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Unity needed to win stimulus funds

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) has urged the Association of Christian Ministers of Clayton County to work collectively, to take advantage of federal stimulus money.

Scott's remarks were made to more than 50 ministers Monday, explaining how they can bring more stimulus money to the county by linking their grant proposals together, and encouraging their congregations to participate in the 2010 census.

The church community can play a key role in the economic recovery by identifying a project for grant funding that will benefit a large number of people, Scott said during a stop at the Piccadilly Restaurant in Morrow.

"We need to go where we have the most success and can get the most money," Scott said. "One of the benefits of coming as a total group is that you're talking about the metro area. There is a whole plethora of these grants. Our issue is going to be getting feedback from you as to what kind of projects that you have ongoing that you can put in for and compete for."

"What we're trying to do in regards to the stimulus money is get funding to shovel-ready things," Scott continued. "The first move out of the gate ... is to see what this group can obtain."

In the meeting, ministers spoke and identified several needs in the community, such as more funding for youth programs, anti-gang initiatives, "re-entry" programs for incarcerated juveniles, and anti-homelessness efforts.

During the meeting, Scott identified $43.7 million in federal funding, to date, that is available to Clayton County through a variety of competitive grants. Scott urged the ministers' group to appoint a team of ministers to meet with him as early as this week to identify the most pressing needs impacting their congregations. In turn, Scott agreed to use his office to help research applicable grants, and if necessary, direct ministers to capable grant writers.

Michael Andel, Scott's chief of staff, said much of the federal funding coming to the county in the next few years will be determined by 2010 census numbers. He said ministers will play a vital role in making sure that every man, woman, and child in the county is counted, regardless of their circumstances.

"If Clayton County and the southern area is under-counted on the census, we will have underfunded programs," Andel said. "That means if you are homeless, if you are in jail, if you are sleeping on somebody's couch, if you're an undocumented or illegal immigrant, you need to be counted in that community. All those numbers create the data that the government uses for the next 10 years.

"There are populations that are transient, unfortunately due to foreclosures," he continued. "We need to find them, because they will lock in those numbers. It's very important that when these census people come around and they reach out to your congregation, that you emphasize they need to be counted."

The Rev. Harry Riley, president of the Association of Christian Ministers of Clayton County, said the meeting was productive and that it may eventually lead to a new program in the county that will benefit many church congregations.

"Our overall objective has not been finalized, but I think that this brought us closer together," Riley said. "If all the churches can benefit from it [the project], then it is going to be profitable within the community whether it's one location, or it can go in 30 different locations. Once we start talking about it, we can arrive at some destination where it can be done. Our number one objective is for it to be a mark in the county that is going to be a blessing for all of the churches."

Anthony Wilson, pastor of Shiloh Christian Fellowship in College Park, said the meeting was positive, and gives the Christian community of Clayton County a chance to unite around a common cause.

"As pastors, with the egos that we have, a lot of times, it's hard to get us together," Wilson said. "Now, since everybody is in the same boat, people are willing to come together ... I think that we will get some things accomplished."