March 2, 2001

Two San Diego Faith-Based Organizations Receive Government Job Grants

by Yvette tenBerge

Two San Diego faith-based community organizations dedicated to providing job training and other innovative services to "high-risk and hard to employ" individuals were among 21 California faith-based organizations selected this week to receive a cut of the $5 million in grant money awarded by Governor Gray Davis.

Christina Ramirez (with the project for 4 years) with Carmen Warner-Robbins (left).

More than 230 church and spiritual organizations submitted proposals in hopes of receiving funds from the first-time Faith-Based Initiative outlined in the Governor's FY 2000-2001 Budget. The grant money was doled out to programs aimed at providing work-related services to traditionally underserved members of the community including homeless men and women, substance abusers, youths, limited English speaking individuals and non-custodial parents.

Episcopal Community Services (ECS), an organization that already runs more than 40 such programs with a budget of $18 million, received $400,000, one of the largest amounts awarded. This money, combined with donations from the Casey Family Program, will be used to start ECS YES (Youth Empowerment Services) a program designed to put a minimum of 50 foster youth living in the east county area on a career path. Rather than simply providing participants with a job, ECS YES plans to provide those enrolled in the program with an adult mentor, offer career advice and set them up with internships.

"We have always been focused on providing services to the underserved in San Diego and we recognize that foster youth are a tremendously disadvantaged part of this population," says Doug Kurtz, Communications Manager for ECS who estimates the number of foster youth in San Diego to be as high as 7,000 (26% of whom are Hispanic.) Roughly 1,200 youths live in 18 group homes in the San Diego county area alone. "We do not just serve school aged youth. We will be serving the most difficult cases, those youth who are already emancipated from the system."

A 1998 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin shows that after emancipation from foster care (the term used for when these young adults are "set free" from the foster care system at the age of eighteen), 51% of foster youth remain unemployed and 46% do not graduate from high school. It is this daunting problem that ECS will attempt to begin correcting as early as this spring.

"What this means for us is that the Governor is recognizing the ability [of faith-based organizations] to provide services more efficiently than traditional methods," says Doug Kurtz. "The Governor is giving us some credibility. He's showing that we are able to perform with results."

As the second San Diego grant awarded to Welcome Home Ministries proves, the Governor's grant money was not allotted strictly for large, financially secure faith-based organizations. This tiny, volunteer-run operation established in 1996 by Carmen Warner-Robbins, a chaplan for the Vista jail, is dedicated to helping women exiting jails and the prison system. Welcome Home Ministries will be using their $180,000 to implement a job training program, set up scholarships, provide transportation and hire a person whose job it will be to locate employers willing to hire ex-felons.

"Three of us women sat down together to write this grant. We never expected to win, but we found out that [our proposal] was in the top 98% [of those submitted]," says Michelle Bolas, an ex-felon who has volunteered with Welcome Home Ministries for the past two and a half years. "We have already helped over 300 women. We pick them up when they get out, take them to breakfast and give them clothing. With this [grant] we will finally be able to do so much more."

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