Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Blog

  • Commerce Co-Hosts Business and Community Partnerships Summit in Denver, Colorado

    Group meeting at the Denver Business and Community Partnerships Summit.

    The U.S. Department of Commerce joins the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Mile High United Way, the Office of Governor John Hickenlooper, the Office of Mayor Michael Hancock, and Opportunity Nation to co-host the Denver Business and Community Partnerships Summit.

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Commerce's blog. See the original post here.

    On Monday, the U.S. Department of Commerce joined the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Mile High United Way, the Office of Governor John Hickenlooper, the Office of Mayor Michael Hancock and Opportunity Nation to co-host the Denver Business and Community Partnerships Summit. This first-of-its-kind event highlighted innovative ways businesses are partnering with nonprofits, faith-based organizations, institutes of higher education and the public sector to improve their communities. In addition to promoting effective cross-sector partnership models focused on workforce development, healthy communities, education and the environment, the Summit educated participants on resources offered by the federal government and provided people an opportunity to connect with others in their community interested in partnering to effect positive change. Leaders from more than 130 organizations, including over 50 businesses and more than 60 nonprofits, participated in this inaugural event. Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, joined Congressman Ed Perlmutter in delivering keynote remarks.

    This was an important convening for the Commerce Department because it showcased the critical function that innovative partnerships between community-based organizations and the business community play in driving positive local development, particularly in the areas of skills and workforce training and education. The Summit also exhibited the significant contributions of multiple Commerce resources in facilitating effective community partnerships, including Economic Development Administration grants and Census data from the American Communities Survey.

  • Recognizing the Importance of Fathers

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Education's blog. See the original post here.

    One out of every three children in America — more than 24 million in total — live in a home without their biological father present, according to a 2012 White House Fatherhood Report. Roughly one out of every three Hispanic children and more than half of African-American children also live in homes without their biological fathers.

    The presence and involvement of a child’s parents protect children from a number of vulnerabilities. More engaged fathers — whether living with or apart from their children — can help foster a child’s healthy physical, emotional, and social development. While evidence shows that children benefit most from the involvement of resident fathers, research also has highlighted the positive effect that nonresident fathers can have on their children’s lives.

    Recognizing the importance of fathers in children’s physical, emotional, and social development, Shirley Jones, a program specialist in the Department of Education’s regional office in Chicago, partnered with the Detroit Area Dad’s PTA and the Detroit Public School system. Together, they organized the “Dads to Dads” forum at Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern, where 350 men, women, and young adults committed to a day of discussion on how to best support children in their communities.

  • HUD CFBNP Continues Outreach and Training for Organizations Nationwide

    Among its many roles, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (HUD CFBNP) works to engage faith-based and community organizations nationwide to more directly involve them in the work of the agency. Working with program offices across HUD, the Center helps to advance HUD’s mission in many ways. For example, the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program provides homeless veterans with housing and supportive services; the Continuum of Care program helps local communities and non-profit organizations fight homelessness by providing funding for rapid rehousing of homeless individuals. Finally, HUD CFBNP promotes inclusivity and combats discrimination in housing by supporting HUD’s programs for vulnerable populations, including the Supportive Housing for the Elderly and Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities programs.

    In terms of its core goal of outreach to communities, HUD CFBNP continues to offer its signature Capacity Building Training for Emerging Organizations series around the nation. These workshops help demystify the federal grant process and build organizational capacity. The series also addresses misconceptions surrounding partnerships between faith-based organizations and the government; helps non-profit organizations more effectively achieve economic empowerment and wealth creation for their communities; and educates faith-based and community organizations about HUD and federal grant opportunities.

    In day-long trainings, participants receive instruction from HUD staff on how to become more competitive for federal grants, how to become a nonprofit organization, and how to find and apply for funding. Using the HUD Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) process as a model, HUD CFBNP trainers show participants how to read the Federal Register, provide an overview of Grants.gov, help participants identify appropriate funding streams and potential partners for their program, and discuss other tools and skills necessary to prepare a successful grant.

  • Calling on Communities to Help Feed Children in Need

    With summer’s arrival, officials at the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are preparing for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This program ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. Free meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines are provided to all children 18 years old and under at approved SFSP sites in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.

    Our offices recently hosted a nationwide conference call to thank faith and community leaders for their work in this area and to inform them about efforts surrounding the SFSP this summer. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the call, challenging community leaders to strive for an aggressive, but attainable goal: serving an additional 10 million meals over the course of the summer to better reach our children in need. Secretary Vilsack discussed the need for children to be well-nourished, an essential part of our commitment to helping children learn and thrive. 

    Executive Director of “Let’s Move!” Sam Kass also joined the call to reinforce the message that our concerted efforts are vital to the success of summer feeding efforts. Callers were encouraged to rely on resources like the new USDA summer meals toolkit and websites that educate parents about their families’ options. 

    To discuss how to further amplify this call to action and for more information, visit www.summerfood.usda.gov. For more information on actual sites where SFSP meals are being served, click here to find summer sites serving meals. Alternatively, you may call 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (for Spanish speakers) to find a free, nutritious summer meal site near you. And for additional information on USDA partnerships, please visit www.usda.gov/partnerships.

    A special thanks to all of those who are committed to the success of SFSP 2014 and to helping children have a happy and healthy summer. 

    Melissa Rogers is Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Norah Deluhery directs USDA’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

  • Working with Faith and Community Leaders on My Brother’s Keeper

    In February, as part of his plan to make 2014 a year of action focused on expanding opportunity for all Americans, President Obama unveiled the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.

    During the launch, the President established the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, with a mandate to determine which public and private efforts are working and how to expand them; how the federal government can better support these efforts; and how to better involve state and local officials, the private sector, and the philanthropic community.

    Today, the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force released its 90-day report. This report includes key indicators that provide a comprehensive view of the environments and outcomes for boys and young men of color and their peers. It also contains recommendations on steps our society can take to begin to expand opportunity for all in areas including:

    • Entering school ready to learn
    • Reading at grade level by third grade
    • Graduating from high school ready for college and career
    • Completing post-secondary education or training
    • Successfully entering the workforce
    • Reducing violence and providing a second chance

    While the Administration is identifying programs and policies that work, the President is also calling on Americans interested in getting involved in My Brother’s Keeper to sign a pledge to become long-term mentors to young people at http://www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper. This effort will engage Americans from all walks of life to develop sustained and direct mentoring relationships that will play vital roles in the lives of young people. Faith and community leaders in particular know that all children need and deserve caring adults who are engaged in their lives.

    Today’s report is just the first step. In coming weeks and months, leading foundations will independently announce specific commitments to help ensure young people can succeed. 

    Further, the recommendations identified by the President’s Task Force mark the starting point of what will be a long-term effort—on the part of public, private, and philanthropic actors—that will continue well beyond this initial 90-day progress report. We look forward to continuing to work with faith and community leaders on these important issues.

    Melissa Rogers is Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. 

  • Protecting Religious Freedom

    Today is Religious Freedom Day, marking the anniversary of the passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which ultimately provided the inspiration and framework of the First Amendment’s religion clauses. In his Religious Freedom Day Proclamation President Obama calls on us to “celebrate America’s legacy of religious liberty” and “resolve once more to advance religious freedom in our time.”

    One way that the federal government seeks to ensure that these principles are put into practice is through enforcement of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  Passed by unanimous consent in 2000 with the support of a religiously and ideologically diverse coalition of groups, RLUIPA seeks to ensure religious freedom in two important areas:  the ability of religious communities to build places of worship and other religious institutions, and the ability of prisoners and other persons confined to institutions to continue to practice their faiths. 

    Prior to RLUIPA, Congress had found widespread discrimination against places of worship in local zoning decisions: discrimination against minority faiths, against Christian churches with members from racial minorities, and against smaller and newer churches.  Congress also found that places of worship as a category faced discrimination, excluded from zones where nonreligious places of assembly, like fraternal organizations, theaters, and community centers were permitted. 

    As Senator Orrin Hatch and the late Senator Edward Kennedy, RLUIPA’s Senate sponsors, noted:  “The right to assemble for worship is at the very core of the free exercise of religion.  Churches and synagogues cannot function without a physical space adequate to their needs and consistent with their theological requirements.”  Congress thus passed RLUIPA, which prevents discrimination against religious institutions in zoning and landmarking decisions, and also prevents application of these laws in ways that imposes a “substantial burden” on religious exercise without a compelling government reason.  Suits may be brought by the affected religious institutions or individuals, as well as by the Department of Justice.

    A Department of Justice report on the 10th anniversary of RLUIPA found that the law had a “dramatic impact in its first ten years on protecting the religious freedom of and preventing religious discrimination against individuals and institutions seeking to exercise their religions through construction, expansion, and use of property.”  The report noted that these cases represented a wide range of religious groups, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, people who practice Native American traditional religions, and many others, and arose in a wide range of settings, including churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, religious schools, prayer meetings in homes, and faith-based social services such as homeless shelters, group homes, and soup kitchens.

    RLUIPA’s land use protections continue to protect a wide range of religious institutions.   Recent cases include helping a small independent church in Mississippi and a large Hispanic Southern Baptist Church in Arizona  to locate in downtown areas on an equal basis with nonreligious assemblies; winning a consent decree to permit a Buddhist congregation  in Walnut, California to construct a temple; helping win the right for a small Hasidic Jewish congregation to locate in a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles; and obtaining a consent decree allowing an Islamic Center in Lomita, California, to replace its aging and inadequate complex with a single mosque building.  

    RLUIPA also protects the religious freedom rights of persons confined to prisons, jails, mental institutions and state-run nursing homes.  While security and other unique needs of such institutions will mean that people in them do not have all the freedoms they have outside of them, Senators Hatch and Kennedy noted that “some institutions restrict religious liberty in egregious and unnecessary ways” and that “prison officials sometimes impose frivolous or arbitrary rules” such as denying matzo bread to Jews at Passover or refusing to allow prisoners to wear small crosses that did not pose security risks.  In December 2013, the Department of Justice won a Preliminary Injunction against the State of Florida requiring it to offer Kosher meals to prisoners whose faith requires them, and the Department recently reached a consent decree with a county jail in South Carolina to allow prisoners to obtain religious texts, secondary religious materials, and religious items used in worship.

    The values embodied in RLUIPA are universal ideals.  Department of Justice attorneys have provided technical assistance on issues involving construction of places of worship to government officials in Spain, Indonesia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and other countries wrestling with these same issues.  In 2012, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee won the right to move into its new mosque with the help of a RLUIPA suit brought by the Department of Justice. On the day of the court decision, the mosque’s Imam, Sheikh Ossama Bahloul, remarked that America’s dedication to religious freedom can serve as a model for others around the world, and added:   “I think this is an opportunity for us all to celebrate the freedom and liberty that, in fact, exist in America and to teach our young people to believe even more in the U.S. Constitution.”

    Melissa Rogers is Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  Eric Treene is Special Counsel for Religious Discrimination at the Department of Justice.