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 Sister Hortensia Del Villar, S.A.C., Director of Community Services and Outreach Programs for the Diocese oversaw the applications and selection process for local CCHD grant awards.

 Sr. Hortensia explained that there are two applications: one for Community Development and another for Economic Development.

 The time from initial grant submission until the award is approximately ten months.

 Sr. Hortensia not only reviewed the written applications but also witnessed the work of these organizations and the benefit that they provided to local parishes.

 The two organizations receiving the CCHD grant this year are Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC) and Inland Communities Organizing Network (ICON). 

 “We have a common goal to uphold the dignity of vulnerable communities such as the immigrant communities escaping violence, poverty and national disaster to seek asylum in the United States,” Sr. Hortensia said, in reference to the two organizations awarded a local CCHD grant. “[They] seek to empower communities to change the root causes of injustice and bring about effective and sustainable change.”

 ICUC is a faith-based organization of 36 different church members and 13 different school-based members representing 50,000 families in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. There are 14 Catholic parishes in the Diocese that belong to ICUC.

 ICUC trains its member churches to enact change in their local communities. Some recent examples of this are:

 ICUC youth leaders in Coachella and San Bernardino were able to work to change school policies that stopped suspensions for student’s willful defiance and out-of-school suspensions. Last year in San Bernardino more than 15,000 students were suspended for these behaviors, which lead to high rates of academic failure. 

 ICUC leaders also advocated for the successful passage of a policy that allows 51,000 past students to expunge misdemeanor and felony charges given by school police that would have remained part of their adult records. 

 In Riverside and San Bernardino, ICUC organizers were able to create parent centers at nine schools and open two parent resource centers. These centers provide support and information for parents.

 ICUC will receive a CCHD grant in the amount of $75,000 to increase staffing levels to better serve the Low Desert, San Bernardino, Riverside and High Desert Vicariates.

 Funding will allow staff organizers to carry out one-to-one organizing, meet with clergy, lead trainings, and support local leaders in their efforts to address policies and systems that improve peoples’ ability to participate fully in deciding the priorities that need to be addressed in their communities, cities and state so as to overcome social exclusion and poverty.

 Inland Communities Organizing Network (ICON) is the second organization named to receive a CCHD grant from the Diocese.

 ICON works in the regions of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. It will receive a grant of $50,000 from the Diocese.

 Within the Diocese of San Bernardino Bishop Gerald Barnes continues to encourage the work of ICON in the West End Vicariate.

 Parishes working with ICON include: St. Anthony Parish in Upland; Our Lady of Lourdes in Montclair; Our Lady of Guadalupe in Chino; St. Margaret Mary Parish in Chino; Sacred Heart, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel both in Rancho Cucamonga; and St. Mary’s in Fontana.

 Among ICON’s focus areas in the West End Vicariate is identifying greater consumer protections for immigrants, particularly those without legal status.

 According to ICON’s grant application, escalating fear among immigrants is prompting many people to pay thousands of dollars for incorrect and often dangerous legal advice, and congregations, particularly large parishes, are positioned to intervene. ICON will help to identify and provide parishes with sources of reliable legal advice that they could pass along. 

 The other issue being addressed by ICON in the Diocese is the shortage of affordable housing. This has been a deciding factor in the spike of homelessness in the region.

 ICON is actively looking at promoting Accessory Dwelling Units and alternative models for the financing of local land ownership.

 One municipal community development official told ICON leaders there is a dire need for someone to help residents develop “an educated voice” pertaining to local housing decisions. ICON is positioning itself to take up this challenge as a step in bringing changes to the local housing policies.

 Reflecting on the value of community organizing groups such as ICUC and ICON, Sr. Hortensia shared a recent experience that she had at a prayer vigil at an immigration detention center near Mexican border that was organized by PICO California, which is the parent organization of ICUC. 

 “There was a moment when we stopped and turned to the walls of the detention center,” she said. “We stood in silence and prayer for a few minutes. After the moment of silence, we were all invited to raise our voices and shout: ‘You are not alone. We are with you.’ (In Spanish, “No Estan Solos. Estamos Con Ustedes).

 “We shouted loud. We were then invited to be silent. Suddenly, we heard voices from behind the walls shouting: ‘Gracias! Los Escuchamos! Thank you. We hear you.’ Many of us in the crowd were moved to tears.”

Marge Bitetti is a freelance writer and a parishioner of St. Matthew in Corona.