Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Blog
- Posted byon July 10, 2012 at 5:12 PM EST
In March 2011,President Obama launched the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. At its core is a simple, but powerful premise: When students from diverse religious backgrounds come together to serve their communities, they learn more about one another in the process. For example, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and secular college students partnering together, across religious lines, on a Habitat for Humanity house building project; or students from a single-faith campus restocking a food bank with a local house of worship of a different faith.
We are thrilled that over 270 schools from around the country met the Challenge by holding year-long service initiatives at their institutions. Yesterday and today, college students and representatives from schools across the country convened at Howard University to recognize the great work that has taken place, share best practices and encourage schools to keep the good work going into the coming year.
Amazing work has taken place on campuses across the country, stories like:
- At the United States Air Force Academy, the Interfaith Student Council – a group of Christian, Muslim and Jewish students – worked together with a local food bank to package food for more than 32,000 needy families.
- Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania enlisted diverse students from all three of its campuses (Newtown, Perkasie, and Bristol) to focus on poverty, diversity, and environmental issues with programs from pond and creek clean-ups, to a Habitat for Humanity house build.
- Despite their historic rivalry, students from diverse religious backgrounds at Georgetown University and Syracuse University teamed up to raise over $2000 and gather over 1300 pounds of food to support the local food pantry AND announced their accomplishments at halftime of the two school’s NCAA basketball game!
- Posted byon June 29, 2012 at 2:19 PM EST
The White House initiative Champions of Change honors Americans who have strengthened their communities. The initiative seeks to solicit their ideas, hear of their successes and learning experiences, and harness their passion in order to maximize their potential to promote change across the country.
Last week, the White House focused on fatherhood in support of President Obama’s Fatherhood & Mentoring Initiative and in celebration of Father's Day. Each of the ten Champions of Change honorees contributed incredible work in the fields of fatherhood in communities of low-income men and boys.
The event had an air of enthusiasm, as it was well-attended by many key stakeholders within the cause of advancing fatherhood and mentorship among children without fathers. In addition to the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made appearances to share their thoughts in honoring the Champions. Check out the event here.
- Posted byon June 28, 2012 at 4:56 PM EST
Tornadoes and fires hold more in common than being disasters: they can also make good neighbors.
This is uniquely true in Boligee, AL, a small rural town near the Mississippi border, and Hartville, OH, near Akron. It's a great story of faith communities helping each other -- and it has a beautiful twist at the end.
The story begins in and around Boligee in 1996, when four African American churches burned to the ground. Though it has never been proven, many suspect the fires were related to racial tension. Volunteers from around the world rebuilt the four churches -- including Little Zion Baptist Church -- with the assistance of Quakers and Mennonites.
Fast forward to April 27, 2011, when tornadoes tore through central Alabama, killing 139 people and destroying billions of dollars of property, including the Christian Valley Baptist Church in Boligee, home of a small African American congregation.
ROPE OF HOPE
The Rev. Tracy Giles, Christian Valley’s pastor, didn’t know what to do. Insurance would cover $165,000, but estimates to rebuild the church exceeded $500,000. Pastor Giles heard about Mennonite Disaster Service and sat down over coffee with one of its coordinators, Jerry Klassen. Pastor Giles told Klassen, “I need a thread of hope.”
Klassen responded, “I can throw you a rope of hope.”
Klassen contacted Maple Grove Mennonite Church in Hartville, and soon skilled volunteers from several Hartville churches were making regular treks to Boligee. On Sunday, June 3, 2012, six months after the start of the rebuilding, Christian Valley Baptist Church commemorated its new opening; total cost was $160,000.
“It was God reaching across the borderline,” said Deacon Willie Cain.
The Rev. David L. Myers, a Mennonite minister and director of the DHS/FEMA Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships, who participated in the dedication ceremony, said it was a mutual opportunity for service. “Christian Valley Baptist cannot be itself without a church to worship in, and Mennonite churches cannot be themselves without a service project.”
And here's the beautiful twist: one of the biggest challenges faced every year by thousands of disaster volunteers is finding housing during their time of service. That wasn't the case for the volunteers rebuilding Happy Valley Baptist Church.
Remember Little Zion Baptist Church, which was burned and rebuilt in 1996? That same church provided housing for more than 80 volunteers who traveled more than 800 miles from Hartville to Boligee.
Disasters of all kinds can indeed make good neighbors.
The Rev. David L. Myers is the Director of the Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships.
- Posted byon June 26, 2012 at 4:06 PM EST
Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the USDA Blog.
As part of the national Summer Food Service Program Kickoff (SFSP) Week June 11-15, I was in Denver, Colorado, and visited two great Colorado SFSP sites.
One of those sites was in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, just west of downtown Denver. Healing Waters Family Center has a 90 percent Hispanic congregation. Last summer, after participating in a webinar co-sponsored by USDA and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), Healing Waters became an SFSP sponsor for the first time and had a very positive experience.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to share a conference call with Pastor Joseito Velasquez, the pastor at Healing Waters. On that call, we spoke to reporters about the program.
Something Pastor Velasquez said on the call really showed why the summer food service program is so critical. He said, “For the two months that our site was open last year, parents brought their children in for plates of food. Not only did they ask for food, but also for spiritual and community help they needed. We were able to help them here and also refer them to other agencies in the county. So we became a liaison for the community, and all this was possible thanks to the Summer Food Program, which has been a blessing.
White House, Department of Education, Corporation for National and Community Service Continue the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus ChallengePosted byon June 26, 2012 at 3:30 PM EST
Last year, over 400 campuses responded to President Obama's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Launched in March 2011, this challenge calls for campuses to advance interfaith service and interfaith engagement over the course of one year. Over 250 of those campuses organized successful interfaith service and interfaith engagement events with over 50,000 people reporting involvement – and that was only at the half-way point!
Because of the overwhelming response to this initiative, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Corporation for National and Community Service are proud to continue the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. All institutions of higher education across the country are invited to join this initiative to make interfaith service a national priority. Additionally, on July 9-10, 2012 in Washington, DC, all institutions of higher education are invited to come to celebrate the accomplishments of the Challenge, to gain useful information about organizing interfaith/community service at your institution, and to network and learn from others along with key leaders from President Obama’s administration.
Campus communities have been taking the lead through the creation of new interfaith partnerships, large-scale days of interfaith service, and student-led campaigns for interfaith action. For example, Grambling State University in Louisiana trained the entire first year class of 800 in issues of disaster preparedness. Despite their historic rivalry, students from Georgetown University and Syracuse University teamed up to raise over $2000 and gather over 1300 pounds of food to support the local food pantry (announcing their accomplishments at halftime of the two school’s NCAA basketball game!).
- Posted byon June 26, 2012 at 3:04 PM EST
As the keynote speaker, I had the honor and privilege of representing the White House Office of Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships at the Harlem Parole Reentry Graduation last week. The graduation event celebrated the accomplishment of formerly incarcerated individuals as they successfully transitioned back to their neighborhoods after receiving community-based services and intensive monitoring from the program.
Thirty-eight formerly incarcerated individuals shared the proud moment together as they took the first steps to rise above becoming a statistic. As the Parole Reentry Court’s website explains, graduates of the program are less likely to be re-convicted than formerly incarcerated individuals on standard parole—a rate of 19 percent lower, to be exact.
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