If Dubya is the preacher of those flocking to the faith-based standard, the senior deacon is former Indianapolis mayor Steve Goldsmith, who is expected to head a new White House Office for Faith-Based Action. Functioning in the youth field as an usher - making seat assignments and passing the collection plate - in the Bush II Tabernacle will be Shepherd Smith.
Smith is president of the Herndon, Va.-based Institute for Youth Development (IYD), which he founded to "bring a fresh policy making approach to risk behaviors." IYD's mission statement says the organization "conducts research, promotes messages, and devises comprehensive programs targeted to American youth to avoid five harmful risk behaviors: alcohol, drugs, sex, tobacco and violence."
The group was launched at an October 1997 gala where 112 members of Congress (almost all Republicans) served on the host committee. The dinner was underwritten by a number of corporations heretofore not known for their keen interest in youth development. Among them, Philip Morris and its Kraft subsidiary, the smoking-promoting Tobacco Institute, the chewing- promoting UST Public Affairs, Inc., and the Coors Brewing Company. Said Washington Post columnist Al Kamin of the event, "The hypocrisy meter melted down."
But nothing can melt the enthusiasm of Smith as he promotes a positive approach to youth development compatible with conservative values. He appeared on the national stage in 1986 as one of the 11 original Centers for Disease Control grantees funded under its National AIDS Education and Information Program. Smith's nonprofit group, Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy (ASAP), quickly emerged as the one that could deal with congressional and church conservatives on AIDS issues. Says B.J. Stiles, former president of the National AIDS Fund of the "congenial" Smith, "He carried lots of water and messages" to the Reagan/Bush administration. Another AIDS activist calls Smith "wise in the ways of opportunism," an intended disparagement that becomes a compliment to those familiar with political life in Washington, D.C., where ambition frequently trumps knowledge.
During his years working on AIDS issues, the outspokenly anti-homophobic Smith says he grew to ardently believe in the comprehensive youth development approach or, as IYD calls it, "risk avoidance."
Hence the move five years ago by Smith to launch IYD. The group produces an informative, free bimonthly newsletter, The Youth Connection (circ. 6,000), a user-friendly directory, the Federal Grant Manual for Youth Programs, and the well-designed, statistics-drenched America's Youth: Measuring the Risk. In January, IYD began publishing Adolescent & Family Health (www.afhjournal.org), "a scientific, peer-reviewed journal exploring factors that can help America's young people lead a healthy and successful life." Serving as editor of the quarterly will be Dr. Alma Golden, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. The editorial board includes Wade Horn, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative and Barbara Defoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Smith has long been an admirer of, and an active program and policy collaborator with, George W. Bush and his staff. Bush's youth policy priorities, character education, drug and alcohol prevention, abstinence education and family life programs exactly match those promoted by Smith long before anyone in Washington had ever heard of a "compassionate conservative."
While new HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and Education Secretary Rod Paige locate the elevators, Smith has become the inside expert fluent in the new Bush administration's youth agenda. Smith notes that IYD - with a staff of 10, including Public Policy Director Karen Morison, and a budget of about $10 million - has "never been in better shape financially." Or, he could have added, politically. Contact: (703) 471-8750, www.youthdevelopment.org.