The purpose of the National Network is to promote the sharing of knowledge, experience and ideas that can help to strengthen and support the hundreds of local Faith in Action programs like Reach Out that are currently active throughout the United States, and to foster and support the establishment of new Faith in Action programs in all communities that want and need the services that Faith in Action volunteers can provide.
Local Faith in Action programs bring volunteers of different faiths together to care for their homebound neighbors who may be isolated and living with chronic health conditions or disabilities. The Faith in Action volunteers come from churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship, as well as from the community at large, and provide many forms of non-medical assistance, such as:
- Transportation to medical and other appointments
- Help with shopping, reading or bill-paying
- Minor home repairs
- Friendly visiting and telephone support
Such simple services can sometimes be the safety net that makes it possible for those with disabling health conditions or other limitations to enjoy a better quality of life and to maintain their independence longer.
Although local Faith in Action programs may vary according to local needs and preferences, all Faith in Action programs have five basic building blocks in common (see above). The Faith in Action program was initiated in 1983 with support from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and today Reach Out is one of more than 600 local Faith in Action programs operating in communities across the nation. Although following the Faith in Action model, Reach Out Morongo Basin is an independent 501c3 with no funding from this source.
The Story of Faith in Action
A reader asked recently how the Faith in Action movement got started and how the National Network came into existence. Here's a summary of events that led to the establishment of the Faith in Action National Network.
"In 1984 twenty-five interfaith coalitions -- congregations, churches, temples, synagogues -- began to experience the strength and effectiveness of working together in a ministry of volunteer caregiving. The help that their 11,000 volunteers gave to some 26,000 persons in need changed all of their lives forever." That was the opening statement on a fact sheet produced by the National Federation of Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers in the early 1990's.
Those twenty-five communities answered the call for proposals from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. At the time there was no "Faith in Action." It was just an idea. Could communities mobilize volunteers from diverse faith traditions to make an impact on the quality of life for older adults and people living with a disability? Those twenty-five communities were so successful that others wanted to duplicate what they had done.
In a few short years, approximately 100 additional communities developed programs of interfaith volunteer caregiving. Aware of the great unmet needs of so many in our country, a national federation was formed with a single purpose: to assist congregations of all faiths to come together to provide an effective caregiving ministry. By the mid-1990's The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation decided to begin an unprecedented replication of interfaith volunteer caregiving. The Foundation awarded grants of $25,000 to communities who wanted to begin such programs. The National Federation of Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers worked hand-in-hand with The Foundation's National Program Office located in Kingston, NY, to develop and grow the movement.
During the 1990's approximately 1,000 additional interfaith volunteer caregiving programs were established throughout the country under a funding program known as "Faith in Action." Technical assistance was minimal and was initially provided by Regional Facilitators. These dedicated individuals went from one community to the next to establish programs. State facilitators were appointed in 1996 to meet with programs on a state level. These groups of program directors often planned state-wide training meetings to improve their skills as directors.
The National Program Office provided assistance to communities interested in the development of an interfaith volunteer caregiving program. Once a program completed its eighteen month grant cycle, the National Federal of Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers became responsible for provision of training and technical support.
As the century came to a close, the funding for new interfaith volunteer caregiving programs was depleted. But, Faith in Action got another chance to impact people in need through the intervention of friends of the movement like Paul Jellinek, a program officer at The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In 2000 The Foundation decided to open another round of funding to establish an additional 2,000 interfaith volunteer caregiving programs. The National Program Office was moved to Winston-Salem, NC.
About this time the National Federation of Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers evolved into a new membership organization. The Interfaith Caregivers Alliance relocated its offices to Kansas City, MO. This membership organization hoped to fulfill the need for technical assistance beyond the end of the grant period for local programs. Many factors caused this membership association to fail and in 2001 the National Program Office in Winston-Salem accepted the responsibility of providing technical assistance to all previously funded Faith in Action programs.
The National Program Office had the financial resources to develop a website for Faith in Action programs. Some other accomplishments of this NPO were the publication of resources on a variety of topics, surveys demonstrating the impact of interfaith volunteer caregiving, a study on sustainability of local programs, and the development of a mentor program. These mentors, primarily directors of successful Faith in Action programs, not only helped with the development of new programs but also provided training and technical assistance to existing programs. The training resources developed by the Winston-Salem NPO were welcomed by struggling program directors. Program directors looked forward to the introduction of new materials and resources on a regular basis.
One of the most significant projects undertaken by the Winston-Salem NPO was a major marketing campaign. The first step in this was to adopt the name Faith in Action to describe the work of the interfaith volunteer caregiver programs. In an attempt to create visibility and branding, programs were encouraged to either change their names to Faith in Action or use a tag line after their name to identify affiliation with the movement. The second phase was to identify and name a national spokesperson. As many of you know, Della Reese was chosen to represent Faith in Action. While there is no longer a contract with Della Reese, Faith in Action programs can continue to use the resources developed during that time. The final phase of the marketing campaign was Project CONNECT. In May, 2004, hundreds of Faith in Action program directors went to Washington, D.C. to meet with congressmen and senators to tell them about the work that was being done in local communities. These meetings have produced good results for the local programs.
The funding for the development of the technical assistance and training program came from a re-structured budget for the NPO. A decision was made that the NPO needed to build the capacity of existing programs so that they could survive. As a result, fewer new programs were established. In December, 2004, it was announced that the last round of funding for new programs would be awarded in February, 2005, and that the NPO would complete its work by June, 2008.
The primary function of the NPO was the establishment of new programs. The provision of technical assistance and support beyond the grant phase for a program was never the role of the NPO. Faith in Action program directors were all grateful for the support given to all programs during this time. When the announcement was made that the NPO would be completing its work, a group of program directors and former mentors decided to do something to keep the movement alive. Lisa Carmalt, Jan Irish, Elizabeth Liska and Jeanette Wojcik spent hours of their free time researching and talking about what should happen next. After a weekend together the group decided to hold a meeting for anyone interested in helping give birth to a national membership organization. That meeting was held in July, 2005. Now, five years later we have a viable membership organization that is providing resources, training sessions and networking opportunities for Faith in Action programs across the country.