By Megan Fitzgerald, Greenville Journal

More than 20 congregations in Greenville County came together in 2022 to form local interfaith justice group Greenville Organized for Accountable Leadership.

The purpose: To help solve pressing community issues.

“We have a critical mass of people that we can use as a vehicle for power to influence people who have the ability to help us in a way that we couldn’t do as an individual congregation, or as individuals ourselves in the community,” said Rabbi Sam Rose of Temple of Israel, who serves as GOAL’s secretary.

GOAL is an affiliate of the Direct Action and Research Training Center, a national network of faith-based community groups.

The members of GOAL began the annual process last year with group meetings and internal conversations with their congregations to identify the issues affecting the Greenville community. More than 30 topics were discussed for GOAL to potentially tackle, Rose said.

The group voted to address mental health and housing during an assembly in November 2022.

“As a first-year organization, it’s highly unusual that our community organizing group would tackle more than one issue right off the bat,” Rose said. “From that sense, we were being very ambitious.”

Mental health

The Rev. Eliza Ballentine, a member of GOAL’s mental health committee, said the group learned that out of the 127 daily calls to South Carolina’s 988 crisis line, only 50% were being answered by someone in state.

The state’s suicide and crisis lifeline is operated by Mental Health America of Greenville County as a resource for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

“Our state call center located in Greenville was being severely underfunded and understaffed,” Ballentine said.

GOAL asked South Carolina’s representatives to allocate $3.9 million dollars in the state’s budget each year to help fully staff the local call center.

“The state agreed to fully fund it,” Rose said. “We feel like that’s a big win.”

Affordable housing

For families struggling to find affordable housing in the county, members of GOAL’s housing committee determined sustained funding was needed to address the crisis.

The organization brought requests to both Greenville city and county officials during its Nehemiah Action gathering held in March. More than 1,500 people attended.

GOAL requested city and county officials work to allocate $10 million a year each for affordable housing. Rose said the total of $20 million was derived from a cumulative research effort and discussion with various groups, including the Greenville Housing Fund.

Barbara Riser, a member of GOAL’s affordable housing committee, said the organization is focused on residents spending 30% or less of their income on housing.

Greenville County set aside a combined $5 million for affordable housing in its 2023-24 and 2024-25 budgets. The current city of Greenville budget allocates roughly $2.5 million for affordable housing, and it previously approved the Greenville Housing Fund to issue $30 million in bonds.

“We’re actively engaged in identifying additional revenue streams and it’s been a productive exercise,” Greenville Mayor Knox White said. “We’re determined to have some good results shortly.”

Round two

While the target issue for the coming year hasn’t been selected yet, Rose said GOAL will continue to monitor promises made by government officials for affordable housing and mental health services. A review is underway to determine if GOAL’s expectations were met after its first year, and the second year will begin with meetings in September.

“I think our goal this year is to get at least 1,000 people to hear from their concerns and then start the whole process over again,” Rose said. “It’s entirely possible that we ended up with the same two issues and we address them either in a different way or push harder on what we’ve already come up with.”

More congregations across Greenville County have joined GOAL to help solve community issues. There are currently 24 congregations, with several more close to joining.

“I’m excited to begin round two,” Rose said. “I feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum going into our second year because of how fast we’ve been growing.”

The congregations participating in Greenville Organized for Accountable Leadership include:

Augusta Heights Baptist Church
Christ Church Episcopal
First Baptist Church
Fourth Presbyterian Church
Gethsemane Baptist Church
Greater Mount Calvary Baptist Church
Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Holy Cross Episcopal Church
Long Branch Baptist Church
Mountain View Baptist Church
Springfield Baptist Church
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
St. Giles Presbyterian Church
Temple of Israel
Travelers Rest United Methodist Church
Trinity Lutheran Church
Triune Mercy Center
Valley Brook Outreach Baptist Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Eastminster Presbyterian Church
Emmanuel United Church of Christ
Jubilee Baptist Church
Lowndes Hill Baptist Church

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