This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, November 2021

Founded in 1991, Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC) began as an interfaith nonprofit organized by multi-faith clergy and leaders. Its initial focus on education has since expanded to include issues such as immigration, voter engagement, and criminal justice reform. Today, ICUC is made up of 63 congregations, 16 schools, and 60,000 families.

The organization empowers the people of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties to advocate for equity through community organization and civic engagement. ICUC believes that organizing is about giving people a voice and with that in mind, focuses on developing local leaders.

“That’s what makes us unique,” the organization’s communications coordinator, Anthony Victoria said. “A lot of our staff were at one point youth in the community who were trained and empowered by us to make a change in the community.”

ICUC meets with community members, listens to their concerns and issues, and then introduces them to avenues in which they can be involved in local policymaking. By helping individuals understand how their voices can make a difference, the people feel empowered, according to Victoria. This helps individuals feel comfortable with attending city council meetings or board meetings where they can express their challenges and concerns.

“When people feel like they aren’t being heard, they feel hopeless, which is why you see lack of participation in critical meetings and low voter turnout,” Victoria said. “It isn’t that they don’t care. It’s that they don’t think they can make a difference.”

ICUC has worked to assist in many of the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included distributing over 200,000 masks and supporting families facing food insecurity by supplying grocery boxes. As the region eases out of the pandemic, ICUC continues to connect with the community and research current needs.

Recently, the organization received a grant from the IE Funders Alliance Rapid Response Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation to support ICUC’s work with many other organizations through the Just SB Coalition. This people’s plan focuses on economic equity, the availability of good jobs, and affordable housing.

One of the organization’s current priorities is addressing mental health issues facing local students. ICUC is in the process of working with school districts to ensure that youth have a safe space to receive the necessary resources to address their mental health. According to the research ICUC has done, anxiety and depression in youth increased by 25% during the pandemic. Yet, there is a lack of resources available to most students. This is especially true of low-income students of color and LGBTQ students, according to Victoria.

The organization envisions the creation of wellness centers at schools in the City of San Bernardino and the Coachella Valley School Districts. This would create a safe space for youth to receive assistance or even just unwind after a rough day. ICUC continues to meet with school board officials and to involve parents and students in the conversation.

In addition to engaging with the concerns of parents, ICUC also encourages them to learn about their local city and school district budgets. Understanding the way local government money is spent and the budgeting process is important to creating a better quality of life, Victoria said. The organization’s vision is to develop lasting change that will help working-class families feel like they are being heard and a part of the participatory democracy.

“We want our community know that we are about people,” Victoria said. “We are centered in the idea of developing leaders who can make changes in their own community, and we know that this is long-term work.”

For more information, visit https://icucpico.com/

Photo: Parent Engagement 2: ICUC parent leader Beatriz Loera (right) provides children’s books and educational information to parents during a college resource fair at Our Lady of Hope Church in San Bernardino.

Inland Empire Community Foundation has been working for over 80 years to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.