Clergy Leaders Accept Governor’s Award
On Behalf of Northern Virginia Citizens Power Organization
ARLINGTON, VA, April 26, 2016 – Clergy leaders representing faith communities in four Northern Virginia jurisdictions traveled to Richmond April 18 to accept a 2016 Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award to V.O.I.C.E. (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement) for its work in training citizens to press for change on affordable housing, health care, immigration, and other critical issues for Northern Virginia’s low- and moderate-income communities.
Rev. Dr. Keith Savage of the First Baptist Church of Manassas, Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Rev. Clyde Ellis of the Mount Olive Baptist Church of Woodbridge, and Rev. Ellis T. (Tuck) Bowerfind of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Fairfax County accepted the award on behalf of V.O.I.C.E.
The 2016 Governor’s Awards, organized by the Office on Volunteerism and Community Services in partnership with the Governor’s Advisory Board on Service and Volunteerism and the Virginia Service Foundation, were presented at a ceremony held at the Virginia Executive Mansion. They highlight the outstanding efforts that individual and organization volunteers make on behalf of residents.
“I am proud and honored to celebrate Virginia’s outstanding volunteers who have made such enormous contributions to those in need throughout the Commonwealth,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe. “These individuals, organizations and companies set an example for us all to give back to our communities and embody the spirit of service which makes Virginia a special place to live and work.”
Ellis said V.O.I.C.E. trains ordinary Northern Virginia residents in person-to person organizing to build relational power across racial, economic, political party, and religious divides. “It challenges people to imagine the change they can accomplish, connects individuals and organizations to multiply their power, and organizes people by the hundreds and thousands to make their voices heard.”
V.O.I.C.E. has a track record of concrete victories since its inception in 2008. In Prince William County, Ellis and Savage led a multi-year V.O.I.C.E. campaign to get major national lenders to address predatory mortgage lending practices that devastated neighborhoods in the County during the recent recession. Ultimately, V.O.I.C.E. won more than $30 million dollars for housing counselors, credit restoration and new mortgage loans, and community reinvestment from such lenders as Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and General Electric. “These funds will continue to help our area for years,” Ellis noted.
More recently, V.O.I.C.E. successfully organized parents to challenge the County School Board to reverse a decision to reject federal funds for expansion of pre-K for low- and moderate-income children. “Thanks to this hard work, 576 children will have access to pre-K education over the next four years,” Savage noted.
He said V.O.I.C.E. also has done training for immigrants on complying with government regulations and has worked with residents of a seniors apartment complex to get safety and code violations addressed.
In Fairfax County, Bowerfind said, “VOICE is important to me as a pastor because it helps members of my parish and my community who are sometimes polarized find common ground and make significant improvements in our schools and community. For example, VOICE helped parents from rival West Potomac and Mount Vernon high schools in my community come together to build a strategy to achieve the goal of renovating old and sometimes dangerous high school athletic fields. By organizing together, they achieved the goal in a fraction of the time they projected they would achieve it on their own. And both schools got the new facilities at the same time.”
In Arlington County, according to Peebles, during last year’s debate over an ambitious new Affordable Housing Master Plan, “V.O.I.C.E. was able to organize a group of parents, teachers, and affordable-housing residents in South Arlington to provide perspectives that haven’t often been heard in the affordable housing debate. They contributed 500 signatures to a petition urging Arlington to live up to its vision and pass the plan to ensure affordable housing in the future. The plan passed 5-0.”
She noted that V.O.I.C.E. has been instrumental in helping to win community support for hundreds of new affordable-housing units in the County in recent years.
The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH), which has worked with VOICE to ensure critically needed affordable housing, nominated VOICE for the 2016 award.