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St. Louis Today: Church-based advocacy group to celebrate 10 years

Posted by: Website Admin on 10/4/2010
By Scott Cousins

It's been a busy decade for the United Congregations of the Metro East. Since its founding in 2000, the group has grown from a fledging grassroots organization advocating social issues to a major regional voice on everything from affordable housing to the role of minorities and women on construction projects.

Today, the group has 26 congregation with 23,000 members.

To recognize the organization's anniversary, a public action rally is planned for Sunday, Oct. 10, in Granite City.

The organization was started by former Granite City resident Herb Reisinger, now of Glen Carbon.

"I saw a real need in some of our communities where poverty is a real problem," he said. "I knew we could do something about it if churches came together."

An activist with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, he started talking to congregations in 1999. By spring 2000 he had six - enough to join the Gamaliel Foundation, a nationwide grass roots social justice organization.

Today, the group has member congregations in Madison and St. Clair counties. It has a budget of about $95,000, two full-time staff members and offices at the Greater St. James United Church of God in Christ in Madison.

Reisinger said the group's support of drug courts in Madison and St. Clair counties was "the centerpiece" of efforts. The court diverts non-violent drug offenders into treatment and counseling rather than the criminal court system, with an emphasis on rehabilitation.

Third Circuit Court Chief Judge Ann Callis called the group an "integral part of the support when the drug court was first started."

"It saves taxpayers dollars in the end, because to house these people costs a lot of money in our jails and prison system," she said.

The group has also been a vocal supporter of the Madison County Child Advocacy Center, the Madison County Shelter Care Home, and the creation of the former charter school in Venice.

"Our real purpose is advocacy. We're about making changes that improve the system, rather than just dealing with problems in the system," said Ron Trimmer, of Mitchell, who has been with the group since the beginning. "We do a good job of having food pantries, but we haven't done as good a job helping people develop their skills so they can get good jobs and don't have to go to food pantries."

Originally appeared on STLToday.com on October 4th, 2010.

http://suburbanjournals.stltoday.com/articles/2010/10/04/stclair/news/1006gcj-ucm.txt

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