Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Blog

  • Finding Jobs in the Mile-High City

    On a radiant summer morning in Denver this week, the magic of faith-based partnerships was on full display throughout a historic small church.  In one of the three rooms at Agape Christian Church, children from the neighborhood were enjoying a nutritious breakfast thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Feeding program. In the adjoining room, community members were working together at the computer lab, refining their resumes and discussing their job searches.

    Job Club event at Agape Christian Church

    Community leaders gathered at Agape Christian Church, housed in a building marking its 125th year, to learn about job clubs and explore new partnerships, August 1, 2012. (Photo by Ashley Gerwitz)

    And in the last room at the church—the historic sanctuary built in 1887—the Department of Labor’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership was hosting a Job Clubs and Career Ministries Symposium with 100 community leaders from across the Front Range.

    For the past year-and-a-half, our center has been building civic partnerships with job clubs, career ministries, and job networking and support groups based at congregations, community centers, and coffee shops. Through these partnerships, we connect job clubs to the public workforce system overseen by the Department of Labor and others. We also work with community leaders interested in starting up new job clubs. Finally, we provide a venue at where job club practitioners and others can find and communicate with each other and download tools and information.

  • At First Meeting, President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Takes Up Issue of Human Trafficking

    President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

    The President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships meets in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 31, 2012. From left: The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church; Council Chair Susan K. Stern, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Jewish Federations of North America; and Joshua DuBois, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. July 31, 2012. (by Millicent Cripe)

    Every year tens of millions of people around the world are victims of human trafficking.

    Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where traffickers profit from the control and exploitation of other people.  It fundamentally boils down to somebody held in compelled service for someone else’s profit-- from commercial sex to forced labor.  Every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people around the world – including right here in the United States.

    The issue of trafficking in persons and modern day slavery will be the focus of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  This year’s President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships held its first meeting Monday and Tuesday, July 30-31st at the White House.  The Advisory Council is a group of diverse religious and non-profit leaders appointed to give recommendations to government on forming effective partnerships with faith-based and community groups. 

    “Here is what trafficking looks like in the real world,” Alison Friedman, Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, shared in opening remarks, “It’s a kid who was forced to dive for fish since he was five—beaten over the head with oars if he surfaces too quickly and when he makes it to the shelter and is taught to sing ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It,’ but he doesn’t know how to smile.  It’s a woman in Texas forced into prostitution by a group of men who targeted single mothers through their children’s daycare. It’s the boy I met in Northern Thailand who became a child soldier because he could not come up with a $14 bribe to pay off the police, so they sold him.”

  • Partnering for Good

    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!

  • White House Honors Fatherhood Champions of Change

    Attorney General Eric Holder Addresses Fatherhood Champions of Change

    Attorney General Eric Holder addresses the Fatherhood Champions of Change and attendees at the White House event. The Attorney General shared that the most important job he has had is being a dad to his three children. (Photo by Jarred Reiling)

    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

  • Faith-Based Group Rebuilds Alabama Church Following 2011 Tornadoes

    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.

    Boligee Church, Destroyed

    The Christian Valley Baptist Church in Boligee, AL, a small African American congregation, was destroyed by a tornado in April 2011. (Photo courtesy of David L. Myers)


    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.”

    Boligee Church, Rebuilt

    Christian Valley Baptist Church, rebuilt. (Photo courtesy of David Myers)

    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.


  • Summer Food Service Program Fills Need at Healing Waters Center in Colorado

    Under Secretary Kevin Concannon (left) meets Senior Pastor Joseito Velasquez, Healing Waters Family Center (center) and Dr. Danny Carroll, a board member of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

    Under Secretary Kevin Concannon (left) meets Senior Pastor Joseito Velasquez, Healing Waters Family Center (center) and Dr. Danny Carroll, a board member of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. (Photo from USDA)

    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.