Rural & Migrant Ministry

“We nurture leaders who are working for justice in rural New York. They may be young people, they may be farm workers, they may be allies in the student, youth or labor communities.” — Richard Witt, Executive Director

Through fostering leaders in rural areas, Rural & Migrant Ministry (RMM) seeks to create a network that can advocate for and work to address the specific needs of communities, and to effect change in those communities.

The Dyson Foundation values opportunities for underserved people to improve their education and their leadership skills, as these are factors in poverty alleviation and empowerment. Grants to Rural & Migrant Ministry include general operating support and mini-grant funding, and fall within the Health & Safety Net, Public Policy, and Strengthening Nonprofits themes.

“The issues rural folk are facing look the same as the issues in urban areas: housing, immigration, medical care...” says Executive Director Richard Witt. “It’s really difficult to make a difference in these realms because people live 20 miles apart, and the agency needed is another 20 miles away, and there is no public transportation. A lot of people don’t have transportation or even internet access.” RMM's mission to work towards a just, rural New York State is carried out through three primary program areas. The first and largest is Youth Empowerment, with programs that include the Youth Arts Group, the Youth Economic Group, the Justice of Youth group, internships, and scholarships. These foster leadership skills in young people through creative social justice and cooperative business projects. About 99 percent of participants in these programs graduate from high school and go on to college.

The second program area is Education and the goal is to strengthen rural leaders. Through ESL classes, leadership training, an emerging women’s network, an Alternative Spring Break for college students interested in learning more about rural justice issues, and the Building Bridges program for ally groups looking to improve their understanding and outreach to rural communities, RMM empowers people to make changes in their own communities.

Through its third program area, Accompaniment, RMM stands with rural workers as they advocate for better working and living conditions at the policy level, coordinating efforts like the Justice for Farmworkers Legislative Campaign for over 15 years.

The increasing national focus on the immigration debate has had a direct impact on the constituents RMM serves. That becomes apparent at advocacy events like the annual Farmworker Day in Albany, an event which until recently would be attended by hundreds of workers, many of whom are now afraid to show up. RMM indicates that the work for opportunity, let alone change, becomes all the more challenging in these circumstances.

“As we work to nurture leaders,” says Witt, “we also work to stand with them in their efforts to bring about systemic change, and many of our folks have gone on to become leaders in social organizations in the region. It's affirming to see them out there in the world working for change.”