Behind the Headlines – May 25, 2018

Behind the Headlines – May 25, 2018


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: The WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – MIFA turns 50, tonight,
on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of
the Memphis Daily News, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Sally Jones Heinz, president and CEO of MIFA,
along with Jeannie Danziger, a volunteer and
former staffer with MIFA. Thank you both for being here. – Thank you.
– Thank you. – And with Bill Dries,
senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. So MIFA is turning
50, and I didn’t, we ran into each other somehwere
and all these things are coming up especially in the
fall that you guys have, but we’re
previewing some of that, and I was
preparing for the show, I don’t do math easily in my
head and I didn’t think through the fact that 50 means MIFA was
born in ’68 in the middle of the Civil Rights era, and in
no small part after the assassination of King. – (Sally)
Right. – And it was not, we think of
MIFA now as this organization that does great work, and I
think there are few if any people who have a
negative thought about MIFA, but in it’s formation
there was more controversy, and more risk associated with it
than I had remotely understood. Talk about the formation, we’ll
talk about where it’s been and where it’s going, but talk
about the origination of MIFA. – Right. In the 1960’s there
really began to be discussion, mainly in the Memphis Minister’s
Association about the fact that there wasn’t an avenue
or a way for congregations to really be involved
in the social issues that were affecting our community. Hunger, injustice, and racism,
so there began to be discussion and dialogue about what
could make that possible. And in fact on February 4th
in 1968 the Memphis Minister’s Association bought a space in
The Commercial Appeal to publish an article that they called
‘An Appeal to Conscience’. And what the
article stated was that if you believe in God,
you love your brother. And brotherhood requires
actions and not just words. And that was published on
February 4th and then of course a month later Dr. King was
assassinated here in Memphis. And that was the
catalyst really, in the chaos and the panic
following the assassination, the Memphis
Minister’s Association, and really the downtown
churches in that association that saw the needs everyday. Those leaders, along with some
community leaders said well if we can’t do something
now, when is the time. So officially
in September of 1968 the Metropolitan Inter-Faith
Association was founded. – And you have been involved,
you are a former staffer, you’re a volunteer now,
talk about how you got involved in MIFA. – Was always
committed to the cause, and it was very out there then. Not an accepted position
to have to translate your compassion into action. It was not a usual
platform at that point. And I was always in awe, aside
from my compassion and concern, I was always in awe of
this non-threatening, wonderful platform
that encouraged everyone. Very diverse
ethnicity, racially, everything, to come together
to change the fabric of this community, which
badly needed changing. I mean we were faced with
terrible racial injustice, and so many ills, and poverty. And surely there were
things people of good heart, and good spirit and talent could
do to address these things, and move it forward–
– And it’s interesting– – it was so
exciting to do that. – Well and you talk about now,
I think of churches nationwide, but we’ll just focus
on Memphis, being very involved in Civic causes, there are
community centers, they’re attached to schools,
they do all kinds of things that are what some might call
political or civically engaged. They have opinions, they
propagate all kinds of activities, but you’re talking
about a time when people didn’t want churches to be
involved that way. Church was where
you went on Sunday, you kind of kept it
behind closed doors, and you weren’t engaged
in the civic discourse and civic change.
– Absolutely, absolutely. In fact everything Sally talked
about in terms of this open letter, the reaction
was quite negative, and essentially,
as you stated it, that people should
remain in the church, church people, synogogue
people, Islamic people, remain in their
religious communities, and leave the rest alone,
and let the mayor govern. – Yeah. Bill. – And so from
that 50 years later, the Metropolitan
Inter-Faith Association, MIFA, is now an
institution in and of itself, from an appeal by a
group of religious leaders. So Sally, is diving into
this problem after 50 years, has it shown just how complex
the challanges we faced then are, that they’re
still around today, or have they kind of taken a
different form as a result of the action of 1968. – Well, I think it’s a both-and. I think that over 50 years
MIFA has started programs, and ended programs, so as an
agency and looking at problems in the community, those
have shifted and changed, and some have been
successful, and some have not, and I think we always have
been realistic about moving ahead if we need to. I think the thing that is
constant and is at the core of MIFA is of course,
this sense that, if we come together
we can do something to affect our community. And that really that idea of
service and getting to know others, whether it’s getting
to know other volunteers, or whether it’s getting to know
the person I’m delivering a meal to, that all of that
is community building. So it is sort of that both-and,
we are all distressed I think to think that we still have poverty
and we still have hunger, and we still have racism, but I
think the hope is that there is still a place like MIFA that
wants to bring people together to address that. – Jeannie, what do you think we
know collectively as a result of this, about the
problems of poverty, and all of the other
problems that were present, and are still present now. What do we know about those
problems today that we didn’t know in 1968 because we were
so isolated from one another. – I think we know that at
least we have a vehicle, and out of the
diversity of all of us, we can get a strength
and unity to reach individuals and not be afraid. What do we know
about their issues. We know that we probably can’t
systemically solve everything at once, but if you
narrow your focus, and zero in on
individuals needs, whether at that time,
jobs, food deficiency, critical needs, emergency
needs, emergency housing, you can address
those situations. – Mm-hmm. And of course,
I’m trying to picture in 1968 a group of anyone sitting
around a table and saying, ok, here are all of
these problems we’ve got, which one do we tackle first? – So exciting. So exciting that something
was finally going to be done. So exciting. And maybe we didn’t know
how, but we were inventive, and we cared, and
we reached out, and we used contacts,
and we worked together, and we pulled our brains to
reach for the stars and do something in a creative way,
but a very business like way at the same time. – Is there still
a tendency today, Sally, to say, ok, well
this is in that silo, that’s in that silo, and we
should leave it to them and focus maybe on something else. – Well, I think in 1968
there were fewer non-profits, there were fewer agencies and
institutions focused on issues, and of course now
there are many. So I think it has been healthy
to focus on things that we do best, and try to
work on those issues. But we do all work together,
and you know I think in the ’70s and ’80s when Jeannie was
at MIFA, during the years that MIFA had VISTA volunteers, those VISTA volunteers would
come back and say well we see this need in the community, and let’s start something
and let’s try to affect that. And so many of those
programs are still at MIFA, like Meels on Wheels,
but then the Memphis Food Bank started at MIFA. And of course now it’s
its own stand alone, vibrant agency, and it
does what it does well, and it needs to
be its own agency, and not part of MIFA. So I think part of the change in
agencies of being more focused on a mission has been a sign of
the times and professionalism. – And I’ve always
admired that about MIFA, by the way, that it has the
strength to let go when it’s time for the other one
to blossom on its own, and then concentrate
on other needs that maybe need assessing and addressing.
I like that. It shows a flexibility,
it shows a vibrant organization that’s constantly in flux. – And now, at this
time, the primary focus, I think most
people would probably, the most well-known
program is Meels on Wheels, so you all are serving… walk through the numbers of
poeple that you’re serving food, but it’s more than just food, which is obviously
critically important. Talk about Meels on
Wheels for a second. – Right, we served last year
over 500,000 meals to over 3,000 seniors in the community,
who are at the highest risk of food insecurity. And we do both the home
delivered meals that is Meels on Wheels,
and we also serve at several congregant sites
throughout Shelby County. And you’re exactly right,
that the Meals on Wheels, it’s that hot meal, it’s that
nutrition and that’s important, but it’s the
volunteer who checks in, because so often the seniors at
highest risk of food insecurity are also those who
are most isolated, they don’t have family here, and
the volunteer may be the only person they see that day.
So it’s really important. A quick story, one of
our meals volunteers, who’s delivered for 30 years or
more was delivering a meal to a client who she knows very well,
and the client was distraught and said, “I have a cut-off
notice, my utilities are “going to be cut-off, and my
purse was stolen yesterday, I don’t have the cash that I was
going to use to pay that bill.” And this volunteer knew to come
back to MIFA and say how do we get these wheels in motion, and
by the afternoon that was taken care of, and the
senior was fine to go. So it really is
more than a meal. – Yeah, and that’s the
other part that I think, and this may be the
media, it may be us, that is under reported is
that MIFA is involved with homelessness and
preventing homelessness. Talk about the range of programs
there in terms of not just for seniors, but for families and
individuals at risk of becoming homeless, you have a whole
range of things you try to do to prevent that from happening. – Really, a series
of interventions, all with the goal of preventing
homelessness so it may start with something like a food
voucher for a family that is just struggling that month to
pay for medicine and groceries and needs a little help,
up to utility assistance, the same sort of thing, that
a mother may have to decide between medicine for her
children or paying the utility bill and MIFA can
help with that. On into those families who
might literally find themselves homeless, and we need to help
them find permanent housing. So every year we help 3,000
or more families with utility, mortgage, and rent assistance,
and then work with over 200 families in finding
permanent housing. – Funding wise, the breakdown
of funding sources for MIFA, let’s stay with
the homeless part. Where does that money come from? – Generally MIFA is about 45%
private contributions which are generous individuals
in the community and foundations and corporations. And the rest is a
variety of government funding, whether it be the
City of Memphis, or HUD funding, or Older
Americans Act funding, our family programs that
I described are a higher percentage of government funding
because of the HUD support. – And that does breakdown
the same for the senior, the Meals on Wheels, and
the senior assistance? – Senior, yeah, similar, yeah. – And you, not to
get to political, but you’re, like any
non-profit, every year is, I don’t want to
say it’s a new year, but there’s never enough
resources I would imagine, and you’ve got all these kind of
various people that you’re going to foundations for
funding, individual donations, but the political landscape, has
that been nerve wracking with a change in leadership in the
Federal Government that may have different priorities,
have you seen impacts on your funding, and have you
lost sleep over potential impacts on your funding. – (Jeannie)
Always. – Definitely lost sleep
over potential impact. Fortunately we have not
seen too much difference yet. But it has certainly been
something we have awoken to advocacy in the last couple of
years because every time that Federal budget comes out, there
is threat of cutting programs, and then the funds
tend to get put back in. – Right, every time
there’s a big budget stand-off, where there’s a
potential shut down, that’s kind of what
I’m thinking about, the funding for you
might be tied up in that, MIFA may be tied up in those
headlines on CNN and so on. – Right, so it certainly has
been something that we’ve paid attention to, and had
to educate ourselves, because we had been
not so concerned about that in previous years. – Bill. – Jeannie, as we talk about
the 50th anniversary of MIFA, a lot of MLK 50, Martin
Luther King Jr. 50th anniversary commemorations in the community,
and you really can’t separate the two of them. And you talked about being with
some of the surviving strikers from 1968 just recently. And I think all of us in the
last few months have really been impressed by these men and their
stories during the strike and since the strike, so with that
strike and the issues it brought to the surface kind of being an
impetus for involvement so long ago, what was kind of your
impression of their role in being a catalyst for,
not just that strike, but beyond that strike and
the activism that we’ve seen. – I think they had such
challanges at that time that they couldn’t envision any
kind of a role like that. Now, I think they do see that,
and I think they’re continuing to tell their story, number one. And hope that it will serve
as an impetus for greater wage equity and better
working conditions, etcetera, etcetera, yeah. – And some of those men are
still working for the city, are still working in sanitation
services for the city all of these years later. It’s, it’s really
something to think about. – Yeah, it’s heart stopping. – So, 50 years ago, the
idea of religious leaders, black and white getting together
was a revolutionary idea. Today I hear from some
contemporary religious leaders that it seems like a
revolutionary act to some Memphians of later generations,
but that we need to break out of kind of the novel-ness of
that and get to the problems. Do you see that as a need? Are we kind of too impressed by
being in the same room with one another all these years later? – Oh I think we’ve moved
way forward from that. An organization like MIFA
long ago took the diversity as a given and wove it into the
unity of wellness for all. But no, I don’t think that’s, I
don’t think that’s an unusual thing anymore, I think
that’s no longer novel. Although maybe there are some
that would disagree with me in terms of the Islamic community
that’s so involved now. – It’s gotta be, I mean when you
talk about the primary programs that MIFA is doing now,
they are blind to faith, they are blind to
color, race, religion, I mean you’re dealing with
people in need of all sorts of backgrounds, right?
That’s a big part of it. What, VISTA we’ve
mentioned a couple of times, and we should go
back to what VISTA is, and was, and how VISTA…
tell me what VISTA is and was, and how it’s important
role in forming MIFA? – VISTA stands for Volunteers
In Service To America, and in 1974, MIFA got the
contract for this community to host the VISTA volunteers. Gid Smith was the executive
director at MIFA when that happened, and
Bob Dempsey was there as well. And Memphis had a
little bit different model, which I think is really
interesting in that in most communities VISTA
volunteers were eager college, young graduates who would
come in from other places, and in Memphis, MIFA recruited
mostly educated housewives to get out in the community,
and Julia Allen was the first recruiter of those
VISTA volunteers, she was the wife of a
Rhodes faculty member, so she recruited a lot of
other Rhodes faculty wives, and one historian has written
that it really legitimized social action in
Memphis because some of the, substantial folks
in Memphis saw, oh, here are these
white, caucasion women out doing social service. – (Jeannie)
Educated. – As I said, a lot of
programs, the food bank, and Meals on Wheels,
and MIFA Transit– – (Jeannie)
Christmas Store, the job bank. – Christmas store, all of these
things started because of these VISTA volunteers, and apparently
Gid Smith would just tell someone, well,
you can do this, and then would, well ok.
[group laughs] and do it. – (Jeannie) Not sure,
but we’ll give it a go. – Right, as you look ahead, we
have four or five minutes left here, as you look at
the next 50 years, I’m thinking one, a big question
that we could do a whole show on, but I’m curious, all
your work with the homeless population, trying to
prevent homelessness, and homelessness is
a national problem. I’m struck personally, I
mean when I’m in Seattle, and Portland, and
Nashville, D.C., I mean every city I’ve
been in in the last year. I’ve said to numerous people,
if you go to Portland, Oregon… it’s a little beyond startling,
the number of homeless people, and it’s a
national, it’s a tragedy, and it’s a problem and
it’s all those things. I’m not trying to
editorialize too much. What Sally, is
the answer to that. And what works.
What are the models in cities or in areas that have worked
that you hope MIFA can move into in terms
of addressing homelessness. – MIFA deals specifically
with families and homelessness, and I think what
our community is, the Community Alliance
for Homeless is working on creating a similar spectrum
of interventions for single homeless people.
But I think what we do see working is the rapid re-housing,
getting families into housing of their choosing as soon as
possible, as opposed to a transitional housing model
that we used to use, where families were given
services, but essentially they felt still unsettled
for a couple of years. And if you can get a
family into their own home, where their children are not
disrupted from school and moving around, it is I think a
more effective intervention. I think what we do need
in Memphis is more shelter availability for families
so that’s something looking forward that is a need.
– And then on the food- – (Jeannie)
Job training maybe, too. – What was that? – More job training so that they
can sustain that independence that you have
helped them settle into. – Yeah. And then on the
Meels on Wheels side, and the working with seniors,
we have an aging population, we talk about the Baby
Boomers are reaching retirement, so the population of seniors
is only growing right now. Do you look ahead again, at the
next 5 to 50 years, and does that concern you that at a time
when, you know you never have enough resources, you all
are doing this great work, but that population
is probably expanding. – It is expanding. What we have been able to do in
the past year is research with Methodist Healthcare, because
we had Meels on Wheels clients referred to us
from the hospital, so we were able to look
at their patient data, and see what we knew anecdotally
that hospital encounters reduce dramatically if a senior
has regular nutrition. So I’m hopeful that that
knowledge can help and partnership with hospitals
and insurance companies, in helping to provide that
important service for seniors that shows dramatic impact. – And just with a minute
left, you have a bunch of events coming up in the fall that
people can look forward to, that will
commemorate more officially, and more celebrate the 50th,
talk about some of the things that are coming up in the fall. – Yeah, so we have to kick-off,
these events will happen in September through early October,
and we’re starting with what we call community days, we have 50
congregations that are paring together to do
community service, from Germantown to downtown, from South Memphis to
North Memphis, all different kinds of congregations
so find out– – (Jeannie) That might not have
happened in the early days. – That’s right, find out
if yours is participating, we’ll unveil a historic
marker close to MIFA’s official birthday, and have
birthday cake and dignitaries, and then on October 11th
we’re going to have a big party. And we’ll have some
inspirational speakers, but we’ll also have
some dancing and some fun, and it’s all about
looking to our past, but also looking forward to
what we still need to work on, and what we still
hope to accomplish. – And last, for people
who want to get involved, not just with the
commemoration events, but just get
involved with the daily, weekly work that MIFA
does, what should they do? – Go to our website,
that’s the easiest place, we’ll also be unveiling for our
50th a web resource called the MIFA Center for Community,
and we’re going to have all kinds of resources there
on how to get involved, but also on topics of
interest like poverty, and homelessness and a
place where people can learn. – Ok, and it’s MIFA.org, right?
– Yes. – Thank you for being here,
thank you for being here, thank you Bill, and
thank you for joining us, join us again next week.
Goodnight. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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