The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, or CCHD, is a special second collection held in parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Anchorage on November 16-17, 2019. “25% of the national collection stays local and supports local groups in training those marginalized groups living in poverty to find their own voice and to speak out on issues affecting them,” said Laurie Evans-Dinneen, Director of Stewardship and Development for the Archdiocese of Anchorage.
Through Archbishop Roger Schwietz, a local CCHD office was established in the Archdiocese of Anchorage in 2013. CCHD directorship moved under Evans-Dinneen’s office in 2019, and she now oversees the national collection. Through CCHD, the Archdiocese supports two organizations: AFACT (Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together) and VIA (Valley Interfaith Action).
“In 2003, six Anchorage pastors came together because they shared one vision: a community where all people are equally valued, respected, and heard,” said Dan Gibney, director of AFACT. “Instead of just praying about a better tomorrow on Sunday, they wanted to offer their congregants a way to begin effectively addressing the quality of life issues that impacted their families, friends, and neighbors–issues around poverty, healthcare, crime, etc. These six pastors worked together to found AFACT.”
“AFACT is not a traditional service organization,” said Gibney. “The mission of AFACT is to empower ordinary people to take action on the issues that affect them. The organization accomplishes this through intensive leadership development, where folks learn how to conduct listening campaigns, set and run meetings with public officials, and cut and develop strategies for issue campaigns. AFACT is one of the only truly grassroots organizations in the state, meaning that the issues that we work on and the campaigns that we develop are decided upon entirely by our membership.”
In the 16 years since its founding, AFACT and several Catholic organizations have partnered with its mission. “The organization has grown to include 16 member congregations of different denominations and religious traditions- including St. Anthony Catholic Church, Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral, and the Catholic Native and Hispanic Ministries- and has been able to move issues on the local, state and national level,” said Gibney. “AFACT is now seen as the ‘go-to’ organization on a wide range of some of the most important issues in Alaska.”
Most recently, AFACT addressed the behavioral health needs of people experiencing homelessness and an educational campaign around the proposed alcohol tax this past spring. “Following the proposed budget reductions this summer, AFACT worked to encourage our elected officials to pass a fiscally responsible budget that adequately provided for the least among us,” said Gibley. “This effort concluded with a public meeting attended by around 300 people at which attendees heard from service providers and experts about how the budget reductions would have affected the homelessness situation here in Anchorage. At the end of the meeting, AFACT leaders collected more than 500 postcards to elected officials, encouraging our leaders to stand with the most vulnerable in our community.”
The CCHD collection also supports Valley Interfaith Action. “VIA is a congregation-based community organization that develops, empowers, educates and mobilizes people of faith around systemic justice issues in the local community,” said Kelly Marciales, director of VIA. “VIA seeks to work to develop low-income leaders within congregations and in the broader community, giving those who are living in the socioeconomic margins a seat at the decision-making table with the goal of eliminating the root causes of hunger.”
VIA’s goal is to grant everyone basic human rights: “At VIA, we believe that every person has the right to access healthy food and clean water in the communities where they live, work, and serve,” said Marciales. “Faith-based community organizing is a tool for the marginalized to engage in education, training, and mobilization around systemic issues that directly impact the financial health and safety of the local community. By addressing local injustice, VIA leaders advocate on their own behalf for the change that affects their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”
VIA was founded in 2015 by an ecumenical group of pastors in rural Mat-Su Valley, AK. Prior to VIA, the organization was called Valley Christian Conference, which was established in 1992 by a group of Protestant churches to help establish much-needed service agencies in the Mat-Su Borough.
St. Michael Parish in Palmer has local volunteers on the ground. Through VIA, they are making a difference in their community, “St. Michael’s held a public meeting with Senator Hughes at the church to discuss the legislature’s budget cuts and the effect they had on the local state-run senior home,” said Marciales. “Sen. (Shelly) Hughes came, and people who were being directly affected by a possible Pioneer Home closure were able to speak to her and let her know how traumatic this would be. One hundred people showed up. We were the first story on the local news that night.”
VIA helped pass an ordinance in Palmer last month. “This year, we worked with the city police force, the Palmer City Council, and most of all homeowners in affected areas, to enact a nuisance call ordinance that gives people a tool to stop illegal activities within city limits,” said Marciales. “Instead of just fixing problems for people in the community, VIA shows people how to fix the problems themselves.”