- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fifty-five faith-based and community organizations — chosen from 557 applicants — will split $4 million in grants designated for grass-roots groups to “help hard-to-serve populations prepare for and succeed in employment opportunities,” the Department of Labor announced yesterday.

Because grass-roots groups know more about local businesses and the problems that specific individuals have in finding jobs, they are able to “provide that critical personal touch that can make the difference in these individuals’ lives,” said Jedd Medefind, the director of the department’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Among regional groups receiving $75,000 grants under the program are Conquest House Inc. in Washington, the Housing Preservation and Development Corporation (HPDC) in Richmond and Holly Community Inc. in Salisbury, Md.

Preddy Ray, executive director of the HPDC said the grant money will be used for their Job Opportunities in Neighborhoods program, a “job-training program that’s targeted at low-income, inner-city” residents.

HPDC “works with a lot of young African-American males who are dealing with different issues,” such as the “difficult transition” into the work force, Mr. Ray said.

HPDC is expanding the program because of the increasing demand and need for it in the community, he said.

Holly Community has worked for 30 years to “enhance [disabled people’s] quality of life through improved independent living skills related to employment and community integration,” said Pattie Tingle, the Maryland organization’s executive director.

The funding, the largest federal grant ever received by Holly Community, “will be targeted primarily toward youths transitioning into adulthood with programs designed to teach job readiness and independent-living skills.”

Miss Tingle credited the faith-based initiative program — which President Bush promised during the 2000 campaign as part of his “compassionate conservative” agenda — as “the only way our organization would have received a grant,” because these grants go to small organizations serving local residents.

Conquest House helps ex-convicts reintegrate into society after leaving prison, said the Rev. Louis Jones, the District group’s executive director. By helping its clients look for jobs and providing counseling for the ex-convicts and their families, he said, the group helps prevent the former inmates from returning to prison.

“For an ex-offender coming out of prison, given their background and criminal record, it’s difficult for people to trust them,” Mr. Jones said, so Conquest House will use the grant to develop “a series of training classes for offenders who are coming out of prison,” to help its clients learn “the basic skills that employers are looking for in the District of Columbia.”

The Department of Labor more than tripled its funding for grass-roots grants this year, helping groups that Mr. Medefind said “fill the gaps that the federal government can’t.”

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