SPRING: East Columbia 50+ Center Campaign
This year, PATH started where we always do: with listening! We spoke to our congregations about what was standing in the way of their thriving and we heard from many members about the inadequate size of the East Columbia 50+ Center. The Center was in the County Executive’s budget to be newly constructed but last year the County Council cut the budget and impeded the project from the beginning. This Center has been a hub in the Owen Brown neighborhood for years, serving as a place to exercise, receive technology training, play poker, and do Tai Chi. Although the Center serves members from across the County who come for its renowned classes, they have been relegated to three small rooms inside the East Columbia Library instead of their own separate facility like the other 50+ Centers around the County. Our members were especially concerned that East Columbia and its many Black and Brown residents were being overlooked and put behind all the other 50+ center locations.
PATH stepped in to strategize with local leaders from the 50+ Center’s Steering Committee to determine where pressure was needed. We came together to write over 100 letters, make calls, and testify at hearings. In May, 250 people showed up to our Press Conference Action in the 50+ Center’s parking lot to show the County Council members how important it was to keep the Center’s full funding in the budget. Thankfully, the Council heard our cries and supported the new construction. The project broke ground December 15th, 2021 and will be open by July, 2023. At the groundbreaking, Councilwoman Christiana Rigby said, “I would also like to recognize and thank Meridy McCague, the Owen Brown Village Board, and leadership from People Acting Together in Howard (PATH),including Pastor Tyrone Jones. It really did take a village to get this done. These leaders and advocates worked tirelessly to support this project, and I am so looking forward to walking through the doors with you soon.”
Leader Training and Workers’ Rights
Riding on the heels of an exciting victory, we dove into development for community leaders. We gathered a group of leaders from various religions and backgrounds in education, non-profit leadership, affordable housing, and more to learn the foundations of our work: individual meetings. We trained 15 leaders in relational meetings using our Cohort method to build relational power.
Simultaneously, we began hearing from several members of our congregations about unfair treatment of workers at the Merriweather Lakehouse Hotel. Last spring at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, about all the hotel’s employees were laid off as the hotel shut its doors. Many of these workers belonged to a union, UNITE HERE Local 7. The hotel’s owner received two PPP loans that were meant to provide payroll continuation but not one dime of the 2 million dollars went to the workers. The owner refused to negotiate about the worker’s recall rights and would not give them their jobs back when the hotel opened but has told them they need to re-apply to ‘ensure qualification.’ Many of these workers have worked at the hotel for over 20 years and given their lives to support this business. PATH held a listening session with some of the workers, local clergy, and several of our leaders to hear how we could help. Recently, eight of our member institutions voted to sign a boycott of the hotel and emergency legislation, if needed, in support of the workers!
Listening Sessions, Affordable Housing, and Action Teams
In the fall, we knew it was time to go back to Listening. We wanted to hear from our member institutions about what has been impacting them the most, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through several listening sessions and individual meetings we learned of the challenges facing our educators and the continued fight to maintain and expand affordable housing in the County. We heard about a potential roadblock to the re-development of Roslyn Rise and sent out over 250 emails to the County Councilmembers encouraging them to approve the APFO waiver and allow the project to move forward.
We decided to re-launch the Countywide Action Team to get back to our democratic roots, providing opportunities for all congregations to share what they have been hearing in their congregations and act more powerfully together. We also launched Education and Housing Issue Action Teams to start working on those specific issues. We shared stories and ideas to expand our community reach, identify new leaders and listen deeply to the ways our neighbors are impacted by teacher staffing shortages and inaccessible or unaffordable housing.
Listening Sessions and Action Teams
This winter, we plan to continue our internal Listening Sessions for congregational development. We know the transformative power of listening and its ability to create a more relational culture. We will be training members on how to run Listening Sessions in their institutions and what to do next. Additionally, we will continue to build on our Issue Action Teams by gathering our first Health Action Team meeting in January to work with The Horizon Foundation on issues of inequality in maternal healthcare, especially for people of color.
2022 Election and Statewide work
Collaborating with our sister organizations across Maryland, we are working together to create a robust “People’s Agenda” for the 2022 Election on issues such as affordable housing, equity in education, the racial wealth gap, accessible health care, and more. We are also considering a significant Get Out The Vote effort locally and statewide for the general election to make this off-year election tangible and meaningful to the people in our communities. We hope you will join us!
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