Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks for Our Faith Community -- And Helping Them Prevent Homelessness

Tonight I’m giving thanks for Ventura’s amazing faith community. I just returned home from the annual Thanksgiving Service put on by the Ventura Interfaith Ministerial Association, which I’m proud to say was hosted this year by my congregation, Temple Beth Torah.

Every year, VIMA – a group of ministers from a wide variety of faiths – holds an interfaith service on the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving at a different congregation around town. It’s a truly remarkable service – beautiful and heartfelt and caring. In other words, a lot like Ventura.

As each minister and each choir came to our bimah at Temple Beth Torah to present a prayer of gratitude derived from their own faith, I remembered the times I visited so many of their churches and congregations over my two years as mayor. I went everywhere – from Evangelical Christian churches all the way to Hindu and Buddhist temples – and I am amazing at the range of our religious institutions, their commitment to our community, and the progress they have made in working together.

Tonight, in addition to our own Rabbi Lisa Hochberg-Miller, the service representatives from Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Bhuddist temples, the Baha’i Community, Methodists, Unitarian Universalists, and Methodists – as well as Captain Bill Finley from the Salvation Army, Rev. Rob Orth from Project Understanding, and Rev. Curtis Hotchkiss from Community Memorial Hospital. We prayed, worshipped and gave thanks in a half-dozen different languages.

In a world where religious observance, all too often, fosters divisiveness and hatred, tonight’s service was remarkable. All the more remarkable, however, is the community work that all these organizations do together, especially in feeding and housing the homeless and helping people in need. One of the most amazing things these organizations do together is help to support and run the Ventura Homeless Prevention Fund – a nationally recognized program that raises money privately to help keep families out of homelessness when they are at risk.

At a time when it’s easy to be cynical about how our charitable and tax dollars are used – and where we are all too accustomed to laying out money for good causes and not getting results – the Homeless Prevention Fund is amazing. Many families of modest means are always a paycheck or two away from homelessness, and often one single event – a broken-down car, a medical problem – can strain a family’s finances so much that they are out on the street. The Homeless Prevention Fund provides money to families at risk to keep them in their homes.

And it’s a great value. Once a family is homeless, getting them housed and back on their feet can cost, quite literally, tens of thousands of dollars. But the average cost of helping them through their emergency so that they can stay in the home is about $750. It’s a great investment in our community.

Tonight’s appeal was to provide funds for the Homeless Prevention Fund. Bill Finley from the Salvation Army – a remarkable, passionate, articulate, and effective leader in our community – made the appeal. I won’t try to repeat what he said here, but he claimed he couldn’t sing and therefore read a lot of song lyrics of his smartphone. The net effect was that he emptied my pocket.

And this Thanksgiving, I’d suggest you should let the Homeless Prevention Fund empty your pocket too. It’s easy – just go to this web site, and follow the directions to donate online. Or you can write a check to the United Way of Ventura County, with a note that you want to support the Ventura Homeless Prevention Fund, and mail it to the United Way at 1317 Del Norte Road, Suite 100, Camarillo, CA 93010.

To me, the most enjoyable thing about tonight’s service was seeing how much fun our diverse interfaith ministers have together. As a Jew and a Scot, I was blown away at the sight of Pastor Jim Ayars of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church playing the bagpipes while standing on our bimah at Temple Beth Torah. I just love this town, and I love the way the people in our community use their faith in a positive way to make Ventura a better place. That’s what I am giving thanks for this week.

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