GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – Dozens of faith leaders are working to address the root causes of poverty, injustice, and other struggles in Greenville County. Hundreds of people have been involved in the work.

“After two years of organizing and having discussions, more than 500 network members have emerged,” said Pastor Stacey Mills, Mountain View Baptist Church. “You can look in Greenville and see the strength of the faith community. This is the first time we’ve had this kind of action being brought together by so many different denominational leaders who are at the table to discuss the issues that are at the grassroots where are members faced every day.”

More than 20 congregations have been through the initiative called GOAL Justice.

“Greenville, Organized for Accountable Leadership is a faith and justice network initiative that follows a proven model that is national,” Mills said. “We’ve seen in communities in South Carolina, Charleston and Columbia to be specific, where the faith organizations in those communities organize together to address issues that were faced in the public, and to have dialogue with elected officials and to impact, and influence policies, as it relates to the public good.”

“So, the issues that are for the public good, are being addressed through this organization that is uniting several churches across our community, across race, across denomination to hold hands and strengthen the bond where people are concerned,” Mills said.

Mills, one of the presidents of the group, said after more than 50 meetings, leaders are working on a plan to address injustices.

“So, from those conversations, the issues of criminal justice, health, education, mental health, housing, were all topics of concern, and from those more than 50 meetings, the aggregated data showed us that these were the topics that we needed to take a look at,” Mills said.  

“For me, the most important part of this process is listening to the cries of those who are in need and providing an outlet for sustainable engagement,” said Rabbi Samuel Rose, the Rabbi with Temple of Israel.

“We heard over 600 people’s stories, people who are suffering in our community, in order to come to the conclusion that we were going to tackle affordable housing and mental health issues,” said Rose, who is also the secretary for GOAL.  

Following a recent community problems assembly, two committees have been formed around the top issues: housing and mental health.

“We immediately will form committees to do the research and then we will in the Spring, have a Nehemiah action, were the action plan for addressing those issues will be laid out, and we’ll invite elected officials to the table to be involved in the discussions as we move forward,” Mills said.

Mental health is of top concern, according to Mills.

“There are many people who are experiencing touches with the criminal justice system because of a mental health issue,” said Mills. “There’s been loss of life as it relates to mental health and undiagnosed or unrecognized or untreated issues as it relates to mental health.”

“We don’t know the effects of the pandemic from people’s emotional well-being, and as studies are beginning to show that people are suffering, and many are suffering in silence,” Mills said.

Rose said this work is needed.

“I have members in my congregation who are involved in a lot of non-profits, and I’ve also heard the struggles of my own congregates, especially related to housing. So, one of the issues that GOAL has decided to work on,” Rose said.

A press release from the group states, “we do not engage in direct service programs, but rather, we address root causes of poverty and injustice. We do this through collectively identifying a problem, researching best practices to address the problem and ensuring policy changes by officials.”

Leaders said they’re ready to fight for all.

“We know the need is real in our community, and we’re not satisfied with just hearing their stories. We want to make a difference in their lives and give them the opportunity to speak for themselves to tell policymakers, this is what we need to do to make Greenville a just and equitable place to live,” Rose said.

“What we seek to see happen in our communities is justice,” Mills said.

If you want to help in the efforts to address these Upstate issues, click here to read more about the group.