Leman creates faith-based services panel

Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) Lt. Gov. Loren Leman on Tuesday established an 18-member panel aimed at buoying community and faith-based organizations' role in local social services.

Leman announced the group, dubbed the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Task Force, at a meeting of the Churches of Anchorage.

The task force is part of President Bush's larger, nationwide effort to help faith-based social service agencies. The date and place of the group's first meeting and its specific goals are not set.

''What is it? What are we going to do?'' said Carl Ekstrom, a freelance researcher from Delta Junction named to the panel. ''I think our function is to answer a lot of those questions. ''We'll share. We'll exchange ideas. We'll exchange success stories. I think that's what a task force does. It researches.''

Five members, including former Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, and University of Alaska Fairbanks professor Judith Kleinfeld, are from the Interior. The panel is comprised mostly of church leaders and executive directors of faith-based organizations.

Most are Christians, though the panel has at least one Mormon and one Jew. Religions represented on the task force are those with an established presence in the state's social services sector, said an aide to Leman.

Prior to appointing the panel, the lieutenant governor held town meetings on faith-based social services in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks. He also has a ''faith-based initiatives'' link on his state Web site. The site says the state will allow, in certain cases, faith-based organizations to compete for grants on equal footing with secular agencies.

Several state departments, including all of the divisions in the Department of Health and Social Services, have named faith-based and community initiatives liaisons.

Scott Merriner, an Anchorage pastor who serves on the board of GraceAlaska, a nonprofit organization that creates partnerships among faith-based social service agencies, will be chairman of the task force in Leman's absence.

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