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Friday, August 24, 2007

Report from Rev. Boutte

Once again I would like to thank you and your congregation for participating in the Churches Supporting Churches (CSC) initiative. This memo is to give you a brief update on the progress of St. John Baptist Church and our work with CSC.

It has taken us six months to get the utilities on in the sanctuary; however we finally achieved this feat in the month of July. So our congregation can now worship in a more comfortable setting. About sixty-five per cent of the former membership has returned. Many of the members who have not returned are still having difficulty finding affordable housing. In addition to the members who have returned, we have also taken in new members since we moved back into the sanctuary. I am hopeful that within a year the church will be very close to the pre-Katrina membership.

In light of the changing demographics within our community, I have had to change the strategy for the redevelopment of the congregation. First, it was necessary to structure ministry more inclusive of the seniors. We are calling this ministry the
“Seasoned Saints Ministry.” Currently, there is not as much weekly activity as there was before the storm; however the seniors are reconnecting to each other in a deeper way. Secondly, I am currently doing outreach to teenagers and young adults. On August 13th a focus group was conducted with ages 17- 25 to determine their values and how to craft a ministry to meet their needs. This endeavor was done in partnership with Public-Private Ventures out of Philadelphia. I have also hired a musician and the choir will began singing in worship the first Sunday in September. Hopefully this will also be a vehicle to attract youth and young adults. Please be advised that I am using the monthly contributions from the CSC partners to help finance activities for the redevelopment of the youth and young adult ministry. Thirdly, I am preparing for a church audit. The storm destroyed all of our church records. Thus it was necessary to get copies of bank receipts and other legal documents. For about fourteen months the leadership of the church was dislocated across the country. We held meetings via conference calls but as we reassembled our documents, records were stored in various places. To date, we have a central place for our records. So as the church becomes operational again I want to make certain that our fiscal records are in order. Lastly, the congregation will have a rededication service mid September to ceremonially transition back into the sanctuary.

Presently the greatest challenge we are facing is the exponential increase in insurances. The insurance has doubled on the church van; the hazard and flood insurance has more than tripled. The high cost of insurance is a major problem throughout the Gulf Coast Region not only for churches; this has affected the reopening of small businesses and the redevelopment of affordable housing.

The work of Churches Supporting Churches (CSC) has become more intensive as we approach the gubernatorial forum scheduled for September 30th. I have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of interest this event has generated. I have taken some preliminary quotas and it looks like we will reach our goal of one-thousand congregants.

We have invited the four top gubernatorial contenders. To date, the two democratic candidates have confirmed. We are still awaiting a response from the republican candidates. Policy Link has allies in Baton Rouge and they are working with us to get the republican candidates to the forum. We are hopeful that by the end of August we will have all of the candidates confirmed.

The CSC affordable housing initiative is also proceeding well. We have met with several developers to get cost estimates for the development of the four target areas. Estimated costs are more than we anticipated but there are some revenue streams that we are pursing to determine if we can put a package together for financing.

In July, a small delegation of ministers attended the Industrial Areas Foundation –
10-Day National Training held in Chicago. The training helped them see the importance of equitable development and why broad-based organizing is necessary for public policy change. These ministers returned with a renewed commitment to the work of CSC and the rebuilding of New Orleans.

On August 2nd, I was invited by the National Council of Churches to give testimony on Capitol Hill before the Budget Finance Committee. I have attached a copy of my testimony. This may help inform you of the challenges New Orleans faces in redevelopment and what precludes the return of those in Diaspora two years after the storm.

Lastly, I want to thank Dan Prima for the laptop computer and printer. The equipment has been very useful particularly during this period of preparation for the September forum. Also please let Keith Dodd know that I have not forgotten about the website and as soon as I am through with the church audit I will be in touch. Kalima and I have discussed the October date for the policy training at CBC, however I would like to wait until mid September to look at dates because I have to focus on the gubernatorial event at this point.

I know that this is a very brief report; still I hope it will be informative in some way relative to what we are doing in CSC. If there are additional questions please do not hesitate to contact me

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