Christine Stuart photo

Established by former President George W. Bush to further “compassionate conservatism”, President Barack Obama is expanding the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua Dubois, its director told a group of faith and community leaders in Hartford Monday.

While the Bush administration’s goal was to level the playing field by making sure faith-based groups had access to federal dollars, Dubois said Obama’s goals are more expansive.

Some of those goals include encouraging faith-based organizations to partner with community nonprofits in an effort to leverage federal stimulus funds, creating responsible fatherhood and healthy family initiatives, and helping Americans find common ground on the issue of abortion.

The success of the office will be measured based on how well each of those goals are met, Dubois, told the diverse group of faith and community leaders at the state Capitol Monday.

Where the previous office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships based its success on the total dollar amount of grants that went out to the faith community, this office will measure its success by how well it meets those goals, Dubois said.

“Faith-based communities do a great job in terms of their outreach, in terms of their counseling, in terms of the services they provide,” U.S. Rep. John B. Larson said Monday at the gathering.

The services the faith community provides are services that the government would never get to, Larson said.

Rev. Shelley D.B. Copeland, executive director of the Conference of Churches, said a recent report by the organization found that 108 faith communities served more than 5,000 Hartford youth last year through free or small fee-based education and mentoring programs. The total cost of those programs, including volunteer hours, was an estimated $37 million.

“People often take for granted what faith communities have to offer,” Copeland said. “We’re here today to talk about how we can leverage those assets.”

And there was a panel of experts on hand to talk about just how they leveraged the faith community in the past.

Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, said in broadening support for the SustiNet legislation that passed this July one of the first things he did was reach out to the faith community.

He said it was a strategic consideration to make certain no one forgot that health care for everyone is a “moral imperative.”

“Who best to carry that message than the clergy,” Figueroa said.

He said the faith community was also able to bridge the gaps between the rural, urban, and suburban communities in the state.

Sara Sneed, senior program officer at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, said since the year 2,000 the foundation has given $19 million to faith-based organizations. She said in order to leverage those funds organizations must have a program that it seeks to sustain and will benefit the community long after the foundation’s financial commitment is complete.

Click here to read Stan Simpson’s April column in the Hartford Courant to learn how Copeland was able to lure Mr. Dubois to Hartford for Monday’s conference.