- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

From a few rooms tucked above a strip mall in Silver Spring, Md., Pat Doane and her counselors rely mostly on faith to help patients struggling with addictions and trauma.
Mrs. Doane, the executive director of Ephesians Life Ministries, says every month hundreds of people arrive with hope that counseling and prayer will help then cope with their troubled lives, and they leave with physical, emotional and spiritual peace.
Though satisfied with the help she provides, Mrs. Doane and other ministry leaders now hope Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will help them do more by allowing them to receive state grants once off-limits to charities with religious affiliations.
"If the state is going to give grants to charities, we would like it if they gave them to faith-based groups as well," Mrs. Doane said. "We do have a good rate of success."
Mr. Ehrlich can make the proposal with legislation or an executive order, but either way it would be "substantive," said Henry Fawell, spokesman for the governor.
In response to state lawmakers reluctant to give such groups more money while the state is $1.8 billion in debt, Mr. Fawell said the majority of grants would be available from federal money disbursed by the state.
Mr. Ehrlich has not discussed how the proposal would work, but said during his State of the State speech on Wednesday that Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele would lead efforts to help faith-based groups working with drug and alcohol addicts.
There are also some state grants, but Mrs. Doane said she stopped applying for them because of the myriad roadblocks.
Though she acknowledges some groups have been tempted not to disclose their affiliation when applying, she says Ephesians openly believes religion is an inescapable part of therapy.
"Our goal is to allow faith to be part of your recovery," said Mrs. Doane, whose group counsels people with such problems as abusive marriages and eating disorders, as well as alcohol and drug addictions.
In fact, Mrs. Doane joined Ephesians after she sought counseling there when her teenage daughter tried to commit suicide.
The group which includes Mrs. Doane, two full-time and 28 part-time counselors relies solely on donations from people, businesses and churches.
More state funding, she said, could pay for more full-time counselors, start a therapy group for children with drug addiction and help people who speak only Spanish.
Critics of faith-based groups say they are often "souped-up" Bible study groups that offer little professional counseling.
Robert Boston of the District-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State hoped an initiative from Mr. Ehrlich would separate such programs from those open to people of every faith and that do not force religion upon their clients.
"There is a need to … try to determine if the program is for religious conversion or if it incorporates sound therapy," he said.
Mrs. Doane says her counselors have master's degrees in mental health fields and are fully qualified to do the work. They also do not preach, she said, and have often worked with atheists and people of different religions.
Those who work alongside Maryland faith-based charities also say there is a misconception that religious groups force their beliefs on those seeking help.
"But there is no discrimination or proselytizing," said Donna Stanley Jones, executive director of the Baltimore-based Associated Black Charities, a non-faith-based group. "They just want to provide social services to people who need them. There are many, many faith-based organizations doing fabulous work and they have been shortchanged by the state for a long time."
Brena Gibson, who sought counseling with Ephesians when her teenage son was struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction in the late '90s, says the group's counselors gave her the confidence to get her life on track and address other problems in her life.
"They helped me realize that I had been in an abusive marriage for 28 years," said Mrs. Gibson, who eventually ended the relationship.
She later joined Ephesians as its program director, going from a six-figure salary at a large nonprofit group to making $30,000 a year, but says, "Ephesians has given me the confidence to be who I really am. I have no doubt this is what I was meant to do."

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