The UNH Blog

Democracy: Is it in Danger?

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Message from UNH Executive Director, Susan Stamler 

Recently, I traveled with a delegation of about a dozen of my New York City settlement house colleagues to the International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers conference in Helsinki, Finland. The theme of this conference was 
Democracy: Is it in Danger?, and it has inspired my thinking even more than usual about the role UNH and settlement houses play in promoting social change and democracy. Also, about how important it is for us to dedicate even more of our energy towards building an open and democratic society that guarantees, teaches, and encourages active participation, provides access to information, protects a free press, and strengthens communities. Democracy needs exercise to grow. UNH and our members have the stamina, brains, and heart to make that possible. Keep reading to learn more about how UNH is empowering New Yorkers to take part in decisions that affect their communities. 

2018 Settlement House Day Recap  
On April 17, 250 settlement house staff attended UNH’s Settlement House Day! This full day of professional development workshops and panel discussions – offered exclusively for settlement house staff – has become a highly anticipated annual event. Session topics were suggested and led by settlement house staff and included tips for how to use social media to promote programming, building cultural competency for diverse programs, and ways to incorporate civic engagement into everyday activities. The event was so successful – the evaluation showed that 95% of participants think attending Settlement House Day will help them in their work – that we are looking into a bigger space for next year.

UNH is Expanding 

Welcoming New UNH Members
UNH recently welcomed three new settlement house members: Red Hook Initiative in Brooklyn, and the first members from outside New York City in UNH’s 99-year history, Trinity Alliance of the Capital Region in Albany and Syracuse Northeast Community Center. Membership in UNH is considered for organizations that demonstrate commitment to the settlement house model, which means they are embedded in their community, serve multiple generations, offer a variety of programs, and focus on community building and reciprocity.  These new members are committed to actively participating in, benefiting from, and contributing to UNH's advocacy efforts, customized professional development and peer learning opportunities, and technical assistance support.  This increased membership allows us to expand our reach -- UNH members now touch the lives of more than 765,000 New Yorkers of all ages.  We are thrilled to have these three vital and important community-based organizations join the UNH family, which is enriched by their staff and communities. 

New Work Around Neighborhood Affordability 
UNH has hired a new Policy Analyst to expand our efforts to promote and preserve neighborhood affordability. The cost of living in New York City has grown out of reach for too many people. Increasing gentrification and a yawning income gap threatening the fabric of our communities, and our members have seen their neighborhoods changing swiftly. We have hired a new Policy Analyst who will focus on educating our network about the processes that lead to gentrification and skyrocketing rents, and developing a platform that ties together economic and workforce development and affordable housing. From emphasizing the importance of settlement houses partnering with NYCHA to exploring ways land use can benefit low-income New Yorkers, our holistic approach will take aim at some of the root causes of displacement. Check out the first education tool developed as part of this new portfolio of work, which details the New York City Rezoning process and identifies opportunities for engaging and affecting that process to help our members ensure their constituents are represented in the City’s plans. Advocacy in Action

Advocacy Wins in Settlement House and New York City Families
In Albany and at City Hall, UNH advocates for programs that help individuals, children, families, and older adults, and that make our neighborhoods better places to live. We mobilize settlement houses and their communities to speak out for these programs on the steps of City Hall, in marches at all five Borough Halls, and in meetings with legislators in their districts and in Albany. This year’s effort resulted in 22,800 middle school youth being able to attend summer camp, paid summer jobs for 75,000 teens, $12 million in funding restored for adult literacy, and increased funding for critical services in Naturally Occurring Retirement Community programs. We also succeeded in securing long overdue wage increases in state contracts for staff in vital human services organizations. For more information on the results of this year’s City and State budget negotiations, click here for our Budget Snapshots. 

Taking Action: Census 2020
The Census is a Constitutionally-mandated count of the population in the United States, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. A proposal is under consideration by the federal government to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census that will likely strike fear in our country’s immigrant communities causing them not to respond to it and to be grossly underrepresented in the new Census count. The ramifications can lead to billions of dollars in lost federal funding and the potential loss of a Congressional seat, diminishing New York’s voice in Congress. UNH strongly opposes the inclusion of this question and as part of the New York Counts 2020 coalition, works to educate communities about the importance of full participation in the census, and to fight for the removal of this question.

For opportunities to take action, please contact UNH Civic Engagement Associate Lena Cohen.

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