By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is the domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, working to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ.
CCHD offers grants annually to community organizations led by individuals with low incomes working to break the cycle of poverty and improve their communities. Catholics throughout the U.S. make these grants possible by contributing to CCHD each year. The 2023 collection will take place Nov. 18-19. Three-fourths of the collection is pooled into a national fund, with the remaining one-fourth used for local poverty-fighting efforts. CCHD grants to local anti-poverty efforts are screened, awarded and monitored in close partnership with local Catholic dioceses.
The Davenport Diocese often receives more than it contributes to CCHD, said Deacon Kent Ferris, diocesan Social Action director. This year, The Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa and Escucha Mi Voz, both in Iowa City, each received national grants in the $50,000 range. The diocese receives additional funding for a CCHD internship. “We have been fortunate,” Deacon Ferris said.
Escucha Mi Voz (Hear My Voice), which formed in 2021, has grown into a collective of immigrant-led groups striving to empower working-class, immigrant and refugee communities in Iowa. The group began with a base of Hispanic/Latino immigrant workers and expanded to include French-speaking Congolese workers.
Notable victories for Escucha Mi Voz this year include affordable housing supply code changes in Iowa City, helping workers recover stolen wages and sending eight grassroots members to National Leadership Training, said organizer David Goodner. Recently, four underpaid construction workers organized with Escucha Mi Voz to stop wage theft and get their money back. This victory led to efforts to strive to resolve another wage theft case that could be worth as much as $31,000. “Contributions to the local CCHD offering are instrumental in our fight to reduce poverty by empowering low-wage immigrant and refugee workers to identify the issues impacting their lives and take effective action to address them,” Goodner said.
The Center for Worker Justice’s (CWJ) efforts focus on wage theft and worker dignity, safe and affordable housing, and migrant justice. The organization led a successful, multi-year effort to establish a community ID in Johnson County and raised $500,000 in pandemic relief funds for families excluded from federal assistance. CWJ regularly sponsors community education and family programs.
CCHD intern explores intersection of faith and social justice
Julissa Govea, a University of Iowa student, serves CWJ in a CCHD-funded internship. “I currently help in the department of wage theft and am learning the dynamics on how to combat it,” she said. “I help with events and am working on outreach and community organizing as well.” She has participated in successfully resolved wage theft cases.
The diocese offers one paid internship per school year to a Catholic individual who works with CWJ, Escucha Mi Voz or Quad Cities Interfaith in Davenport. “I heard about the internship from volunteering at the Center for Worker Justice and was told there was a scholarship such as this one for someone who is also Catholic,” said Govea, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I was interested right when I heard about it and was eager to learn about the intersection between faith and social justice work.” She attended four days of CCHD training in Washington, D.C. over the summer.
In exploring the intersection of faith and social justice, Govea has learned about “many injustices” that individuals who stop in and ask for help have experienced and how “the Church strives to help in these situations, too. I am very pleased and grateful to be able to reach out to help others and to have been given this opportunity to do so.”
QCI works toward a more just society
Past national and local grants have helped Quad Cities Interfaith (QCI) to address community immigration and housing issues. “We have used these funds to cover staff salaries, printing costs and leadership training costs,” said acting director Mayra Hernandez, a former CCHD intern. “CCHD makes a great impact in our work because we are able to use the funds in the areas other grants cannot cover.”
The organization is leading a campaign to implement a Community ID in Davenport and working with Moline Alderman Alvaro Macias to implement a Community ID in Moline, Illinois. “We believe everyone has the right to an identity,” Hernandez said. “With the community ID, people who are experiencing homelessness, immigrants, returning citizens, youth, seniors, and the community as a whole who cannot access a state ID would have access to a basic identification.”
QCI is also focused on building the QC Tenant Alliance, which will train and organize tenants to hold landlords accountable and work with local and state officials for more tenant protections. “We are now in the process of building two tenant alliances in two different senior living apartment complexes,” Hernandez explained. Last month, QCI hosted a well-attended town hall on housing justice. “We called on the Department of Housing and Urban Development to invest in affordable rental housing and inspect our current rental housing that receives HUD funding.”
Hernandez is grateful to people who donate to CCHD for ensuring that QCI can continue working toward a more just society and developing residents into community leaders. “The commitment of CCHD toward justice does not go unnoticed.”