By Terry O’Neill
In an Oct. 9 campaign appearance before Baptist leaders in Harlem, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed the creation of a state Office of Faith-Based Services. The office would help churches and other faith-based institutions in providing “education, health, workforce training, food programs and social services to communities, especially those most in need.”
Leaders of the faith community have historically been on the front lines in resisting and reversing decline and decay. They stay and tend their flocks when others leave.
The clergy are not, however, the only players who have the commitment to neighbors and community that can stem and reverse the tide of decay. The governor’s proposal could easily be expanded to provide encouragement to a whole panoply of neighborhood-based nonprofit organizations to tackle problems on a block-by-block basis. In fact, for three decades now, there has been a statutory framework in place that would do just that.
In 1983, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo approved Chapter 55 of the Laws of 1983 known as the Neighborhood Preservation Crime Prevention Act (NPCPA) to be administered by the Division of Criminal Justice Services. Under NPCPA, small grants and technical assistance would be provided to new and existing neighborhood organizations. They would partner with public safety and other governmental and nongovernmental service providers to confront and reverse the decay and disorder that were dragging neighborhoods down into crime and despair.
Sad to say, this inspired legislation was never funded or implemented.
In recent years, I have been asked by a number of small faith-based organizations in the Capital District for the kind of “technical assistance” that should be available for the asking under the NPCPA. In most instances, I have assisted congregations with no more than three dozen members. I have been astonished by their spirit, dedication to the community and willingness to take up great tasks to improve quality of life within their orbit. They deserve to be encouraged and assisted.
Let us hope that the governor will take up the law put on the books three decades ago by his father and deliver on its promise to neighborhoods at last.
Terry O’Neill is director of the Constantine Institute in Albany.