Faith in Communities

Posted July 18, 2011
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog faithincommunities 2011

Deb­bie Nealy of Prov­i­dence, Rhode Island, had to give up her job as a recep­tion­ist after bone fusion surgery a year ago for degen­er­a­tive disk dis­ease, and her doc­tor still hasn’t okayed a return to work. She’s back on her feet, but feed­ing her sons, ages 7 and 9, would have been tough if not for the Prov­i­dence In-town Church­es Asso­ci­a­tion Food Pantry. Food stamp recip­i­ents are allowed one vis­it a month to stock up at the free pantry, which has expand­ed its facil­i­ties and gone from serv­ing 700 to more than 5,000 peo­ple a month—testament to the state’s bat­tered economy—in just two years.
It has tru­ly helped my fam­i­ly,” says Nealy. With the prices of food today, it is hard to get the things you like. They have the bet­ter brands, the more nat­ur­al stuff here, an abun­dance of fresh veg­eta­bles,” she says. My boys are like bot­tom­less pits, but they are eat­ing healthy.”

How the Prov­i­dence In-town Church­es Asso­ci­a­tion increased its abil­i­ty to pro­vide ser­vices like the food pantry offers a glimpse into the way mod­est fund­ing and tech­ni­cal assis­tance from the Casey Foun­da­tion, in part­ner­ship with oth­er fun­ders, has helped faith-based orga­ni­za­tions improve and expand how they serve com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers in need.

Casey sought to cul­ti­vate the faith com­mu­ni­ty in launch­ing its Mak­ing Con­nec­tions ini­tia­tive in the late 1990s. This ini­tia­tive aimed to demon­strate how res­i­dents, civic groups, and the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors could mobi­lize around an agen­da to improve the odds for chil­dren by strength­en­ing their fam­i­lies and neigh­bor­hoods. Our aspi­ra­tion was to improve out­comes for vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and fam­i­lies by har­ness­ing the unique strengths of the faith com­mu­ni­ty,” notes Car­ole Thomp­son, a Casey Foun­da­tion senior associate.

Tar­get­ing small and mid-sized con­gre­ga­tions where faith lead­ers often have a strong com­mit­ment to serve but lack for­mal train­ing and net­works to help tack­le com­plex social prob­lems, Mak­ing Con­nec­tions launched an inten­sive effort to iden­ti­fy the local faith community’s strengths and challenges.

Over the past decade, the Foundation’s Faith and Fam­i­lies port­fo­lio has served as a cat­a­lyst to bol­ster faith-based orga­ni­za­tions’ abil­i­ty to serve in many ways, from pro­vid­ing train­ing and edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties to pro­duc­ing how-to reports on best prac­tices. Casey has also co-spon­sored local con­ven­ings to bring cler­gy togeth­er as well as high­ly vis­i­ble nation­al con­fer­ences that drew Mak­ing Con­nec­tions and faith lead­ers from around the coun­try. These gath­er­ings pro­vid­ed a forum to fos­ter dis­cus­sion and offer guid­ance on how faith com­mu­ni­ties could most effec­tive­ly help strength­en fam­i­lies and communities.

Casey also sup­port­ed devel­op­ment of a mod­el effort to help faith-based orga­ni­za­tions pro­vide assis­tance to for­mer­ly incar­cer­at­ed indi­vid­u­als as well as the fam­i­lies of ex-prisoners.

When Pres­i­dent George W. Bush estab­lished the White House Office of Faith-Based and Com­mu­ni­ty Ini­tia­tives in 2001, It was time­ly in that we had start­ed the explo­ration to find out how faith affects neigh­bor­hood trans­for­ma­tion and fam­i­ly devel­op­ment,” says Thomp­son. In 2002, the Admin­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies launched the Com­pas­sion Cap­i­tal Fund, which aimed to help faith-based and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions increase their effec­tive­ness, enhance their abil­i­ty to pro­vide social ser­vices, expand their orga­ni­za­tions, diver­si­fy their fund­ing sources, and cre­ate col­lab­o­ra­tions to bet­ter serve those in need.

Prov­i­dence, a Mak­ing Con­nec­tions site, was par­tic­u­lar­ly suc­cess­ful in gar­ner­ing those grants. Casey was let­ting all the Mak­ing Con­nec­tions sites know there was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make use of those funds and pro­vid­ed tech­ni­cal assis­tance and finan­cial sup­port to help us apply,” notes Patrick McGuigan, exec­u­tive direc­tor of The Prov­i­dence Plan, a non­prof­it that works to improve eco­nom­ic and social well-being.

McGuigan says the sup­port Casey pro­vid­ed helped The Prov­i­dence Plan over­come some issues that kept oth­ers from tak­ing advan­tage of this impor­tant chance to strength­en faith-based organizations.

Peo­ple were afraid of going after the mon­ey and fac­ing too many restric­tions and bells and whis­tles that wouldn’t hon­or the church-state dynam­ic,” notes McGuigan. But we looked at the regs real­ly care­ful­ly and we said no, this is a good oppor­tu­ni­ty as long as we make the rules of engage­ment clear.”

Estab­lish­ing detailed guide­lines on how the fund­ing could and couldn’t be used, The Prov­i­dence Plan set up a pro­gram in 2005 called New Roots Prov­i­dence, specif­i­cal­ly ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing com­mu­ni­ty and faith-based groups get stronger and expand their services.

The Prov­i­dence In-town Church­es Asso­ci­a­tion, a coali­tion of church­es that has been serv­ing the poor and home­less since 1974, was one of the first to apply for New Roots fund­ing. It received a three-year grant that helped it restruc­ture its board with much more com­mu­ni­ty rep­re­sen­ta­tion; devel­op a defined mis­sion, strate­gic plan, and fundrais­ing strat­e­gy; hire a larg­er and more expe­ri­enced staff; and offer com­pre­hen­sive case management.

This sup­port real­ly increased the capac­i­ty of the agency and con­se­quent­ly our capac­i­ty to serve clients,” notes Diana Bur­dett, who took over in 2003 as exec­u­tive direc­tor. The knowl­edge she’s gained from attend­ing month­ly train­ing ses­sions New Roots offers also has equipped her to apply for addi­tion­al funding—such as a $25,000 Cham­plin Foun­da­tions grant that helped relo­cate and expand the food pantry.

This past May, New Roots award­ed 27 grants, bring­ing to 108 the num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions in Rhode Island that have received sup­port to strength­en man­age­ment struc­tures, devel­op new fund­ing sources, and cre­ate part­ner­ships to bet­ter serve their com­mu­ni­ties. New Roots has gar­nered $4.5 mil­lion from the Com­pas­sion Cap­i­tal Fund as well as the Oba­ma administration’s Strength­en­ing Com­mu­ni­ties Fund, matched by $800,000 in pri­vate foun­da­tion and state funds, for a total pro­gram expen­di­ture of $5 million.

Nzin­ga Mis­gana, a con­sul­tant and for­mer New Roots direc­tor, notes that Casey sup­port, which totaled $381,000, helped draw a lot of co-invest­ment and mil­lions in fed­er­al fund­ing” to New Roots Prov­i­dence, which in turn helped faith-based and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions serve more peo­ple more comprehensively.

By sup­port­ing orga­ni­za­tions, you are chang­ing the lives of lots of peo­ple at once; it’s a rip­ple effect,” she says. We cre­at­ed a com­mu­ni­ty of learn­ers by offer­ing train­ings and bring­ing peo­ple from dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tions together.”

Besides reap­ing the ben­e­fits of these train­ing ses­sions, Bur­dett of the Prov­i­dence In-town Church­es Asso­ci­a­tion also received guid­ance from coach­es that I could run ideas past and get turned in the right direc­tion or get some val­i­da­tion.” She adds: Ini­tial­ly, I was doing so much of this work myself. And that is the loneli­est job in the world.”

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