ANNAPOLIS – Community organizations will get their own umbrella agency to coordinate resources and services under an executive order announced by Gov. Robert Ehrlich Thursday.
The office will be headed effective immediately by Betsy Nessen Merrill, who served as assistant development director for the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University for the last two years.
“It would take a lot for me to leave pediatric oncology,” said Merrill, “but the governor told me this would be a great opportunity for me to serve.”
The new office will help streamline information by unifying existing government agencies and community and volunteer services in the state.
“During tough fiscal times, community problem solvers should be empowered to better serve Marylanders in need,” said Ehrlich in a prepared statement. “Our new office will unify government’s community and volunteer resources, making it easier, not harder, for them to fulfill this important mission.”
Some of the existing staff of the Governor’s Office of Service and Volunteerism will move to the new agency.
Responsibilities of the new office include: coordinating community and volunteer service activities within the state; developing the governor’s policy agenda for improving community programs; reviewing legislation to ensure community organizations are given equal access under the law for public and private funding, and conducting a review of state programs in cooperation with state departments and agencies to identify barriers that impede the delivery of community-based social services to Marylanders in need.
“This touches everybody,” said Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who will oversee the office. “We’re leveraging the resources and assets we have that can assist these organizations to continue the work they’re doing. . . .
“My job is to make sure it’s done right and it’s consistent with the overall goals of this administration.”
Community and volunteer service advocates are also eager to work with the new office.
Dana Stein, executive director of Civic Works, a non-profit organization working with young adults in Baltimore to convert vacant lots into parks and gardens, believes the new office will help his organization expand its faith-based partnerships.
“The office will provide a lot of valuable services to non-profits, community groups and faith-based groups that provide community services,” said Stein.
No new state money has been used for the establishment of the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives. Funding is coming from existing state resources.