Thursday, June 23, 2022

Pride Month Series: Queering interfaith work in three easy words (or more) | By Pauli Reese

This Pride Month, Interfaith Philadelphia staff and board members who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community are sharing their experiences at the intersections of faith and sexuality. This blog post is part of a series of stories which will be shared throughout the month of June.

What sort of attitudes and behaviors to I need to practice to build meaningful connections across lines of difference? In my work with the Crafting Community Project, I spend a lot of time thinking about this question, then finding concrete action steps to enact it.  

One of the identities that I claim that nearly always acts as a line of difference that needs to be  crossed in service of this work is being transgender non-binary. This language acknowledges  the reality that the societal norms that we are socialized into as children on the basis of our physical anatomy are not ones that fit my understanding of myself. 

I remember the very first time I used non-binary pronouns to describe myself. I was sitting in a small classroom in divinity school, where I felt safe enough among colleagues to take a risk  and act boldly, even when the action was as seemingly simple as responding to a small question: What pronouns do you use? 

This is the work that organizations, faith communities, and individuals who are aspiring to interfaith collaboration are acknowledging that they are committed to doing: creating spaces  that are physically and psychologically safe enough to have interactions with each other that place the squishy, vulnerable bits of ourselves at the center, rather than at the margins. This makes them front and center rather than obscured behind the velvet rope of vagueness, power  imbalances, or untruths — be any of these things intentional or not.  

Returning to my classroom, I remember the change of energy when I sat up, closed my eyes, and through tiny waves of anxiety and gritted teeth uttered the words “they and them.” While  divinity students tend to be particularly well-trained at avoiding the obvious tells of discomfort  

like the eye roll or the even more taboo audible sigh, the feeling that all the oxygen suddenly  draining from the room was palpable.  


In Queer Theory, a common line of inquiry is that “to queer something” is to disrupt it. Queer Theology then becomes an exercise in discovering how the work of the Divine is one of disrupting the established order. One prominent strain of Queer Christology acknowledges that  Jesus is particularly well known for actions that disrupt expectations: of a teacher of the sacred  texts, of a person claiming to be a messiah, or even simply of poor Jewish tradesman under Roman occupation such as Jesus was.  

Given that one of the effects of interfaith work is, naturally, a disruption of the established order  among faith traditions who all lay claim to being the truest, best, or even exclusive connection  to the Divine, perhaps one of the understated truths is that there is a certain element of  queerness present by definition. So, it must be the work of interfaith voices to embrace, center,  and disencumber those presences that would even “queer” it. The work of interfaith  conversation must always be to go farther into its own places of discomfort to shine the light of  human dignity and empathy into the corners of its very self that feel less presentable, less  polished, and less loved, and bring those very squishy, vulnerable bits to its own center.  

Sometimes three words muttered nervously are all that is needed to do the work; sometimes it  will be considerably more. But the work of co-creating the world that interfaith work envisions  is, most certainly, a queer work. That is work I am proud to contribute these words to today. 

Pauli Reese is the CCP West/Southwest Philadelphia Community Organizer for Interfaith Philadelphia. The views shared here belong solely to the author, and reflect one of many experiences which exist within diverse religious traditions.


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Pride Month Series: A Love That Brings Life | By Lindsey Chou

This Pride Month, Interfaith Philadelphia staff and board members who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community are sharing their experiences at the intersections of faith and sexuality. This blog post is part of a series of stories which will be shared throughout the month of June.

Sexuality has always been inseparably part of my faith. Long before I was ready to understand why, I found the spirituality of queer Catholics to be one of the most deeply compelling examples of what it could mean to be Church. I was always awed by people — coworkers, teachers, friends, strangers — who were able to stand in the face of narratives and people that challenged their belonging and still say I have a right to be here

As a young woman, a progressive, a frequent doubter and questioner, and a Chinese person in my heavily white hometown, I spent years feeling both vaguely and acutely that I did not belong in church. I wanted to, desperately. I have wondered over the years if I simply slipped into religion because I yearned for a place to belong. This would have been narratively simpler. The much more complicated truth is that I believed there might be something to all the talk of a love that brings life. Most days, I still do.

I wasn’t consciously hiding my bisexuality through high school and college. Rather, I filed it away as something I would surely attend to down the road, then proceeded to fill my arms with so many other causes, identities, hobbies, hurts, and habits that I stayed conveniently preoccupied until years later.  For years, I dedicated all my energy to declaring my right to belong, at church and everywhere else. I kept waiting to feel like I had arrived at some final verdict, maybe even one that would render me so belonging I would not even have to deal with the one piece I left unspoken: I was queer, I had been for a long time, and I could not make this part of me smaller. In time, I became increasingly certain that I did not want to become smaller, that the highest call of what I believed to be holy was in fact, to be exactly as I was. 


The more I came to believe that the truth of my queerness was worth cherishing, the more clearly I saw how much it was hurting me to fight to convince others of the same. Relinquishing that effort has been freeing, but has not come without grief. I have left a string of ministry jobs in my wake, and I grieve the work I might have done had I felt safer. Sometimes I grieve the women I might have loved and the person I might have been had I believed earlier that I already deserved to belong. I grieve for my teenage self, who believed fervently that she had found a home she would never need to leave.

 

I don’t attend Mass anymore but I do find myself telling coworkers the story of a saint whose faith carried her through grief and rejection, to her vocation. The Catholic Church will have always been my first spiritual home, the place where I encountered and found words for the sense of life that I learned to call God. This is how I came to believe that embracing my whole self is sacred. This is where I first met the God I always come back to, who I am convinced desires nothing less than all of who I am.


It has been a gift to know myself more, to allow myself to be known by my loved ones. It has allowed me to accept the community and belonging which have been offered to me and to have more peace around my choice to no longer work for belonging where it is not offered.

I came of age steeped in arguments against the validity of exactly this position. I heard dissenting Catholics cast as misguided, weak-willed, or disobedient to the truth of God’s creation. All I can say is that my own delight in my queerness has come to me in the same way as everything else I've ever called holy: quietly, then loudly, patiently but persistently, and leading always to greater life.


Lindsey Chou is the Communications & Program Associate for Interfaith Philadelphia. The views shared here belong solely to the author, and reflect one of many experiences which exist within diverse religious traditions.




Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Reimagine, Reclaim, Repair: Together We're Better | By Rev. Edward Livingston

Interfaith Philadelphia strives to increase peace and understanding among people of all faiths and backgrounds in our region.  Our aim is to replace hate and fear with harmony and acceptance.  We call upon people to Dare to Understand.  This encompasses our dream that people will take a chance for understanding.  We believe that interfaith learning and engagement is a key to promoting peace.

It is heart-breaking to acknowledge that hate has a home in our communities.  The heinous hate-fueled mass shooting suffered in Buffalo, NY is among the latest of violent acts that ends lives and harms those who live on with the trauma.  There are many efforts to promote peace, equity, and justice in the local area and across the country, yet hate for the other is being sustained across the land.  Hate is being passed on to younger generations and younger people are carrying out violence that targets people based on their religious, gender, racial/ethnic identities.  

In grieving the loss experienced from the Buffalo massacre, answers to questions can help to gain understanding.  Understanding may help to prevent repeating mistakes that our society repeats that hold us back from living into becoming ‘one nation’ under God.  Who raised this 18 year old? How did his community fail him? He is a product of someone’s doing.  What outcome and legacy did his family desire for their son? Our families, educators, legislators, neighbors, leaders, and friends must be held to account for the community we make if we wish to learn from and prevent the next massacre.  

So many of our families and communities are fractured.  We are too fractured as a nation.  There is a soul sickness within us that enables us to be so violent and paralyzes so many of us from denouncing the violence of hatred and reclaiming the dignity of human creation.  Our actions indicate that human life is not valued equally by too many people.  Something different is needed if we hope to see different results.  What will be different? What would happen if we stood united in proclaiming that all lives should be nurtured toward realizing our highest moral existence? 

Not keeping silent helps.  When we see indicators of hatred, speak up, challenge the behavior, and organize an intervention.  If we don’t make room to build connections across difference for peaceful coexistence, and encourage and support youth and adults to becoming their best selves, someone else with divisive designs will aim to shape them into actors of destruction.  Do we want to see different outcomes?  Now is the time to do something different.

Imagine the change for good that would result if we supported each other to inspect our language, actions, and ideologies for things that demean, or vilify another, and instead chose to speak and do what heals.  Commit to find the existing organizations that strive to save lives and proclaim equity, compassion, and restoration and stand with them.  Listen to the concerns, and solutions within our communities.  Act.  Call in people to pray, participate through direct action, gather to foster understanding, and engage the legislative process.  

Pledge to consider how our many parts may hold the solutions toward reconciliation and for repairing the world concerning the matters that divide.  Such change is possible, with individual and communal action.  Now is the time to reclaim that we share a common humanity and build spaces for healing and restoration.  What do you dare to imagine? The decision is yours.

Together, may we heal and thrive,


Rev.  Edward Livingston, M.Div.
Interfaith Philadelphia, Director of Religious Community Initiatives

100 W.  Oxford Street, Ste.  E-1300, Philadelphia, PA 19122

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Responding to Gun Violence: A Moment of Blessing from Esperanza

Reclaiming Sites of Violence: Bringing Hope and Healing to Neighborhoods

The Reverend Ruben Ortiz, Director of National Programs for Esperanza (https://www.esperanza.us/ ) represents Hispanic Clergy on the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia. Recently he shared Moment of Blessing with his colleagues on the Council. For more than 20 years, Moment of Blessing has been used to offer solace and hope for families and neighbors living near the location of homicides. Religious leaders bring together those affected at the location desecrated by violence. They lead the community in prayer, adding readings as well as words of comfort and hope. The location is blessed; Divine comfort and love overpowering the fear and grief connected to that place. Moment of Blessing may be used as is or adapted so it is appropriate for the religious traditions and emotional needs of those who gather.
 


Moment of Blessing - Occasion of Homicide 

GREETING 
Grace and Peace to all of us in the name of our Loving God. We stand on holy ground – for God is with us, doing what God always does, calling forth life, especially here, especially now. Immanuel is the God who is with us always and everywhere! There is nowhere we can flee God’s presence and nothing can separate us from God’s love – not tragedy, not violence not even death. This is why we are reclaiming this space as a place of life, community, hope and forgiveness. Yes, even the violence that has occurred here is being reclaimed in love, and called forth as holy witness to life itself.

DECLARATION 
We come together in this space and at this time of grief, acknowledging the violent act committed against our [sister(s)/brother(s)] ___________ .

We confess that this tragedy is part of a wider failure to create safe communities that are humane, compassionate, just, and filled with dignity and hope for all.

PRAYER 
We ask that God may grant us peace.
That in our pain we may find comfort,
That in our confusion we may find a measure of understanding,
That in our anger we may find forgiveness,
That in our sorrow we may find hope,
That in the aftermath of fear we may find strength and healing.
Come Holy Spirit and baptize us again in the sea of your love, where we release our useless fears and relax into your mercy. Inside this new love
we die to all that is false. By your power made perfect in weakness,
awaken us to the mystery of life and speak to us again the truth of our
deepest identity hidden in you. “You are my child whom I love with you
I am well pleased.”

PSALM 23

LEADER The Lord is my Shepherd.

ALL I shall not want.

LEADER The Lord makes me lie down in greenpastures.

ALL The Lord leads me beside still waters.

LEADER The Lord restores my soul.

ALL The Lord guides me in right paths.

LEADER Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ALL I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and staff give me courage.



MATTHEW 5

LEADER Blessed are the poor in spirit.

ALL For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

LEADER Blessed are those who mourn.

ALL
For they will be comforted.

LEADER Blessed are the meek.

ALL For they shall inherit the earth.

LEADER Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness 

ALL For they shall be satisfied.

LEADER
Blessed are the merciful.

ALL For they shall obtain mercy.

LEADER Blessed are the pure in heart.

ALL For they shall see God.

LEADER Blessed are the peacemakers.

ALL For they shall be called children of God.

LEADER Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. ALL For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


A TIME OF SHARING
What are we seeing, hearing, and feeling in this moment?

(Participants may share briefly – otherwise, a moment of silence is appropriate.)


AFFIRMATION OF SIGHT
[Sister/Brother] , we see you. We acknowledge your death and your life. You did not leave this world unnoticed. We hold your memory in our love and care, affirm that your life was and is treasured by God.


LITANY OF DELIVERANCE

LEADER: From the prevalence of sexual assault...

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: From the ravages of drug and alcohol addiction...

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: From the hopelessness of suicide...

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER:
From the brutality of murder and violence...

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: From the corruption of senseless death...

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: From the ways human dignity is stripped...

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: From the bitterness of homelessness and empty pockets... 

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: From the snare of mental illness and discrimination...

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: From the silence of apathy and neglect...

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER:
From the deserts of ignorance and suffering...

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: From the arrogance of racism and despair...

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: And from all evil …

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: And from all evil…

ALL: Save us, O God

LEADER: And from all evil…

ALL: Save us, O God. Amen.


(SONG)

JESUS, NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES

(English)
Jesus, Name above all Names
Beautiful Savior, Glorious Lord
Emmanuel, God is with us
Blessed Redeemer, Living Word

(Espanol)
Cristo, Nombre Mas Alto;
Salvador Nuestro, Glorioso SeƱor
Emmanuel, Dios Con Nosotros;
Pan De La Vida, Cordero De Dios

ISAIAH 61:1-4

(ADAPTED)


The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God. To comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated. They will renew the cities that have been devastated for generations.


PRAYER FOR THE NEIGHBORHOOD

LEADER You are the God who has set us in families and clans and tribes, in communities and in cities. We give you thanks this day that you are Lord of the city of and Lord of this very neighborhood.


LEADER We pray for the city of today, and we pray for this neighborhood... and for neighborhoods like it in Jerusalem, Baghdad, Moscow, and a thousand other villages in your cities around the world. In all of our cities this day... there will be violence and crime and also compassion and forgiveness and generosity, and leaders who work for both justice and injustice.

ALL Be our God this day and prosper in the city of . We pray in the name of the One who wept over the city. Amen.


RECLAIMING RITUAL —

LEADER We come together this day to reclaim this space of death as a place of life. This place where violence occurred we are reclaiming as a place of peace. This place that causesfear, anger, and pain, we are reclaiming as a place of hope and community. We reclaim the humanity of both victim and victimizer in God’s name.


BLESSING OF THE WATER  

(WATER IS SPRINKLED ON THOSE PRESENT)

Leader: Come, Holy Spirit, to this place. As we sprinkle this water, come Holy Spirit, and redeem this space and people from the pain and violence that occurred here. Return it as a safe place, a place of love, a place of life, a place of hope. Amen.

ALL That which was taken away from us by violence, we reclaim as a place of life, community, and hope. We pledge to work toward a world free from violence and self-destruction and full of love and hope. We commit ourselves to building community that is humane, compassionate, just, and filled with dignity.


BLESSING OF SURVIVORS
PARTICIPANTS ARE ENCOURAGED TO LAY HANDS ON SURVIVORS.

Christ be with you, Christ within you, Christ behind you, Christ before you,

Christ beside you, Christ to win you,

Christ to comfort and restore you,

Christ beneath you, Christ above you,

Christ in quiet and in danger,

Christ in hearts of those who love you,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.


NEIGHBORHOOD BLESSING  

LEADER: What is a blessing but a rain of grace falling generously into the lives of those in need; and what neighborhood in this city is without need?

ALL: God, we ask your blessing on this neighborhood.

LEADER:
May the Spirit touch in this morning pause. May this day provide a pathway filled with hope and renewal. May there be work here today that is God’s love made visible.

ALL:
God, we ask your blessing on this neighborhood.

LEADER: May a heart of grace and benevolence be born here today.And may that birth bless each person in this community with hope for the future.

ALL: God, we ask your blessing on this neighborhood.

LEADER: May the resurrection be experienced in today. As old enemies are moved toward reconciliation, exclusion becomes embrace, and as voices of criticism and hate are transformed into encouragement.

ALL: God, we ask your blessing on this neighborhood.

LEADER: May greed and excess dissolve into the soil of community gardens where neighbors and families share meals together and where children are free to play and explore their curiosities.

ALL: God, we ask your blessing on this neighborhood.

LEADER: God, breathe upon so when the people look in the mirror, they may see themselves as they truly are… a beautiful reflection of You.

ALL:
God, we ask your blessing on this neighborhood. Amen


BENEDICTION 

LEADER
Our service is ended. As we leave this place, our prayer is that each of us might act in some way to uphold the dignity of every person – so that all would see that violence will not prevail in our community and peace will endure.

Beloved of God, may we go on our way with the courage to love. Return no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted. Support the weak. Love one another as God loves you. As this is home to the trauma and healing of our [sister(s)/brother(s)] , it is also home to God. God blesses both this space and (Victim's name).

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us because we have been anointed to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to declare the year of the Lord’s favor.

We pray all of this in the name of the Father who is for us, the Son who is with us, and the Spirit who unites us all in the never-ending dance of love. Amen.

ALL
Thanks be to God.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Responding to Gun Violence: The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR)

In 2021, Philadelphia saw a record number of homicides, a majority from gun violence. This blog series invites previously recognized Zones of Peace, an initiative of the Religious Leaders Council (RLC) of Greater Philadelphia, to share about their efforts to respond to and reduce gun violence. This series will highlight a range of effective and complementary approaches taken by Zones of Peace to address the crisis facing our city and our nation.

The Zone of Peace highlighted here is The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.This post was written by Randy Duque, MA, KOR, Deputy Director, Community Relations Division. 

One City Agency’s Effort to Help Address the Gun Violence Crisis

Like many, I wake up each morning to learn of another shooting in the “City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love.” Throughout the day, I hold on to the emotions I have as I respond to such heartbreaking news. I can’t help thinking about the traumatic impact these acts have on those directly involved and the entire community. I think about the sadness experienced by the families of victims. I think about how so many are burdened by fear that loved ones, neighbors, or they themselves will be shot. I think about the anger people carry after each occasion of gun violence and how some become numb to the news of yet another shooting. So many emotions manifest themselves as a result of this social trauma.


In response to this crisis, the City of Philadelphia has stepped up its efforts to identify and support community-based initiatives that help address underlying social conditions leading to gun violence. Examples include funding community-driven programs that focus on literacy, mentorship, employment, and constructive conflict resolution; and providing services that help in public safety, such as Town Watch and community crisis response teams.

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) – The City’s official civil rights agency – offers a unique blend of services in the effort to prevent gun violence through its Community Relations Division (CRD). All too often, violence plays out when people do not feel connected to one another and when interpersonal conflicts go unaddressed. The CRD offers consultation and trainings in conflict management and other pro-social skills to community groups, neighborhood associations, and other institutions that work directly with community members. Neighbors who are having disputes often find resolution through mediation and direct conflict intervention.

With the rich variety of ethnic, social, and religious traditions living throughout the city, tensions and conflicts can arise due to cultural misunderstandings. CRD can help bridge those relationship gaps by bringing people together in dialogue to help foster stronger bonds among neighbors.

Whether we are government officials, community organizers, neighbors, or students, we need to work together to address the gun violence crisis. The trauma we feel is shared. Through active participation in activities and services that target the underlying causes of gun violence, we may begin to move beyond the trauma and heal as a united Philadelphia community.

To learn more about the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, please go to: https://www.phila.gov/departments/philadelphia-commission-on-human-relations/





Monday, March 28, 2022

Responding to Gun Violence: Heeding God's Call to End Gun Violence


In 2021, Philadelphia saw a record number of homicides, a majority from gun violence. This blog series invites previously recognized Zones of Peace, an initiative of the Religious Leaders Council (RLC) of Greater Philadelphia, to share about their efforts to respond to and reduce gun violence. This series will highlight a range of effective and complementary approaches taken by Zones of Peace to address the crisis facing our city and our nation.

The Zone of Peace highlighted here is Heeding God's Call to End Gun Violence. Co-founder and Executive Director Bryan Miller contributed the following blog post.


Saving Lives from Gun Violence – How to Get There

I’m Bryan Miller, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence, the grassroots and interfaith organization devoted to ending gun violence and early Zones of Peace awardee.

I’ve acted in this cause on both secular and faith-based ‘sides’ since 1995, after my brother was one of three law enforcement officers killed by a lone gunman wielding a concealed and illegal assault pistol. I view my work as akin to a religious calling.

Hundreds have asked me the same exasperated question, namely: “Why are gun laws so weak and ineffective when there is such an obvious need to better regulate guns and citizen support is so strong?”

Good question, with a two-part answer.


First, because measures are patently good, does not mean they are easily achieved. For instance, many measures to limit who can buy and possess guns and how many they can buy at any one time would save thousands of lives each year and would be, therefore, very good.

Yet, except in a very few states, such measures are non-existent and likely to remain so, because gaining them and others would take hard work, time and long-term commitment on the part of those seeking them. I know, because I led the effort that resulted in New Jersey having among the best gun regulatory systems in the country, resulting in one of the lowest per capita rates of gun death. I closely witnessed what legislative advocacy for any cause demands.

Second, the lack of achievement of improved culture and laws to reduce gun violence is due to the absence of the American faith community from the effort. The American faith community has either led or been part of the leadership of every national social movement for change in our country’s history – except for the gun violence prevention movement. In my view and experience, we will not get there without it.

Faith is power and the faithful are an enormous cohort. The power and numbers needed to move the gun violence prevention ‘rock up the hill’ is missing. People are dying at an unprecedented rate in Philly. The dead, who we tend to think of in arithmetical terms, were real flesh and blood people, like you and me, with families, neighbors, friends and more. Isn’t it incumbent on people and institutions of faith to act to save those lives through hard work, time and long-term commitment?

So, my fellow person of faith, what can you do to take up this calling? You can start by reaching out to Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence. We’d love to hear from you. We have need of volunteers to help push that rock. You can participate in our various activities, designed to be positive and appeal to the faithful. By reaching out to us, you can learn what we’ve got coming up and how you can be a part. In these ways you can help us energize and mobilize the American faith community to bring about the change we need. It’s a good thing.

Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence, heedinggodscall.org, contactheeding@gmail.com, 251-238-8550

Monday, March 21, 2022

Responding to Gun Violence: Victim / Witness Services of South Philadelphia (VWSSP)

In 2021, Philadelphia saw a record number of homicides, a majority from gun violence. This blog series invites previously recognized Zones of Peace, an initiative of the Religious Leaders Council (RLC) of Greater Philadelphia, to share about their efforts to respond to and reduce gun violence. This series will highlight a range of effective and complementary approaches taken by Zones of Peace to address the crisis facing our city and our nation. 

The Zone of Peace highlighted here is Victim / Witness Services of South Philadelphia (VWSSP). VWSSP Executive Director Alison Sprague, intern James Scarborough, and Victim Advocate Lisa Klinman all contributed to this blog post.


             Responding to gun violence is a crucial part of the work we do every day at Victim/ Witness Services of South Philadelphia (VWSSP). We are deeply supportive of increased programming to reduce gun violence. And we must invest deeply in the systemic changes that will drive down gun violence. In the meantime there remains a need for advocacy for those most impacted by this violence. At VWSSP we offer direct assistance and support to victims, witnesses and their families in the three Police Districts of South Philadelphia (1st, 3rd, and 17th Districts). We work closely with our sister agencies the Philly 6 to ensure these services are available citywide and in people’s communities.

           Advocates at VWSSP respond in a variety of ways to maximize available supportive resources for survivors of gun violence and their families.  All services are free and confidential. Victim advocates are trained crisis responders who provide immediate supportive counseling and referrals to longer term therapy and mental health supports, which can be crucial elements to the healing process for many people experiencing violence or grief. Advocates also assist people impacted by violence in applying for the Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP), which can cover a multitude of expenses including: counseling, medical bills, loss of earnings due to injury, relocation and in the most dire cases, funeral expenses and loss of support. Additionally, advocates provide assistance and accompaniment throughout the criminal legal process, including support in following up with law enforcement and court accompaniment. Receiving information in moments of trauma can be overwhelming. Advocates provide strategic referrals to various health and social service agencies in addition to legal services, if needed. 



Providing access to services for all is a key value of VWSSP. Our Immigrant Victim Access Collaborative (IVAC) in particular provides culturally competent and linguistically accessible victim advocacy services, including referrals, for many immigrant and limited English proficient community members. VWSSP refers immigrant community members impacted by gun violence to bilingual trained trauma counselors that specialize in the mental and emotional effects of gun violence. Our IVAC program is a joint project with Justice at Work and HIAS-PA to provide case management and legal services as well as detailed referral systems to multilingual and multicultural service providers across the city.

 

In addition to our direct advocacy, staff at VWSSP works cooperatively with other victim services providers, social service providers, legal practitioners, and community members to improve the services available to support victims of gun violence and their communities. We stand with all those working to reduce violence in our City.