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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com
Boston Globe Online / Giving

Program gives faith-based groups money to serve those most in need

By Naomi Aoki, Globe Staff, 11/18/2001

Children learning to spell at the Greater Victory Temple in Mattapan. Funding from the Black Church Capacity Building Program made the temple's preschool program possible. (Globe Staff Photo / John Blanding)

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The Rev. Clovis Turner's vision for a transitional home was born nearly 10 years ago. For years, she had ministered to women in prison only to watch them suffer setback upon setback as they returned to society.

Without help, many of the women fell back on their old habits. There were other transitional homes for them, but none provided the faith-based support that Turner believed could make the difference.

She assembled a board of directors - people who had also tutored women in prison, bought them clothes upon their release, helped them find jobs and housing. But the group, called CityWide Outreach Ministry, had never taken on a project as ambitious as this one.

Progress came slowly - until two years ago. That's when the group won its first grant from the Black Church Capacity Building Program. The money allowed it to hire a consultant who helped the ministry organize its finances, rewrite its bylaws, and enter records into the computer. A second grant is helping the group plan and manage its fund-raising effort.

''We were hundreds of miles away,'' Turner said. ''Now, I think we're about 50 miles from our goal.''

CityWide Outreach Ministry is one of nearly 30 faith-based groups that BCCBP has funded since it was formed in 1995. BCCBP's mission is to strengthen churches and other faith-based institutions that are already providing social services to some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Funded by organizations such as the Hyams Foundation, the Boston Foundation, and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, BCCBP provides grants to build the management and organizational skills of church leaders and volunteers. Grants might support training sessions and consultants for financial management, computer literacy, and fund-raising.

Its mission - to join secular foundations with black churches in the fight against social and economic injustice and to do that by developing the technical skills of faith-based organizations - may serve as a national model for other faith-based initiatives.

As government seeks alternative ways to deliver social services, faith-based organizations have found themselves at the center of the national debate. Government agencies have moved toward buying, rather than providing, services. Nationally, the trend is toward contracts with for-profit agencies. In Massachusetts, nonprofits are the provider of choice.

At the same time, growing numbers of private foundations have partnered with religious institutions to meet common goals, such as creating affordable housing and job opportunities. Until recently, however, government has shied away from funding faith-based institutions for fear of blurring the line between state and religion.

Even now, as President Bush seeks to increase government support of faith-based organizations providing social services, the issue remains controversial. The risks are great for both the public and the churches. Critics argue public money should not support programs that promote certain religious beliefs. Some church leaders fear the loss of independence.

But the opportunities are equally great, observers say. Churches are on the ground level. They know the needs of their neighborhoods, and provide a broad range of social services often on shoestring budgets.

''The churches in Boston have some of the most talented people in town,'' said Sylvia Johnson, co-chair of BCCBP and Hyams Foundation associate director. ''We have to figure out how to help them.'' Many churches in areas where services are most needed are small with even smaller budgets, she said. They depend on volunteers to keep the books and run programs. Often, church members use money from their own pockets to buy supplies.

These qualities make the churches a unique resource, Johnson said. But they also prevent them from accessing outside funds and expanding to help more people. BCCBP tries to increase churches' ability to provide services by building their capacity to run and manage their own efforts.

''To expand your program, further develop it to make it better and increase what you're trying to do,'' she said. ''That's the vision.''

For years, the Greater Victory Temple in Mattapan had run an after-school program. It had hoped to add a preschool program but needed guidance. A $7,500 grant from BCCBP allowed the church to hire a consultant to set up the program, train staff, develop manuals and program booklets for administrators and parents, and create enrollment forms.

''The Black Church Capacity Building Program is providing seed funds for the future expansion of organizations,'' said Darrell Williams, the program director at Greater Victory. ''To me that is more powerful than funding a particular program.''

When Johnson first broached funding organizations with the idea, however, many were reluctant. They worried that faith-based groups might reach out to those of their faith at the expense of others in the community. Those concerns faded as funders became familiar with the work the churches and ministries were doing in their communities, regardless of religious affiliations.

But other challenges remain. The cultures are very different, Johnson said. Churches would rather spend time helping people than keeping records or doing paperwork. But funding requires such accountability. The key to making it work is building solid partnerships, Johnson said. All BCCBP committees have equal representation from the faith-based and funding groups.

The issues and potential conflicts only become more complex when government funding is involved, she said. Cultural differences exacerbate the obvious conflicts of church and state. Government programs set strict time frames and goals. Church program traditionally avoid such rigid criteria.

BCCBP is one of several groups hosting a Dec. 6 conference titled ''Partnering with Faith-based Organizations: What's Next?,'' focusing on the questions raised by collaborations between faith-based organizations, private foundations, and the government.

Naomi Aoki can be reached by e-mail at naoki@globe.com.

This story ran on page F3 of the Boston Globe on 11/18/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.