“Our mission is to create a joyful sanctuary for spiritual and intellectual growth, embracing all souls in a nurturing community from which we go forth as activists for social justice and as stewards of the natural world.”
Generally, the SEJ core group is made up of individuals who prefer to be actively involved in projects, such as delivering food for the hungry, participating in rallies for racial justice and integration, and helping with Voter Registration, rather than planning projects or writing senators and congressmen.
Every member of UUFB is nominally a “Social and Environmental Justice (SEJ) Activist” as described in UUFB’s mission statement. The SEJ Activists help organize and publicize activities in which everyone is encouraged to participate, living our faith through action, just one time or with a long term commitment.
UUFB Social and Environmental Justice Guidelines
Incorporating the five types of social and environmental justice action in the work of UUFB
At least twice a year the SEJ committee should devote a large part of their monthly meeting to planning. As part of that process the committee will review the activities of the SEJ in light of the five types of social and environmental action (service, education, witness, advocacy, community organizing). The goal of the review is to keep the committee mindful of the desirability to perform service at all levels and to encourage involvement of the entire UUFB. As part of this planning process, the committee will maintain a calendar indicating planned SEJ activities. The SEJ calendar will be publicized to the UUFB Board and the Fellowship at large.
SEJ Financial Giving
Financial contributions are a very visible way to demonstrate Social Justice and Environmental Stewardship. We fervently hope that the Fellowship will continue to work to increase the UUFB SEJ contribution to 10% of total operating budget.
- At least twice a year the SEJ committee will set aside time to discuss financial contributions. The chair of the SEJ committee will provide a written summary of contributions made during the prior and current year at this time. This summary should cover “non budgeted” giving such as fifth Sunday or other special fund raising as well as contributions made out of the regular SEJ budget. The chair of the SEJ will also make this summary available to the Board and to be printed in the newsletter.
- Any UUFB member can make a financial request on behalf of an organization. The SEJ committee will use the democratic process to designate gifts.
- Any organization that receives UUFB funds will meet the following criteria:
- The organization is a 501(c) (3) non-profit.
- The mission of the organization is in line with our seven principles.
- The organization participates in United Way or a UUFB member can specifically speak to their financial accountability.
- The organization mission is primarily Social Justice or Environmental. (For example, a strictly Arts organization should not be considered unless its focus is underserved youth, disabled adults etc.).
- The SEJ committee should try to adhere to giving money according to the following categories as much as is practical:
- A financial contribution is a powerful way to support the local volunteer efforts of our fellowship. To encourage volunteerism and improve effectiveness of our efforts, 80% of the SEJ contributions should go to local organizations where UUFB members volunteer as long as the organization primarily provides services in Northern Beaufort County.
- 10% of SEJ contributions should go to national or international efforts.
- 10% of SEJ contributions should go to educate the UUFB and wider community about social justice issues. Examples of educational efforts may include movies, fees for speakers, paying expenses for UUFB members to go to a function furthering SEJ causes, hiring a bus to take UUFB members to a demonstration or conference that aligns with SEJ goals or any other educational activities as approved by SEJ committee. Any contribution toward educational efforts must be approved by majority vote of the SEJ committee.
Since its inception fifteen years ago, UUFB has been building a tradition of supporting local organizations in the Beaufort area through the donation of volunteer time and money. All these organizations are in alignment with the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism (UU). Volunteer work includes tutoring students, delivering “rescued” food to the needy, providing meals and companionship for homeless families, nurturing local organic farming, and cleaning trash from our roads and waterways. The congregation’s service work is a clear reflection of a UUFB saying: “Many Beliefs – One Light”.
UUFB Local Service Projects
Adopt-A-Highway: Bill Culp initiated UUFB’s participation in the Beaufort County Adopt-A-Highway program in 2010. Our congregation was assigned a 2.2 mile stretch of Sams Point Road north of UUFB from Brickyard Pointe Road and Sams to the fire station near Springfield Road. Supplies (tongs, gloves, vests, and trash bags) are provided by Beaufort County. The SEJ Activists have decided to separate recyclable cans and take them to the county recycle centers. Every other month a crew of four to twelve volunteers work together for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning.
Beaufort Soil and Water Conservation District Children’s Educational Programs: In summer 2014, Barbara Banus, became very aware of the fact that UUFB needed to expand the environmental part of the UUFB mission to be true “stewards of the natural environment.” At the suggestion of the Recycling Director of Beaufort County, the District Manager of the Beaufort Soil and Water Conservation District was contacted about children’s educational programs that UUFB might help support. She and Education Coordinator enthusiastically demonstrated Enviroscape, an educational hands-on activity that they take to the local schools. We thought this was a perfect match for SEJ with opportunities to help financially, and possibly as volunteers. Apparently the congregation felt the same way because they have been very generous with the fifth Sunday offering which was used to educate underserved students about water quality in northern Beaufort County. As a result of the UUFB interest and donation, UUFB is now designated as an Affiliate of the Beaufort Conservation District.
Born to Read: Liz Key became interested in Born to Read after seeing an article in The Beaufort Gazette. She is one of the founders of Born to Read in Beaufort Co. Born to Read is a nonprofit charitable organization that promotes early literacy in Beaufort County. Since its inception, program volunteers have made more than 18,000 visits to new parents in the local Beaufort County, South Carolina Birthing Centers. The trained volunteers visit new parents in the birthing centers at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Hilton Head Hospital and Coastal Carolina Hospital. They give the new parents a gift bag containing two books, a bib, a shirt for the baby and informational items. While visiting, parents are advised of the importance of daily reading and talking with their babies starting at birth. Liz is currently one of two UUFB volunteers.
Broad River Elementary School: Caren Ross became aware of the need for money to buy extra underwear and uniforms for disadvantaged students at Broad River Elementary School. Many little ones came from families who could not afford to send that extra pair of undies in case of an accident at school. She brought the matter to an SEJ meeting and from 2013-2015 funds were donated by UUFB to a Broad River Elementary School volunteer who purchased the underwear and extra school uniforms. Similar assistance has been provided to the St. Helena Island Elementary School.
Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse: CODA provides professional support services to victims of intimate partner abuse and their children in Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper counties in South Carolina. Committed to the belief that safety from violence and freedom from fear are universal rights, CODA conducts community education programs to confront the societal norms that condone abusive behavior. South Carolina now has the distinction of being #1 in the USA for violence against women. Last year South Carolina was also #1 and has been in the top ten for over a decade.
UUFB funds are used to shelter women and children fleeing from domestic abuse. The UUFB relationship started with CODA’s call for paper products for their shelter here in Beaufort and evolved into a UUFB sponsorship of CODA’s annual 5KRace4Love fundraiser February 2014, 2015, and we plan to do so again in 2016.
Family Promise of Beaufort County: Family Promise of Beaufort County partners with individuals, and organizations to provide food, temporary shelter, and support services for homeless families. The families are housed in Beaufort County houses of worship. Other congregations help by providing meals, essential needs, and companionship for our guest families. The Family Promise staff provides comprehensive case management and assistance in securing employment, medical care, childcare, school placement and ultimately affordable housing. Every three months, two nights a week, UUFB partners with Sea Island Presbyterian Church which provides the shelter. UUFB volunteers provide dinner for the homeless families; host the dinner and socialize with the families; and two UUFB members stay overnight.
HELP Mobile Meals: Beth Moon served as the director of Mobile Meals for six years. During that time she encouraged UUFB to participate in delivering meals and to contribute financially to the program. This program provides hot, nutritious, well balanced meals five days a week to people who are unable to provide or prepare meals for themselves. Clients are referred by various community agencies and individuals. Mobile Meals serves 65-70 clients a day. Volunteers pick up the meals at Beaufort Memorial Hospital and deliver them to the clients. Normally one or two people will take meals to 10-12 clients on seven routes.
Marshview Community Organic Farm:Approximately 70 children have benefited from this sustainable organic farming program initiated by Sara Reynolds. It was designed to teach children the skills needed to grow food and feed their families. In the early years of the farm, the children participated in all aspects of farming, from choosing and planting seeds in pots, to preparing the field and transplanting the young plants, weeding, watering, picking the produce, and preparing it for the shareholders. UUFB members and friends helped them for a few seasons. The Gullah Cooking school program evolved from the farm experience. It was designed to integrate the farming experience with the cooking and serving of the food. The school is organized by Sara Reynolds Green and the 8-week program is run by her husband, Bill Green, of the Gullah Grub Restaurant on St. Helena Island. The course culminates in a delicious dinner, cooked and served by the students. It helps the children at home, within their community, and outside their community when they seek employment. The SEJ Activists and the congregation at large attend the dinners and continue to help support the cooking school.
Penn Center: Our most significant work in social justice involves our partnership with Penn Center. UUFB works to fulfill its legacy relationship with this historic institution, founded as Penn School in 1862 by Unitarian Laura Towne.
Second Helpings of the Lowcountry is a nonprofit food rescue and distribution network developed to eliminate hunger in the Lowcountry. It was begun in Beaufort by a retired military officer with one truck and one route in the Sheldon area. UUFB began to participate in 2012 when Bill Culp introduced it to the congregation as a result of his previous experience with Second Helpings. Today there are two trucks and five routes. The volunteers collect meat, fruit, vegetables, and other groceries, at no cost, from local grocery stores (Publix, Food Lion, Walmart, etc.) and deliver the food to local food banks, pantries, and churches where they are distributed to people in need. An average day will see two tons of food delivered to these agencies. UUFB does two runs a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. The truck requires two or three volunteers and the average work day is six hours.
Thumbs Up, Children’s Educational Center: UUFB volunteers provide after-school tutoring and help with fundraising and grant writing. In the beginning…when UUFB was trying to find a path to be a welcoming presence in the community, the worship committee struggled to find speakers who might help us on this journey. We were hampered by the fact that we did not have a minister and our rented space could not be altered to look like a sanctuary. Several members spoke fondly about the social justice work that they had experienced in their former fellowships. The worship committee brainstormed about a service centered on a panel of speakers who would come and talk about the nonprofit altruistic agencies in Beaufort. Our budget was limited and we could not offer financial aid to the agencies, but some of our members were looking for volunteer opportunities. We invited about five directors to participate. The message from most of them was that they needed financial assistance. However, Sister Mary Trzasko from Thumbs Up said she also needed volunteers to tutor her children with their homework. Nancy Myers and Nancy Stroupe signed up before they left the building. Nancy Myers continued until recently when she moved out-of-state. Nancy Stroupe is still at it. Thumbs Up has been a favorite volunteer site for our members. At one time, 10 of the volunteers were UUFB members.
Four times a year the SEJ Activists are responsible for, or partly responsible for, a Sunday service that highlights the work of a local nonprofit agency where UUFB members volunteer or one that UUFB contributes to financially. The offering goes directly to the organization whose work is described that Sunday.
The Welcoming Congregation Committee has also been responsible for services and films that further the congregation’s understanding of the LGBTQ community, working with the minister and the worship committee. UUFB is actively in the process of becoming a designated Welcoming Congregation.
The UUFB Mosaics Group has had a study/discussion group for the past year, the outgrowth of The Southeast District Mosaic Makers Conference. In addition to the in-depth discussions among themselves to become more aware of “white privilege” and racial injustice, they are gradually and actively involving themselves in projects compatible with UUFB principles. These included working with the NAACP, Penn Center, and community worship which evolved after the Emanuel AME Church murders in Charleston. The UUFB Mosaics Group also presented a very moving Sunday service about their experience this past year.
UUFB and the UU Congregation of the Lowcountry applied for a $5000 grant from the Southeast District to offer the Beloved Conversations Curriculum in this area. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah, GA joined members of both congregations for the October 23/24, 2015 Beloved Conversations Retreat at Penn Center on St. Helena Island. Approximately 55 people participated the first weekend and will continue their conversations over the next several months.
In March, several UUFB members went to Selma for the UUA Anti-racism course in conjunction with “Marching in the Arc of Justice – Revisiting Selma”.
Witness and Advocacy
Our congregation and its members and friends have participated in many events in support of our Unitarian Universalist values, usually wearing the UUA “Standing on the Side of Love” t-shirt. Some of these include:
Penn Center Heritage Day, an annual event celebrating the founding of Penn School, one of the first in the south set up specifically to educate newly freed African Americans. It draws hundreds of local residents, as well as many African Americans from around the US with South Carolina roots. Our congregation always has a place in the parade, with many of our members marching or riding in a car with signs celebrating our connection with Penn Center through our spiritual connection with Laura Towne, the Unitarian founder and longtime worker at Penn as well as through our ongoing support of Penn Center in modern times. It is a tremendous feeling for us to march past hundreds of cheering and smiling faces, many of them children brought by their parents.
The Truthful Tuesday rally in Columbia, SC, modeled after North Carolina’s Moral Monday, in support of expanding Medicaid, funding education, and protecting voting rights. Some of us have traveled to attend North Carolina Moral Monday marches in support of voting rights, started by Rev. William Barber, head of the NC NAACP and strongly supported by many UU congregations in North Carolina and beyond.
Several of our members came to the county courthouse to support our minister Rev. Nan White and her partner Susan (Sam) Ballenger as they applied for a marriage license on Valentine’s Day. In keeping with state law at the time, their request was denied. Only two years later, after the US Supreme Court decision, many of us including our interim minister and our board president stood witness at the same county courthouse to support a couple being issued the first same-sex marriage license in Beaufort County.
For several years, UUFB members have marched alongside our sister congregation in Charleston’s Pride parade.
We have attended rallies in Beaufort for immigration reform and for “equal justice under the law.”
UUFB sponsors an annual New Year’s Day Peace Vigil to honor South Carolina military who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan during the previous year. The vigil is held in a public park overlooking the Beaufort River and next to a major downtown thoroughfare.
This is a possibility for UUFB if it is part of a group initiative, such as one that might arise from participants in Beloved Conversations or the Interfaith Community Coalition of Greater Beaufort and one that is compatible with the UU Principles.
The Future of UUFB Social and Environmental Justice?
It is time to reassess. SEJ leadership is changing in January 2016. There is potential interest in re-invigorating the environmental justice issues critical to the welfare of UUFB and the Lowcountry. With Beloved Conversations there is hope for more community cross-racial communication and interaction. With the upcoming designation of a Welcoming Congregation there is hope for increased cross-cultural understanding.