Over the past nine months, I have been collaborating with Good Shepherd agencies to act for justice. I had the incredible opportunity to work with several partner agencies that help carry out the Good Shepherd mission across the country.
It has been a powerful learning experience meeting agency staff and hearing their unique stories and perspectives. Each agency is deeply committed to serving its community, helping people heal, and empowering those who are marginalized.
Agency staff members are open and generous in sharing their insights with NAC. As expert service providers, they are deeply knowledgeable about the issues facing their communities. NAC has learned that the primary advocacy concerns of Good Shepherd agencies are mental health, behavioral health, funding of nonprofit organizations, racial justice, challenges faced by youth in the welfare system, the particular needs of immigrant communities, and poverty.
COVID’s impact on agencies and collaboration
In the past year, the COVID pandemic heightened the challenges faced by agencies and their communities in these areas. While mental health issues and food insecurity rose dramatically, government funding for nonprofits decreased, making it more difficult for the agencies to serve the people who rely on them.
Maria Droste Counseling Services in New York City and Massachusetts conveyed the rising need for mental health services, and Good Shepherd Gracenter in San Francisco underscored the importance of SNAP benefits for their clients.
Good Shepherd Services in New York City and Maryhurst in Louisville expressed the importance of financial relief and funding for nonprofits. At the same time, anti-Asian racism fueled a rise in pandemic-related hate crimes, an issue that directly impacted the community of Good Shepherd Services in Atlanta.
My role as an intern
In my role as a Good Shepherd Volunteer intern at NAC, I have helped advocate for solutions to these pressing issues.
Incorporating the input of our agencies, I created action alerts that equipped our network to urge lawmakers to respond.
Among our top requests were to make COVID relief funding available to nonprofits, expand access to mental health services, expand nutrition assistance programs, and take action to protect Asian communities from hate crimes.
At this time, several of these measures already have been signed into law. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) expanded eligibility for nonprofits to access Paycheck Protection Program loans and provided $350 billion in state and local aid, which is essential for resuming government contracts for nonprofit services. ARP included more than $3 billion for mental health services. It also extended the 15% increase in benefits to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program until September 2021.
Furthermore, Congress passed and President Biden signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which strengthens the government’s ability to address hate crimes and raises awareness of the issue.
Standing together and collaborating with Good Shepherd agencies
It is encouraging to see that by standing together as a Good Shepherd community and sharing on-the-ground insights of our agencies, our voices can affect real change. Our efforts are united with those of other advocacy groups and people all around the country who called for these measures and who continue to stand up for justice. We know that no one of us could have accomplished these things alone. But when we each do our part, our united voices are powerful.
Looking ahead to my last weeks as a Good Shepherd Volunteer, I feel energized to continue finding ways to bring our agencies’ concerns to Capitol Hill, and I am excited about NAC’s future collaborative efforts. By intentionally weaving together direct service and advocacy, we can continue to transform the world little by little until the dignity of each person is valued and respected.