The money collected is split –– 70 percent goes to fund national grants like the one awarded to Cooperation Texas and the rest stays in our diocese to help with more local projects like BIIN and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Your generous donations are changing lives here in Texas and in our country. Please give generously the weekend of Nov. 22-23 when the special collection is taken up in parishes throughout the diocese.