In early 2017, Foothills Unitarian’s immigration justice team convened a group of over 30 faith communities and leaders from across Northern Colorado for a conversation about sanctuary. We were discerning becoming a sanctuary church and wanted to do that in partnership with others. From that conversation, those leaders all went back to their congregations and discerned the right path for them. We decided to become a sanctuary congregation, while other churches and leaders decided on other paths, and we all supported each other’s efforts. We welcomed Ingrid Encalada LaTorre into Sanctuary at our church in October 2017, and this interfaith community would go on to be critical to us while we housed her and her children and supported her journey forward.
The group of religious leaders and organizations remained committed to continuing conversations in support of interfaith collaboration around immigration justice. Rev. Gretchen Haley shared that she had been part of an effort in Denver where the interfaith community started an emergency fund that could be used for emergencies for undocumented people. She knew that Jefferson Unitarian in Golden had been the fiscal sponsor to make that fund possible. She imagined Foothills Unitarian offering similar support.
With initial fundraising from the Foothills and community, and an agreement for Foothills to be the fiscal sponsor, the Emergency Immigration Fund (EIF) launched in August 2017.
The initial steering committee for the EIF comprised Rev. Gretchen, one Foothills Unitarian member, and two community representatives. In 2019, Rev. Kristen Psaki took Rev. Gretchen’s place on the steering committee, and as of late 2020, the fund has evolved to be driven directly by members of the immigrant community.
Our goals with the Fund were to get money into the hands of those who needed it without bureaucracy and while leveraging existing networks of trust so that we could be sure we reach the people who need it most but may not otherwise seek support. As a result, we worked to develop procedures and processes that allowed those on the ground in immigrant communities to quickly write checks to get money in the hands of people who were in crisis.
By 2018, the informal interfaith group had transitioned to become its own organization, ISAAC, and we maintained fiscal sponsorship of the EIF, but not of ISAAC itself. The fund is only one part of ISAAC’s work. ISAAC has been engaged in deeply impactful education and advocacy work within different faith communities since its inception.
While the EIF has continued to grow since 2018, it really took off in 2020 when we sought out a grant specific to COVID relief. We went from distributing annual funds of about $30,000 per to more than $500,000 in 2020. This was activated especially in March 2020 when Rev. Psaki helped convene the leaders and organizers working with immigrants in Northern Colorado to coordinate and respond to the particular needs of immigrants in the pandemic. This group continues to meet monthly and is now facilitated by the City of Fort Collins. Foothills member Ticie Rhodes has been a key part of keeping this conversation going and facilitating collaboration across partners.
The Fund’s rapid growth made it clear we should begin transitioning the EIF to be held within ISAAC, now a 501c3, rather than administered through Foothills Unitarian. That transition was completed in late 2021.
Throughout the evolution of EIF, members of Foothills Unitarian were critical in its growth and impact. Mary Hill did the initial “gap” research on what the fund should be used. Ed Meek was a key part of a major fundraiser in 2018 that raised the fund’s profile, and Mary, along with Sue Ferguson, Daniel Covey, Anne Hall and Sally Harris were also deeply involved in convening the initial conversations and helping to launch ISAAC.
Today, although we are no longer the fiscal sponsor, we continue as a member congregation, and Ticie Rhodes and Tom Rhodes are both serving on the ISAAC Board.