/BY LINDA LEEB DUPER/ //SPECIAL FOR THE AJT//

 

On the fateful morning of September 11, 2001, overshadowed by the tragedy that struck our nation, a small but bright light of hope was lit in our city.

Earlier that summer, a group of child advocates in Atlanta had met with the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) about sponsoring an interfaith Children’s Sabbath Celebration. The planners held the deep conviction that the religious communities of metropolitan Atlanta, working in concert, could bring the compassion and commitment of faith to the arena of the services, laws, and public policies that shape our children’s futures.

At the first of what was to become an annual event, the Call to Action Prayer Breakfast, 400 child advocates and religious leaders heard CDF founder Marian Wright Edelman raise the call to action. Together, those present reflected on the devastation that many children in Georgia face daily and pledged to take action to end their plight. The Interfaith Children’s Movement (ICM) was born.

Today, ICM is making an impact, through the energetic efforts of a small staff and dedicated volunteers throughout metro Atlanta’s faith community, and it now extends its focus to faith communities all over Georgia.

Why is it called a movement? There are many excellent organizations addressing specific issues, and the ICM greatly values these groups and enthusiastically collaborates with them. Being a movement highlights some unique aspects of ICM’s work, and allows a broad field of action so it can address interrelated issues of the whole child.

It is a practical approach to problems that are spiritual at their core— our society’s neglect, abuse, and exploitation of its children is a spiritual malaise that calls for a spirit of tikkun olam and a unified yet multifaceted approach.

ICM seeks to educate, advocate, mobilize, network, and provide information in key areas that affect the well-being of all children, such as poverty, education, health care, juvenile justice, child protection, parental nurture, and immigration.

Just a few of ICM’s recent accomplishments, working in partnership with a wide range of agencies, organizations, and legislators, are as follows:

  • Juvenile Justice: ICM served as the faith arm of a sweeping statewide juvenile justice reform initiative, HB 242, which substantially revised and modernized provisions relating to juvenile proceedings and enacted comprehensive juvenile justice reforms.
  • Child Protection: ICM successfully supported legislation to post the national human trafficking hotline in establishments across the state, training almost 700 mental-health professionals and social workers in treating child survivors of commercial sexual exploitation. ICM launched the “Ask Before You Book” campaign to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation and trafficking within the hospitality industry.
  • Foster Care: ICM has served for the past five years as the Volunteers Chair and Gift Card Campaign Sponsor for the Celebration of Excellence program, which promotes academic achievement and celebrates children in foster care who are graduating from high school and college.

Historically, the Georgia Jewish community has been in the forefront of many important interfaith initiatives, including the epic civil rights movement, and this kind of fortitude would be invaluable to ICM’s efforts on several fronts.

Although three different rabbis have served on the ICM board over the years, currently there is no Jewish clergy representation. As the second largest religious group in the state, and one known for its effectiveness in efforts for justice and social action, the potential contributions of the Jewish community cannot be overestimated.

This is a community that knows first-hand the nature of unified commitment and action, and how, when society values certain populations over others—ethnic, national, religious, or any other rationale used to consider someone “less than”—injustice is allowed to take root.

There are several ways the Jewish community can support ICM’s work:

  • Pray. One of the most important things all faith communities can do for children is to pray for them. Hold a worship service in your synagogue and invite others to join in praying for the well being of all children.
  • Spread the word. Invite ICM to speak to your congregation about the state of children in Georgia and how the interfaith community has a key role in improving their well-being.
  • Advocate. ICM needs an educated and committed multitude of advocates ready to service the needs of Georgia’s children on many levels.
  • Contribute, individually or as a congregation. For example, The Temple on Peachtree has served as the venue for the annual Call to Action Prayer Breakfast, ICM’s primary annual fundraising event for several years and will be the site for ICM’s second interfaith anti-human trafficking seder.
  • Support the establishment of ICM’s Child Advocacy Training and Resource Center, through which we will house and execute ICM’s important work. Fundraising ideas and opportunities to donate electronically can be found on ICM’s website, or simply mail your donation to P. O. Box 54149, Atlanta, GA 30308.
  • Show up. Attend ICM sponsored events and programs, such as the ICM Day at the Capitol, the Faith in Action program, the annual “Call to Action” Prayer Breakfast, and ICM’s Hour of Unity, as well as a variety of informative talks and presentation to help us all understand the issues confronting Georgia’s children and how we can all serve. See the ICM website for a calendar of events.

ICM is a membership-based movement and needs members that will include ICM in their budgets as well as their prayers—the organization needs to be able to rely on ongoing, sustainable support. By joining ICM, you can help protect, nurture, educate, and inspire Georgia’s children.

 

Editor’s note: For more information, please go to ICM’s website at www. interfaithchildrensmovement.org, or contact ICM at info@interfaithchildrensmovement.org or (770) 498-2141.