Immigrant aid program needs donors
Catholic group halted grant over Y's refusal to quit coalition that spoke in favor of allowing same-sex marriage
CHAMPAIGN — After losing a much-needed grant from a Catholic organization, the University YMCA plans to launch a campaign to raise money so it can continue its work on behalf of the local immigrant community.
The loss of the grant was prompted by the University YMCA's refusal to sever ties with a statewide immigration coalition that came out in favor of same-sex marriage earlier this year, according to the University YMCA.
Since 2010, the University Y has received money for immigration work from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops. In recent years, the Y has worked with University of Illinois student groups involved in a outreach activities, such as a mentoring program at Urbana High School and the Spanish-speaking helpline La Linea. It also established C-U Immigration Forum, which provides support and advocacy for local immigrants.
After an initial grant of about $4,000, the amount increased to $37,500, and earlier this year the University YMCA learned that amount would rise to $60,000.
However, it came with a condition.
Mike Doyle, the University YMCA's executive director, would have to attest that the organization was not a member of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a statewide group comprised of over 100 organizations that support immigrants and refugees.
"It was devastating and threatened to undermine the work we were actually doing," Doyle said.
The University YMCA's board met several weeks ago and voted unanimously to remain in the coalition. It has been a member since 2010.
Earlier this year, the Illinois coalition issued a statement in which it came out in support of same-sex marriage, which the Illinois Legislature legalized this week.
In recent years, Catholic organizations such as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services have come under scrutiny by conservative groups whose members have criticized the campaign's funding of organizations that support abortion or gay marriage.
U.S. Catholic bishops established the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in 1970. The money, which comes from an annual collection in Catholic churches in late-November, funds a variety of community organizations and economic development grants. The collection generates about $10 million a year, with some money going directly to dioceses and the bulk of it going to the national office, which then funds hundreds of organizations across the country, according to Don Clemmer, spokesman with the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops.
A grantee does not have to be Catholic; the requirements are that groups go after the root causes of poverty, according to Clemmer.
Direct support, such as clothing donations and soup kitchens, are important, but this program aims to do more to empower people to lift them out of poverty, Clemmer said.
Local bishops, however, do have the final say on the awarding of grants. A call to the Peoria Diocese was not immediately returned.
Clemmer said each year grantees must renew their eligibility and nothing guarantees grants will be extended from year to year.
"These grants are very competitive and in consultation with local staff (as in all funding decisions), a joint decision was made not to recommended for funding. Should they apply again, their application would be considered against all CCHD [Catholic Campaign for Human Development] funding criteria on the merit of that application," Clemmer said.
With the funding it received from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the Y hired a full-time staff member last year to work with the local immigrant community and student groups, mobilizing support for immigration reform and more. Recently, staff and volunteers have been helping people navigate a new federal program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that allows for some undocumented immigrants to apply for work permits.
"Over the summer we were informed about the grant and that it would increase because of the good work happening here," Doyle said. Later in the summer, the Y received a copy of the grant agreement with the stipulation that it withdraw from the immigration coalition. Several other organizations around the state received similar notices.
The University YMCA's board met several weeks ago and voted to remain with the coalition. Doyle said the Y will try to absorb the costs associated with the loss of the grant.
"How long we'll be able to continue to do that is one of biggest challenges facing us. I hope the community really rallies around and helps replace the funds we lost so can continue to do the work that we're doing," Doyle said.
In the coming months, the organization will hold events to raise money and members plan to meet with individuals to ask for gifts and pledges.
"We're hoping people will step up and help out," Doyle said.