Jefferson City spiritual and community leaders got right to work in their first meeting of 2018 preparing for a year they know will have challenges.
Faith Voices' newly selected Mid-Missouri Regional Organizer Kim Woodruff told about 25 people gathered at Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church that at the end of 2017 communities told the organization what issues they wanted addressed.
"One of them is affordable housing," Woodruff said. "Another is predatory lending. And the third is racial equality in the public school system."
People's faith tells them to stand up and walk with folks who are experiencing the identified issues, even if they aren't experiencing them themselves.
"Whether you call the person you look to God or Jehovah, it's the faith that we have in that belief that keeps us going," she said.
Members of the organization, which works to end poverty, financial predation and health disparities, were outspoken about racial inequality in 2017. Particularly after a racially insensitive photo posted by Jefferson City High School students spurred the city to hold multiple town hall meetings.
However, the organization has other issues to work on, Woodruff said.
Shelley Swoyer said Faith Voices has been working on two initiatives, one to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour and another to limit contributions and gifts lobbyists can give to lawmakers.
She said other areas of the state had reached about 75 percent of the required signatures for the initiatives, while the Jefferson City area had only reached about 50 percent.
"Yes, we are behind," Woodruff said. "We have a deadline of March 17."
Tricia Schlechte presented a report on a program the organization is piloting to end the "debt trap" of predatory payday loans.
"In a nutshell," she said, "if an individual has a loan and they're seeking assistance to pay it off, the program would pay the loan and they would have to pay (the program) off."
They would not face the sky-high interest rates from the payday lenders, she said. A requirement of the loan is that the person accepting it has to work with a mentor, who would advise them on financial matters and choices.
"As we look at the programs, those are the ones that really seem to succeed," Schlechte said. "We will be encouraging participants to become affiliated with a faith organization if they are not."
However, the affiliation is not a requirement.
A mid-size hurdle the organization faces is finding people willing to mentor program participants, Schlechte said.
It did cross a major hurdle Thursday, she said, when the Missouri Credit Union agreed to be the financial partner with Faith Voices in the program.
"I think we really are close," Schlechte said. We want to be operational this year."
Much of the meeting Monday was dedicated to finding ways to invite passionate people to become more involved in their communities.
The technique they use is a one-to-one conversation. Katherine Conner and Terri Robinson demonstrated. In the real-to-life situation, Conner was interviewing Robinson and trying to find out what she was passionate about and how Robinson could use that passion to help her community. As Conner asked Robinson pointed questions, Robinson told her a story about her two sons.
One was rarely outspoken. His older brother was often outspoken, and sometimes found himself having difficulty at Jefferson City's schools. He eventually graduated and is attending college, Robinson said. However, she had to encourage him to continue to be outspoken.
Conner asked Robinson what she's passionate about in terms of the school.
"I think teachers should see each student as a child, no matter what color their skin," Robinson said.
Woodruff later explained the complexities of interviewing people to find out if they are going to have the passion to get involved in community work.
"Sometimes you have to pull it out of them because they're embarrassed by their situation," Woodruff said. "These conversations aren't easy. These conversations come from people's hearts. They are things that are killing them."