LOUISVILLE - The Presbyterian Church (USA) Hunger Program (PHP), in partnership with the denomination's Urban Ministry Office, recently allocated $177,500 in grants to 21 congregation-based community organizations (CBCOs) in urban and rural areas across the country.
They are among the hundreds of Presbyterian congregations nationwide making a difference in their local communities through CBCOs.
CBCOs are broad-based coalitions of congregations, faith-based groups, grass-roots organizations and others that address quality-of-life and family problems, working, for example, to see that people have affordable housing and access to quality health care.
"The community organizing process provides congregations with invaluable tools to reconnect with communities and to revitalize congregational life," said the Rev. Phil Tom, coordinator of the Urban Ministry Office. Congregations rooted in local neighborhoods serve as a "prophetic, faith-informed voice" and play a role in shaping public policy, Tom said. Grants also support organizer-training networks and congregation-based organizing programs.
The funds are from the Community Development portion of the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering. Recipients were chosen during a March 28 meeting of the Presbyterian Hunger Program Advisory Committee.
For decades, the Presbyterian Church has been a major supporter of the community organizing movement pioneered in Chicago in the late 1930s by Saul Alinsky, who adapted labor-organizing strategies to the community setting.
The movement today includes more than 170 church-based community organizations in almost every major American city and in many rural areas. Most are affiliated with major national training networks such as the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and the Gamaliel Foundation, both in Chicago; Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) in Miami; and the Pacific Institute for Community Organization (PICO) in Oakland, CA.
Another large community development organization is the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), founded in 1996 by religious leaders wanting to influence decisions on community issues. It is one of the largest CBCOs in the country, with 90 member congregations and community organizations representing several denominations.
GBIO focuses on three areas: affordable housing, immigrant rights and public education. Five Presbyterian congregations in the Boston area are actively involved: Roxbury, Fourth and Hyde Park churches, the United Parish of Auburndale and the Church of the Covenant. GBIO is affiliated with the IAF, a network of about 60 similar U.S. organizations.
Affordable housing is one of the priorities for the PHP's portion of One Great Hour of Sharing funds. This year's grant to GBIO will support its housing efforts. In past campaigns, GBIO has helped pass a state housing law, created a trust fund to build and preserve affordable housing and led the City of Boston to commit about $23 million in its budget for affordable-housing programs.
The GBIO grant of $109 million for five years ended a 10-year trend of reduced funds for housing budgets.
GBIO has also created and funded a Nehemiah Trust Fund of $6 million for interest-free loans to builders of 700 to 1,000 two-bedroom single-family homes in the next five years. The effort is modeled after a successful Nehemiah project in the Bronx.
One of the leaders of GBIO is the Rev. Burns Stansfield of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Boston, a redevelopment congregation.
Stansfield said of GBIO: "It is important in strengthening relationships across many of the lines that divide Boston, where traditional borders of neighborhood, race and religion loom large. ... The relationship-building power of community organizing is a simple yet brilliant method of connecting people of faith with the body politic."
The grant recipients:
* Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment (ABLE), Atlanta, GA: $10,000 to support a Nehemiah Housing program.
* Action in Montgomery (AIM), Silver Spring, MD: $7,500 for a "Housing Opportunities For All" project in Montgomery County.
* Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS), Syracuse, NY: $10,000 to support a new CBCO.
* Baltimore County Sponsoring Committee, Randallstown, MD: $7,500 to expand an organizing effort on sprawl and development issues.
* Building a United Interfaith Lexington Through Direct Action (BUILD), Lexington, KY: $7,500 for a new CBCO.
* Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together (CLOUT), Louisville, KY: $7,500 to support organizing work with residents of the Clarksdale public-housing complex.
* Congregations Acting for Justice, Evansville, IN: $10,000 for a new CBCO.
* Faith Works in the Roanoke Valley, Inc., Roanoke, VA: $10,000 for a new CBCO organization.
* Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), Boston, MA: $10,000 for an affordable-housing campaign.
* Greater Hartford Coalition for Equity and Justice, Hartford, CT: $7,500 for a new CBCO.
* In the Hopeful City: The Church's Initiative for Good, Wheeling, WV: $10,000 for a new CBCO.
* Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISSAC), Kalamazoo, MI: $7,500 for a new CBCO.
* Justice, Action, Mercy (JAM), Springfield, OH: $7,500 for a new CBCO.
* Naugatuck Valley Project (NVP), Waterbury, CT: $7,500 to support the Affordable Housing Coalition.
* Orange County Congregations Community Organizing Project (OCCCO), Anaheim, CA: $7,500 to support organizing efforts in Anaheim and Fullerton, CA.
* Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities (RISC), Richmond, VA: $10,000 for a new CBCO.
* South Brevard Area Interfaith Sponsoring Committee (SBAISC), Melbourne, FL: $7,500 for a new CBCO.
* Third Reconstruction Institute, Chapel Hill, NC: $7,500 to a regional network of CBCOs.
* United Action in Connecticut, Hartford, CT: $5,000 for a new statewide organization working for affordable housing.
* Vermont Interfaith Action (VIA), South Burlington, VA: $10,000 for a new CBCO.
* Wyandotte Interfaith Sponsoring Council (WISC), Kansas City, MO: $10,000 to support an affordable-housing campaign.
By Albert H. Lee