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Annual Interfaith Gathering - Sunday, September 23rd

A Huge Transit Victory keeps buses moving in the Fox Cities and Green Bay Area!

We did it! This is huge!

Nearly one year ago, ESTHER and JOSHUA brought together 250 people of faith, religious leaders, and concerned citizens at First English Lutheran Church in Appleton to call for our federal legislators to make a commitment to solve the major funding crisis facing the greater Fox Cities and Green Bay areas.  Congressmen Reid Ribble and Tom Petri committed on that day to work for a solution before we would lose up to half of our existing transit service. 

Today, a bill was signed into effect that solved the immediate transit crisis...just in the nick of time!

The issue: The 2010 census showed that the Fox Cities and Green Bay regions have grown to a population greater than 200,000 each.  According to federal transit funding, transit systems operating in regions with populations over this mark cannot use the allocated funding for operating expenses, only for capital or maintenance expenses.  Because Valley Transit and Green Bay Metro is efficient, the majority of its cost is in operations, not capital. This would have meant a loss of up to $1.5 million for each transit system in yearly operational funding, which would lead to massive cuts to service.

What did we do? ESTHER and JOSHUA leaders shared what the potential impact of losing service would mean to seniors, students, people with disabilities, and many others that do not or cannot drive vehicles.  Leadership trainings were offered to help those that would be impacted by the loss to begin to take action. We met with our legislators, collected more than 1,000 petitions and delivered them to our legislators, and traveled to Washington DC to share the impact with members of Congress. 

Our legislators heard the message. Both Congressmen Petri and Ribble serve on the House Transportation Committee and pushed leadership to include a solution to our transit crisis, an issue that impacts more than 150 other transit systems across the country.  Senator Herb Kohl stepped forward to call for a strong language in the senate version of the transportation bill.  There were times where we were not confident that a solution would move forward.  Because of the persistence of our leaders and elected officials a bill was passed through Congress on June 30th and today, President Obama signed the bill into effect!

What did we win? Transit systems with less than 75 buses running during the busiest part of the day, can use up to 75% of federal assistance for operating expenses.  Transit systems that run between 76-100 buses at peak hour can flex up to 50% of funding.  This covers both transit systems (Valley Transit runs 20 buses at peak hour) as well as others in Wisconsin.

Thank you! We would like to thank the dedicated leaders on our transportation task force.  Thank you to Congressman Petri, Congressman Ribble, and Senator Kohl for fighting for a solution on this issue. Thank you also to the many community leaders and residents that showed your support, reached out to your elected officials, and spoke out at forums and hearings.

We celebrate this huge victory today!! Tomorrow, we will work for a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to secure local decision-making and sustainable funding for public transit in the greater Fox Cities.

ESTHER Helps 100 More Immigrants to Learn Their Rights

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Nearly 100 people attended an ESTHER-sponsored “Know Your Rights" training session on July 1 at St. Mary’s Church in Omro. Certified immigration lawyers were on hand to educate the immigrant population about their basic human rights. Concerns about transportation and law enforcement were raised by the participants.

It also was a time of celebration in the wake of President Obama’s recent executive order to allow temporary residency to people who came here before age 16. They can apply for work permits and not worry about deportation.

This event brings the total number of people that ESTHER has trained this year in their basic rights to over 250.

Stephanie, ESTHER Organizer, named to Oshkosh Northwestern's 4 under 40 emerging leaders


Stephanie Gyldenvand, ESTHER organizer, receives recognition for her strong leadership and justice work through ESTHER and other community involvement!


Voices of Hope Forces Us to Take a Stand

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Sometimes a work of art presents a moral question so starkly that we cannot avoid confronting it, and ESTHER’s “Voices of Hope: Life Stories of Latinos” is such a work. It throws the moral and legal issues associated with immigration into high relief, and it forces us to take a stand. This reader’s theater presentation, directed by Kris Clouthier, is based on interviews from Peter Geniesse’s book Illegal: NAFTA Refugees Forced to Flee.

“Voices of Hope” tells the stories of several Latino immigrants. Among them are two young women who are high school seniors in Appleton, Wisconsin. Both of the women are good students. Both are leaders in their graduating classes. Both hope to attend the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, but one will be able pay in-state tuition and receive scholarship help, while the other must pay out-of-state tuition and is ineligible for scholarships. One is able to get a driver’s license that enables her to drive to Oshkosh. The other is not. They are different because one of them was born here of an undocumented mother who was pregnant when she arrived, while the other was brought here as an infant. Thus, one is a legal citizen, while the other is an illegal alien because her parents came here after she was born. Is this just?

“Voices of Hope” skewers us on the point of this question. From one point of view, we can say that this is a country of laws and the law must take precedence. The student who is here illegally cannot claim the rights of a legal resident of Wisconsin. If this causes her pain, that is unfortunate, but her parents should have thought of that before they brought her here.

On the other hand, we also believe that the law should be just. The girl who is here illegally has the same human rights as anyone else, and we should not punish her for a crime she did not commit merely because her status – which she did not choose – is illegal. We can go further. We can say that the girl’s parents came here to work in response to our economy’s clear demand for workers. Through the parents’ work, the economy grew, and we all benefited. How can we accept such benefits from a system that causes this girl’s suffering? Do we not have a responsibility to change the system to alleviate the suffering?

“Voices of Hope” brings these questions alive for us and forces us to take a stand.

The final performance of "Voices of Hope" will take place on Tuesday April 24, 2012 at 7 PM at the Appleton Public Library.

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