A Mother and Daughter Helping Families at the Border

A Mother and Daughter Helping Families at the Border

In June 2017, mother and daughter Judy and Jasmine Elliot travelled to San Antonio to volunteer with the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) through the UU College of Social Justice. Hear about their experiences below. If you, or someone you know, are interested in volunteering and are either fluent in Spanish or have legal expertise, learn more and sign up at https://uucsj.org/raices/


Jasmine and I were volunteering at Karnes Detention Center with RAICES to help prepare the women for their Credible Fear Interview, and inform them of their rights and obligations in the asylum process should they pass it.  But I feel we also helped in other significant ways.

The women, hugely traumatized by the violent experiences they were fleeing and the many dangers they encountered traveling to the US border, often said they’d not spoken of it much before, if ever.  Able to finally do so in a private room with a sympathetic US citizen, as we prepared them for the CFI, seemed a comfort to many.  They also expressed gratitude for our support and caring, both at Karnes and at the Greyhound bus station, of them and their children.

We volunteers returned with resolve to continue related work in our communities, such as offering support to families seeking asylum, taking rapid-response training to respond to ICE raids, and speaking up about what we learned at Karnes.  If you have law or Spanish skills, contact UUCSJ and spend as few as four days in the San Antonio area doing meaningful work that can help families in desperate need have a decent future.

It took much support to make this week happen, from locals in the UU church and RAICES to UUCSJ staff and people who donated backpacks and contents for Greyhound bus travelers.There are so many ways to be involved.

Lastly, each of the women at Karnes had at least one of her children with her.  I told some of them at the Greyhound station they were my heroes (to a very tearful response), for surviving and enduring all that they had to give their children a chance.  I imagine some of these children will, like so many Latinos before them, become activists for social justice based on the injustice they witnessed in their formative years.


I’m a 22-year-old college student who just returned from volunteering at the Karnes detention center in Texas. Hearing horrific stories from women from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador fleeing extreme domestic violence and death threats from gangs was very hard.  But being able to work with a team of lawyers to help prepare the women for their Credible Fear Interview was amazing.

It’s difficult to pass the interview, but 90% of the women prepped through RAICES do. The best part for me was going to the Greyhound bus station the last day to hand out RAICES backpacks full of supplies and food, and seeing some of the families I had worked with. They seemed so much happier and hopeful, on to the next step of seeking asylum.

I had never imagined myself doing this type of work, but I’m so glad I did. It made me so much more grateful for the life I have, and showed me I could use my Spanish to make an important difference for families in desperate need.

A Mother and Daughter Helping Families at the Border

Volunteering at Karnes Detention Center

Sandra Rumbler is from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Luis Obispo in California and in June, 2017 volunteered with RAICES in San Antonio Texas through the UU College of Social Justice.

If you speak Spanish or have legal expertise and would like to volunteer with RAICES through UUCSJ this Fall, go to uucsj.org/raices to learn more and to sign up!

Before volunteering with RAICES at the Karnes Detention Center in Texas, I would have been happy if I had helped just one person gain asylum in the United States. By the end of the week,  however, I believe I helped many, many women take a successful first step in the asylum process.

Karnes Detention CenterKarnes is a detention center for women and children fleeing violence in their home countries, mostly in Central America.  Currently, approximately 680 women and their young children are housed there. They are fleeing violence and possibly death at the hands of gangs, cartels or their own spouses, perhaps a combination of all three. Many of the women sought help from the police, but the police reported them to the gangs, which then tried to retaliate.  Fleeing to other parts of their home countries was not feasible, as the gangs could chase them down.

Because I am bilingual in Spanish, I was able to help the women prepare for their Credible Fear Interviews with the Office of Asylum, which they must pass before they are released from Karnes.  Their chances of success in the interview are greatly increased if they have some preparation, which we gave them one-on-one in private.  In fact, approximately 90% of the women who are prepared by RAICES volunteers are successful in their interviews.

But this is only the first step.  Later, the women will need to plead their cases in court.  Approximately 43% of asylum seekers are finally successful.  The rest, unfortunately, are deported back to their home countries and fearful futures.

I learned about RAICES at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Luis Obispo in California, while the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Antonio provided support in Texas, finding us home stays and hosting a reception dinner.

RAICES worked very hard with all five of us UU volunteers from across the county, teaching us about the asylum process, the law and the brutal facts of life in Central America. RAICES lawyers and legal assistants accompanied us each day to Karnes.

When I think back on my week at Karnes, the most touching moment for me was when a three year old tried to wipe away her mother’s tears as the mother related her heart-wrenching story.

I can honestly say that working with RAICES and the refugees was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I hope I truly made a difference in many lives, although it’s much too early to see the final outcomes. The experience increased my resolve to further work for justice for immigrants and asylum seekers, whether with RAICES or other groups. But  RAICES and its hard-working staff is at the top of that list.

~Sandra Rumbler

Meet the Activate @ GA team!

UUCSJ offers a variety of Activate Youth Justice programs, including at General Assembly. This year, for the first time, we are excited to welcome a team of awesome Activate Youth Leaders who are helping shape, facilitate, and promote our youth justice workshops in New Orleans, in collaboration with the Youth Caucus team. Get to know the Activate Youth Leaders (and a few adults, too) via their bios below and come say “Hello!” if you’ll be in New Orleans in June!

Pablo deVos-Deak is finishing his freshman year of high school and attends the Unitarian Society of New Haven, where he serves as a K1 teacher and is involved with his youth group. Born in Guatemala, he has traveled the world and most recently gone to China for two weeks. Pablo is very passionate about social justice and among other youth leadership experiences, has participated in a youth visit to the College of Social Justice and workshops at the UU-UNO Spring Seminar. Along with being a “sneaker-head” and playing three sports, he also loves trying new foods, playing the the piano, drums and steel pans, and listening to Logic. He looks forward to attending his 7th GA this year!


Adele Gelperin
is a rising junior at Mount Holyoke College, where they study religion and education. They grew up in the Unitarian Society of New Haven and now call Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence a second home.  Adele is a handbell enthusiast, a bookworm, and an aspiring elementary school teacher, who can often be found singing songs from Moana, arguing about philosophy, and tromping through the woods. They are an alum of Activate Boston (when it was known as National Youth Justice Training) and are thrilled to join the UUCSJ team and meet even more UUs at GA this year.

Liam McAlpin is a rising high school sophomore from Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tahlequah and attends Sequoyah High School, an all Native tribal school run by Cherokee Nation, where he is a member of his school’s student council and strives to make his school and community a safe and better place for all. Liam also attends Squirrel Ridge, one of the last remaining traditional Cherokee ceremonial grounds, where he is a proud member of the ground’s leadership and helps keep his Cherokee culture and spirituality alive. When Liam has free time, which isn’t that common, he enjoys making and listening to music, writing poetry and short stories, and spending time with his family and friends.

Chloe Ockey
attends the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno in Fresno, California. She is currently a college sophomore majoring in Communication Studies, who wishes to pursue a career in Public Relations. Some of her many hobbies include music composition, writing, and travel. As an alum of Luminary Leaders, Activate Boston, and Thrive West, she has participated in a variety of opportunities related to UU youth leadership and social justice. She can’t wait to meet all of you at General Assembly this year!


Abiy Welch
is a first-year student at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. Her hometown is Hillsboro, Oregon and she attends both West Hills UU Fellowship and the UU Church of Eugene. She is a ‘13 GoldMine alumni, ’15 Summer Seminary alumni, is a member of the PWR GoldMine staff and is a peer chaplain. In 2016, she went to New Orleans for UUCSJ Activate Racial Justice! In her free time, she loves to sing hymns and read children’s books to others. The biggest thing that she took away from her Activate! trip was to find something you are passionate about, find that community, and stick to it. Join Abiy at GA for some food, coffee, or just a chat about anything and everything! She says, “Remember: Always. Believe. In. Yourself!”

Kristin Famula
has been a religious educator for the past decade, currently serving as the Acting Director of Religious Education at the UU Community of the Mountains in Grass Valley, CA, and previously as Director of Religious Education at Prairie UU Church in Colorado. As an educator and a life-long UU, she works to create and offer opportunities for people of all ages to deepen their commitment to transforming systems of oppression through reflection, learning and relationships. Kristin also serves as President of the National Peace Academy (nationalpeaceacademy.us), an educational institute dedicated to holistic peace-building. The National Peace Academy focuses on developing and offering learning opportunities for bringing forth the peace-builder in all of us, including through international opportunities for youth leadership and cultural exchange. As a UUCSJ Program Leader, Kristin has led several immersion learning journeys, including last year’s Activate New Orleans and a recent youth journey to the US/Mexico border.

Marissa Gutierrez-Vicario is a UUCSJ Program Leader and the Founder and Executive Director of Art and Resistance Through Education (ARTE). As a committed human rights activist, artist, educator, and advocate for youth, Marissa launched ARTE in 2013 to help young people amplify their voices and organize for human rights and social change in their communities through the arts. Since early childhood, Marissa became interested in the arts and its potential for bringing attention to important social issues within her community. At an early age, Marissa also developed the propensity to lead as a student activist and public servant through her involvement in several non-profit organizations, including: United Students Against Sweatshops, the Advocacy Lab, Public Allies New York, Global Kids, and the UUA. In all of these experiences, Marissa realized the need to support young people in their development as organizers to help cultivate the next generation of social justice leaders. She has recently supported UUCSJ’s expansion of new initiatives in Nicaragua and new training collaborations such as the UNO Spring Seminar.

Angela Kelly is SO grateful to be working with this amazing Activate@GA team and in collaboration with the awesome Youth Caucus staff! As Senior Associate for Justice Education at UUCSJ, her work focuses on developing opportunities to integrate activism, popular education, and spiritual practice. As a teen, immersion learning journeys fueled her own passion for human rights and social justice and in the years since, supporting youth leadership has remained an energizing component of her work, which has included 15 years of organizing in various contexts for peace, community empowerment, health equity, refugee solidarity, and racial justice. These days, being rooted in her neighborhood, running in nature, circling up with kindred spirits, painting and scattering #KindnessRocks, and hanging out in child’s pose renew and sustain her ability to “rejoice & resist”.

We all look forward to seeing you soon!

We Keep Coming Back

We Keep Coming Back

Rev. Beth Banks is the Senior Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. She journeyed with other UU Religious Professionals to the Arizona-Mexico border in 2014. Below is her reflection of how that journey helped her energize her congregation around immigration justice.

2014 Religious Professionals Border Witness Participants

2014 Religious Professionals Border Witness Participants

In November of 2014, the College of Social Justice offered a border trip for religious leaders of our denomination. I wanted to travel with colleagues who came to learn for their own sake, but who also came to find inspiration for a new level of justice engagement with their congregations.

Each morning started with worship, preparing us for the day’s experience ahead. The week was intellectually stimulating, but it was my heart more than my mind that was broken open. We witnessed tremendous injustice, and what gave me hope, was witnessing the determination of both dedicated individuals and agencies who, because of their faith, had energy that did not cease.

Before returning home from the border trip, the staff of UUCSJ challenged us to choose something concerning immigration that we believed we could address within our sphere of influence. That’s how a new relationship focused on justice between the undocumented students of The University of California at Davis and The Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis began. In November 2014, the same month as the UU College of Social Justice trip for religious leaders, the AB 540 Undocumented Student Center was established by UC Davis. That first year, the Center served the needs of a couple hundred undocumented students. Since that first year, the number of known undocumented students is closer to 500, and there are more students every year.

Our relationship started with the allies who chose to represent the undocumented students. They spoke in worship services, and congregation members took special collections or made donations of gift cards to grocery stores. It seemed like such a small effort, and yet it was the sphere of influence available to us at the time.

SPEAK Member Raising their fists

SPEAK Members

However, at the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year, the Center put us in direct relationship with members from SPEAK, a support group for students who are undocumented and their allies. Together, we discovered that the members of UUCD, as Unitarian Universalists, are uniquely positioned to be of assistance, as the students hoped to be in relationship with organizations that are LGBTQI friendly as well.

Trust has come slowly. We had much to learn, and so did the students. We were not necessarily skilled allies, and they were not familiar with churches that would support diversity as an ideal. With every passing season, there are more and more volunteer opportunities for congregants to support the students. We supply snacks at the Center where they study, offer our space on our church campus for their end of the year banquets and graduation parties for families. we’re running a Faithify fund raiser for their emergency funds, which supports their presence at the university or pays their DACA fees.

SPEAK - We Exist We Resist

SPEAK – We Exist We Resist

In return we promise to take the UndocuALLY training, to help those of us who have never lived in fear of deportation understand the secrecy needed to survive. With this training, we learn how to listen more carefully – slowly both groups are creating a bridge of trust.

This coming November the congregation is planning a border trip with UUCSJ because more people want to experience their own emersion learning. We will not learn alone. Prior to the trip, everyone in the congregation will be invited to attend the four sessions prepared by UUCSJ on immigration justice.

The sphere of influence, the one small thing that I could do when I returned from the UUCSJ border emersion trip, was making contact with the Executive Director of the Undocumented Center. I returned to her office repeatedly, asking the same question, “How can we help?” Eventually, we found just the place where we were needed most. When I ask the students why they are beginning to trust, they give an answer that is so seemingly mundane. ‘“It’s because you didn’t go away, and kept coming back.”  We’re going to keep coming back.

To learn more about our journeys for Religious professionals or to sign up for the upcoming fall 2017 journeys to the Border (Border Witness for Religious Leaders: Oct. 30 – Nov. 4, 2017) or Nicaragua (Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians: Nov. 25-Dec. 2), visit https://uucsj.org/journeys/religious-leaders/ 

Let’s Get Ready – to March, to Resist, to Declare Our Conscience!

Let’s Get Ready – to March, to Resist, to Declare Our Conscience!

by Angela KellyDeclaration of Conscience

Ready or not, here we are, on the eve of an Inauguration so many of us are dreading. We are painfully aware of the threats posed by the incoming President to the rights, safety, and dignity of so many, to the future of our planet, and to values we cherish deep in our hearts. We know that many of these threats are not new for immigrants and refugees, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and so many others.

And yet we know that there is also much that is unprecedented about this moment. It demands something new of all of us: increased clarity and resilience; a renewed commitment to anti-oppressive learning and practice; and greater courage amidst uncertainty. We are also called in a new way to build beloved community, and to dedicate ourselves to centering practices that will sustain us through the tough times to come.

Whether in our home communities or in the nation’s Capitol, many of us will take to the streets this weekend. We will raise our voices with millions more, to counter and disrupt bigotry in all its forms. We will stand up to defend critical social programs and the laws that protect our environment. UUCSJ staff and our colleagues will be among the ranks marching in DC and Boston, joining with the powerful network of UU activists across the country, embodying faith-based resistance in the days ahead. There are UU Convergences being organized at several of the actions, including the Women’s March on Washington.

If you are looking for an action near you, please check out the latest listing at the UUA’s Show the Love page for several links that will help you get plugged in. Before you set out to march and rally, take some time to watch or listen to this excellent webinar with our colleagues Rev. Ashley Horan (MUUSJA), Lena K. Gardner (BLUU), Caitlin Breedlove and Nora Rasman (SSL): “Get More Out of the March: Mobilizing for Resistance”. Take some time to center yourself before hitting the streets, perhaps with this beautiful Blessing for the Women’s March by Rev. Erika Hewitt. Be sure to fortify your mind, body, heart and spirit, and consider how the signs you will carry, slogans you will chant, and voices you will hear and amplify will effectively lift up intersectional messages that reflect your values and commitments and the leadership and wisdom of those likely to be dos adversely affected by the incoming Administration. A recent webinar from the Icarus Project on Street Therapy: Emotional Resistance also offers a powerful framework and some timely tips for attending to our own self care and the wellness of those around us while taking mass action.

On Sunday, Jan. 22, sustain the momentum of this weekend’s actions by joining us for a public webinar on Sanctuary & Solidarity, with leaders of UUSC and the UUA, and grassroots movement organizers from across the country. Register here to get the link to join live on Sunday and/or the recording and follow-up resources. (And if you are particularly interested in exploring becoming a Sanctuary congregation as one pathway toward solidarity, mark your calendars for two more upcoming webinars on January 30th and February 27th, hosted by UUCSJ and UURISE; details and registration at this link.)

One action you can take right now is signing onto a Declaration of Conscience, jointly issued by UUA and UUSC earlier this week. The Declaration can be signed as an individual and/or as a congregation, as a way to register your dissent as well as your commitment to an emerging campaign that uplifts the values of justice and compassion, all humans’ worth and dignity, and our vital web of interdependence.

However you march, resist, and/or reaffirm your values at this time, please know you are not alone! We are buoyed not only by the collective strength of one another but by the power of our ancestors, the many who tirelessly fought oppression before us, as well as the enduring spirit of those who will come after us. We at UUCSJ are grateful for and inspired by your continued activism and engagement and will continue to share resources and action opportunities for the long haul ahead. Stay tuned!

Declaration of Conscience

At this extraordinary time in our nation’s history, we are called to affirm our profound commitment to the fundamental principles of justice, equity and compassion, to truth and core values of American society.

In the face of looming threats to immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBTQ community and the rise of hate speech, harassment and hate crimes, we affirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

In opposition to any steps to undermine the right of every citizen to vote or to turn back advances in access to health care and reproductive rights, we affirm our commitment to justice and compassion in human relations.

And against actions to weaken or eliminate initiatives to address the threat of climate change – actions that would threaten not only our country but the entire planet – we affirm our unyielding commitment to protect the interdependent web of all existence.

We will oppose any and all unjust government actions to deport, register, discriminate, or despoil.

As people of conscience, we declare our commitment to translate our values into action as we stand on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us.

We welcome and invite all to join in this commitment for justice.

The time is now.

Let’s Get Ready: Finding Our Way Through Our Fear

Let’s Get Ready: Finding Our Way Through Our Fear

by Rev. Kathleen McTiguetreestarsblog

As we move into the new year in this fraught political moment, many of us are coping with new levels of anxiety. There is a lot to worry about, as each day the headlines seem to hammer us with more bad news. It can feel like we’re in the midst of a great unraveling, with so much that we care about at risk – from the most basic human rights to the health of our earth.

Even when there are very good reasons for fear, it’s worth remembering how much room it takes up in our hearts and minds, and what gets displaced if we let it take over. Fear shrinks our world, because it draws our attention over and over again to itself, like a constant pain in our bodies. Fear tells us to circle in, shrink down, lower our expectations, and hunker deep into our little shells to weather the storm.

A deliberate act of will won’t let us banish anxiety and replace it with courage or equanimity, but there are lots of practices we can adopt that will give more space for the things we find life-affirming. I keep hearing stories from people who are making more time for community, in all its forms, leaning hard into the connective power of love. Fear’s pronoun is singular: I’ve got to watch out for me and mine. Love’s pronoun is plural: we’re in this together, and together we can grow things that will blossom even in a time of drought. Spiritual practice is an antidote, too: anything that calms our breathing and lets us listen to the patient rhythms of the world outside of our heads.

My own newest practice has been to read poetry in the morning, instead of opening my laptop to read the latest news. This isn’t a form of avoidance, since the news is everywhere and seeps in eventually no matter what (and anyway, ignorance is no antidote). It’s because poetry brings news of a different kind. The tenor of the day is shifted by the beauty of words crafted in such a way that we can’t even quite understand how they evoke that “ahh!” of awakening, or memory. And so because we’re in the winter months now, and because winter also carries its metaphors for all the ways we bank our fires and nurture our seeds for the warmer times, here’s a poem to feed your spirit. May we all find the practices that tilt us toward connection, resilience and courage.

“Winter’s Harvest”
by Jane Elsdon

When winter comes
weighing us down
with weariness and loss
natural wisdom whispers
Lower yourself
into the lap of silence
where the shaman’s song is born.
Allow her to cradle you
close to her heart
as soil cradles seeds
and roots softly hum.
You are thought
making its way into form.
You are fertility’s gift
of rejuvenation,
the bearer of new life.
In the womb of silence
you are winter’s harvest.

Heather Vickery is responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with UU congregations, State Action Networks, past UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) program participants, and regional staff in order to expand engagement in UUSC and UUCSJ’s work. As the Coordinator for Congregational Activism, she manages the workshop offerings and group visits to the UUSC/UUCSJ office and assists with communications for the Activism and Justice Education Team. Heather is an active member of the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network and a dedicated dog-mom to her rescue puppy Nova.

Heather may be contacted at hvickery@uucsj.org and 617-301-4303