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September 15, 2010

Weld County Hosts Connecting the Dots, Connecting Communities Conference

Most Americans are feeling the stress of our country’s current economic recession. From job loss, to foreclosure, to cutbacks in necessary programs everyone has felt the pinch. During tough times it would seem only natural to circle the wagons and adopt an “every man for himself” attitude. If history has taught us anything it’s that when the going gets tough, the tough stick together. As we continue to face the challenges before us as a nation the dawning of a hopeful new era in community collaborations is emerging right here in Weld County.

Almost five years ago, Weld County Commissioners began a conversation with the nation’s largest volunteer group, churches and faith-based entities. The question was posed: What if we began to work together to help meet the needs of our community? The idea was extraordinary and one that has been traditionally avoided by both church and state groups.

This idea gave birth to the Weld Faith Partnership, a county wide initiative that seeks to address community issues through the development of a proactive, collaborative approach that will assist at-risk families in accessing support through community faith-based organizations, government entities, non-profit human service agencies and local businesses. Quite simply the Weld Faith Partnership established a venue in which everyone who had an interest in helping the community could come together to explore the idea of what a true partnership could look like. Could we find common ground in our missions that allowed us to serve members of our community in a more holistic and supportive way?

With any successful relationship comes trust issues. “It wasn’t easy in the beginning stages,” New Horizons Christian Church Pastor Rob Thomas said. “We would sit across the table from one another and just stare at each other. But we began to recognize that we both brought unique expertise to family care. Human Services may work with a family to get them on their feet for a few years, but churches may work with that same family and their kids for generations to come. We had to get to the point where we believed in what we both had to offer to these families and then trust each other to deliver the results.”

Breaking through the usual walls of collaboration, Weld County has partnered with faith-based organizations to extend help into families of need throughout the county. Whether it has been with the Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Initiative or the Healthy Marriage and Healthy Relationships Initiative, much of the teaching, training and programming has come from the faith community.

In 2005, through reauthorization of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds the Office of Family Assistance made available a number of grant opportunities to promote the concepts of Healthy Relationships and Responsible Fatherhood. Faith and community organizations were invited to apply for this funding as a component of the then titled Faith and Community Based Initiative. Through this process a variety of agencies including faith, government, and community-based organizations throughout Colorado received funding to offer programming in these areas. By 2007, Colorado was one of the most saturated areas of the country in regards to receiving this type of funding and has emerged as a national leader in the realm of both healthy relationship and responsible fatherhood programs.

Tyler Osterhaus, the Family Focus Program Manager with Weld County Department of Human Services, has had an opportunity to partner with a number of faith-based organizations within Weld County through these programs. “When we first got to the table there was tension from both sides as we sought to find common ground, but we’ve never had a problem with churches proselytizing as everyone adhered to the faith-based guidelines. The people that stepped up to be part of this initiative have a lot of integrity – they always put the client first and because of that our programs are better off than if we tried to tackle these issues on our own.”

On Thursday, August 26, 2010, Weld County hosted the “Connecting the Dots, Connecting Communities Conference” partially sponsored by the regional Administration for Children and Families and the Colorado Department of Human Services to showcase how these relationships have been built and work.

Highlighted in the Connecting the Dots conference was the Legends of Service Awards given to people in the community who best exemplified excellence in leadership, initiative and dedication to the people of their community. There are five awards annually given by the Weld County Commissioner’s Weld Faith Partnership Council.

This year’s recipient for the Faith Organization Award went to Waypoints Faith Community and its Pastor Todd Welch for its work among people normally overlooked by society - people trapped in addictions.

The Pastoral Leadership Award went to Rob Thomas, the Senior Pastor of New Horizons Christian Church in Dacono. Rob serves on the Weld Faith Counsel and has helped to pioneer the bridge-building between faith groups and the county.

The Para-church/Community Group Award was given to Faith Community Fund, not just for their efforts to help people of need, but also for the development of the “Relief, Betterment and Development” model, a three-step process to promote lasting change in families.

The Commissioners also recognized Tyler Osterhaus, from Weld County DHS as a county employee with the Weld County Service Award for his outstanding work as a liaison between the Weld County Commissioners and the faith community.

The final award was given to Brittany Williams for an Individual of Merit. Brittany has given countless volunteer hours in community work as a Family Advocate and Victim Assistance Coordinator with Catholic Charities.

For more information about the Weld Faith Partnership and how you can get involved please contact the Weld Faith Council at weldfaithpartnershipcouncil@co.weld.co.us.