Bahai News -- Courier-Journal - Interfaith group reins in efforts

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Interfaith group reins in efforts

Kentuckiana coalition lost grants, some church funding

The Courier-Journal

The Kentuckiana Interfaith Community, a small but influential organization that has sponsored interdenominational and charitable works for decades, is cutting back on its work after losing city grants and some church funding.

The organization — a coalition of groups from Christian, Jewish and other faiths — has eliminated its director's position, reduced its sole remaining staff worker to part-time status and moved out of its office to save on rent, said the Rev. Steven Johns-Boehme, the group's board president.

"As with many nonprofit organizations, we live sort of by the seat of our pants in terms of funding," he said. In the past, "we were able to get various grants from foundations as well as city support. That just did not come through this year."

The organization's board in June eliminated Executive Director Roy Fuller's job and put its one worker on part-time status, where he will concentrate on organizing the annual Community Hunger Walk, one of the organization's main activities.

Fuller, now working as an adjunct religion professor at Indiana University Southeast, said he understood the need for the cut. "There wasn't a lot to cut (other than) staff and rent," he said.

Some denominations that sponsor the organization, such as the United Methodist Church, reduced funding amid their own budget deficits, Johns-Boehme said. And the organization, which has had a budget of about $100,000, was turned down for two $10,000 city grants, similar to ones it had previously received.

One grant helped fund its organizational work for the Community Hunger Walk, a fund-raiser for the Dare to Care Food Bank and food programs sponsored by the city's 15 area community ministries — neighborhood religious coalitions that aid the needy.

The other grant sponsored "study circles" in which small groups of people from diverse backgrounds discussed problems and solutions in areas such as race, violence and relations between police and the community.

"We tried to make the argument that in a lot of ways it was money well-invested," Johns-Boehme said, adding that he was disappointed that the grants were denied.

Both grants were rejected in a streamlined grant-review process set up by the newly merged metro government. Five panels evaluated applications and made recommendations that resulted in $6.1million in grants to more than 180 organizations, said Chad Carlton, spokesman for Mayor Jerry Abramson.

Those totals were less than the combined grants given by the old city and county governments, and with grant applications at twice that amount, several organizations went away with less than they sought, said Joanne Weiss, metro human resources director, who oversaw the process.

"We knew going in we were going to have to be cutting some good programs," she said, adding that the panel evaluating human service grants gave a higher priority to ongoing programs over one-time events, which she said may have been a factor in turning down the hunger-walk grant.

Even so, the walk will go on as scheduled in October, Johns-Boehme said.

Metro neighborhoods director Melissa Mershon said the study circles program "is probably a good thing for the community," but didn't "bubble to the top with the limited resources we have."

Johns-Boehme said the funding problems shed light on deeper structural issues for the organization, which he said will probably have to run more on volunteer work in the future.

Board members will discuss such ideas at an upcoming retreat, he said.

"We will not be a two-person organization as we were," he said.

"It's had a great history. It still has potential, but we're going to have to think about how we do that."

The Kentuckiana Interfaith Community took its present form in 1979 as a Christian-Jewish coalition, but it also inherited roles played by older organizations like the Louisville Area Council of Churches.

In recent years it added Muslim and Baha'i participants and affiliated with the city's 15 neighborhood community ministries. It also helps sponsor Faith 19, the local religious cable-access channel.

The organization has also sponsored interfaith worship services in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001, and the Iraq war, and its leaders have spoken out against religious and racial intolerance. When the Ku Klux Klan held a rally on the Jefferson County Courthouse steps in 2000, the interfaith community sponsored a symbolic washing of the steps the next day.

Fuller noted that Louisville has a long history of inter-religious cooperation and that other organizations, such as the community ministries, the Cathedral Heritage Foundation and Interfaith Paths to Peace, will carry on.

But he said the interfaith organization fills a niche that would be difficult to replace.

"I think KIC has played a unique role as being the organizational umbrella," he said. "There isn't any (potential replacement) on the horizon."

©Copyright 2003, Courier-Journal (KY, USA)

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