Bringing faith, county together

Allies: With common goals, groups meet to serve Howard residents better.

October 26, 2001|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A group of religious, government and health organizations laid the groundwork last week for an unusual and long-awaited alliance, which hopes to provide better social services for the county.

The first meeting of Howard County Faith in Action at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ellicott City mobilized a large group of key players in local charitable efforts.

"I believe this is the largest number of faith organizations getting together at one place at one time in Howard County history," said Manus O'Donnell, director of the Howard County Department of Citizen Services.

About 70 representatives from area churches, synagogues and a mosque conferred among themselves and with O'Donnell and Richard Krieg, president and chief executive officer of Horizon Foundation, the county's largest philanthropic organization. They met to find out about each other's ministries and services, and to study the potential for cooperation and networking.

"I think this is going to be an effort that's going to have a long-term effect on our ability to provide coordinated care for people [in the county]," said the Rev. Glenn Ludwig, pastor of First Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Using statistics from the Howard County Department of Citizen Services, O'Donnell said 10,500 people were living in poverty in the county, 21,000 had disabilities, 3,563 households used food bank services and 639 were homeless. Many of the faith communities serve these populations through outreach ministries.

"It's not what any one of us can do for the other," O'Donnell said, "It's what we all can do together."

Krieg told the group that Horizon Foundation is "very willing to work with you." Horizon was formed in 1998 as a condition for the purchase of Howard County General Hospital by Johns Hopkins Medicine

With assets of $70 million, the foundation is one of the largest health philanthropies in the mid-Atlantic region. Krieg said it awards grants only within the county, with the goal to "improve the health and wellness of the Howard County community."

"We put in our strategic plan that we wanted to work with the faith community," he said. "[It is] the only institution that cuts across the entire county. ... They are geographically dispersed. ... They have groupings of people that care about their community ... and many of them have social action committees."

During the summer, O'Donnell and First Lutheran's social ministry committee developed the idea of the interfaith caucus. O'Donnell said groups have tried to unite the faith community with the county before, but their efforts have been met with minor success. The Lutheran group, led by Ludwig, Chairwoman Loretta Stratmann, and members Frank Palulis and Jill McCuan decided to take on the challenge, after O'Donnell told them of the county's need for more cooperation.

"This Lutheran church took the leadership position of making the contacts to get people here," O'Donnell said. And, he added, "The time was just right for it."

Stratmann's committee compiled a list of the more than 200 religious organizations in Howard County. It sent letters of invitation to all of them - including one St. Matthew, two St. Marks, three St. Lukes and five St. Johns.

Then, Stratmann said, "I re- inforced with lots and lots of personal phone calls. ... I talked to basically hundreds of people."

She also spoke with County Executive James N. Robey, who is, she said, "very interested in what we [are] doing."

Participants at the meeting received a packet of information, which included a database of county religious organizations with the names of contacts and ministries.

After listening to presentations from Ludwig, O'Donnell and Krieg, they divided into discussion groups of six or seven, under the direction of Gail Coffin, staff development facilitator for Howard County public schools.

As they sipped coffee and munched on snacks, the group exchanged information about each other's ministries, explored a willingness to work together and talked about what to do next.

"I'm very impressed with what I heard so far tonight," said Renee Griffith, one of the representatives from Bridgeway Community Church.

At the end of the evening, spokesmen from each table took turns summarizing their findings for the rest of the group. The organizers collected written comments.

"The bottom line is that they definitely want to communicate with each other and see what can be done for the county," Stratmann said.

The next steps, she said would be to schedule a follow-up meeting, organize a steering committee, look for a coordinator and set up lines of communication. Howard County Faith in Action was on its way to becoming a reality, she said.

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