Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Blog

  • Moving Forward on Faith-based and Neighborhood Advisory Council Recommendations

    Today the White House is issuing guidance for implementation of President Obama’s Executive Order 13559 setting forth fundamental principles and policymaking criteria for the social service partnerships the government forms with religious and other neighborhood organizations.  With this executive order, President Obama adopted many of the recommendations made by his first Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

     An extremely diverse group of leaders crafted these recommendations, including those representing the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Incarnate Word Foundation, the Interfaith Alliance, the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  While there are serious differences among these leaders on some church-state issues, the group was able to unite around a call for certain reforms of the partnerships the government forms with religious and secular nonprofits.  

    The White House report issued today provides agencies with additional guidance on how to implement these common-ground reforms.  For example, pursuant to the Advisory Council's recommendations, the guidance directs agencies to ensure that:

    • Standards regarding the relationship between religion and government are monitored and enforced in ways that avoid excessive entanglement between religious bodies and governmental entities;
    • Decisions about federal grants are free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization or lack thereof;
    • Beneficiaries of federally funded social services may receive services from a nonreligious provider if they object to receiving services from a religious provider;
    • Providers are given detailed and practical guidance regarding the principle that any explicitly religious activities they offer must be clearly separated, in time or location, from programs that receive direct federal support; subsidized with purely private funds, and completely voluntary for social service beneficiaries;
    • Social service intermediaries that disburse federal funds are instructed about their special obligations, and recipients of subawards are made aware of the church-state standards that apply to their use of federal aid;
    • Plans are developed to train government employees and grant recipients on the church-state rules that apply to these partnerships; and
    • Regulations, guidance documents, and policies that have implications for faith-based and neighborhood organizations are posted online, along with lists of organizations receiving federal financial assistance.

    As chair of the President's first Advisory Council, and a member of the Reform of the Office Taskforce, I would like to thank President Obama for embracing many of our recommendations and for this important step to implement them.  The President’s charge to create this detailed report demonstrates his understanding of the fact that these issues require careful consideration as well as his appreciation for freedoms that are cherished by Americans of all faiths and none.  As it forms partnerships to serve people in need, the government must respect church-state separation and religious liberty principles.  I look forward to continuing to work with the administration and other stakeholders to meet those goals.

    Melissa Rogers served as chair of President Obama’s first Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  She currently serves as director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School.



  • Creating Vital Partnerships

    CNCS Creating Vital Partnerships

    Members from Retired Military Officers Association learn about ways to partner with the White-House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships April 25, 2012.

    When looking for a group of dedicated individuals that are willing and able to provide assistance in the areas of employment, education, and wellness-- look no further than the Retired Military Officers Association (RMOA). Made up of military veterans who are now executives of successful small businesses, members of this organization are dedicated to serving and supporting veterans and military families.

    I had the pleasure of speaking to this organization, informing them of ways to partner with the White-House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, its 13 Partnership Centers across government, Joining Forces, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Members of RMOA were not only eager to learn more about these offices and initiatives, but by the end of our meeting the organization pledged to actively engage with our office.

    Several of our Centers are looking to expand their reach with RMOA’s membership and affiliates. The Small Business Administration’s microloan program, the Department of Education’s Together for Tomorrow school improvement initiative, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s summer feeding program, and the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Corporate Mentoring Challenge are all areas where RMOA can partner with the White-House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

  • Todos en la Mesa: Making Room for Everyone at the Table

    USDA Todos en la mesa

    Roxana Ulloa Barillas, Deputy Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Agriculture informs faith leaders of nutritious food options April 25, 2012.

    During a recent visit to Southern California, I met with key partners in USDA’s efforts to address hunger and make nutritious food affordable and available, particularly in low-income communities.

    More than one out of four Latino families in the United States is food insecure, and many do not know that CalFresh, the name for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in California, can help families put healthy food on the table. Latinos are now the fastest growing demographic group in the United States, and they face higher levels of both hunger and obesity.  Since almost half of Los Angeles County’s population is Latino, I was excited to share our new La Mesa Completa Community Leaders Tool Kit with faith leaders from the Catholic and Evangelical communities, as well as with nutrition advocates from Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

    I participated in the White House Hispanic Community Action Summit, where I met Margarita Fernandez, a member of Patton Alianza Coalition. She reminded me that in spite of the multiple challenges facing Latinos in the United States, there also are great treasures in the community. As a volunteer member of a coalition that focuses on public safety concerns, she shared how nutrition needs in the community was also high on her list of priorities. So, she got her hands dirty – literally! – and decided to start a community garden.  She even paid out of pocket to take classes at UC Davis Extension to become a Master Gardener. I was inspired by her commitment to bringing solutions to her community.

  • President Obama Welcomes Q to Washington

    Last week, evangelical leaders from churches, the non-profit sector, business, fashion and other sectors gathered in Washington for Q. They were welcomed to Washington by the President via a video message. In his remarks, the President thanked the leaders for their service to their communities, and talked about the role of government in supporting and supplementing their efforts.

    You can watch the video and read the President’s remarks below.

  • Improving Health Outcomes through Community Partnership

    HHS Improving Health Outcomes

    Dora Barilla, Director of Community Health Development, Loma Linda University Medical Center, shares their health system’s vision of community health at February's Improving Health Outcomes convening at HHS. March 16, 2012.


    At a mid-February convening at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Improving Health Outcomes through Faith-Based and Community Partnerships: Best Practices from Health Systems in the Field, senior leaders from 29 different hospital systems from across the country gathered to share best practices, experiences and emerging models for engaging communities as partners in health.

     This two-day event, following a first convening held September 20, was hosted by the HHS and White House Offices for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, with the support and cooperation of participating health systems. It was designed to tap the collective wisdom of innovators among health leaders addressing health disparities through community partnerships. 

    Participants shared an extraordinary exchange of ideas and their understanding of the complexities involved in delivering excellent care while serving to meet the community needs that affect better health outcomes.  The agenda considered how to set the stage for strategic community assessment and asset mapping, and how those assessments and assets inform the investment of community benefit dollars.  Participants also discussed how strong metrics for tracking data and evaluation can further support the case for community partnerships improving health outcomes.

    HHS Improving Health Outcomes

    Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, Senior VP for Community Health Education and Wellness and Chief Wellness Officer, Henry Ford Health System, presents their health system’s unique practices working with community partners to increase better health outcomes. March 16, 2012.


    Here are just a few of the exciting things participants shared during the meeting:

    The agenda and presentation materials can be found on the Methodist Healthcare Center for Excellence in Faith and Health’s website

    New collaborations and conversations are already forming to advance the work of partnering with communities with a focus on health assets to reduce health disparities.  The value in sharing and adapting best practices was illustrated when folks from IU Health related how they were able to move forward with plans for a $5 million new health center after presenting data based on new asset mapping techniques gleaned from an earlier conversation.  The collaborative is “shifting the paradigm from return on investment to return on life,” according toDora Barilla, Director of the Loma Linda Community Health Development.

    Send any comments or ideas to Partnerships @ and sign up for our newsletter at

    Alexia Kelley is Director and Heidi Christensen is Associate Director for Community Engagement at the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

  • Muslim and Jewish Students Unite to Help Survivors

    Muslim and Jewish Students from NYU build

    Bridges’ students install siding on one of the new homes being built for tornado survivors Photo by: Tim Burkitt-FEMA March 1, 2012. (by Tim Burkitt-FEMA)

    Muslim and Jewish Students from NYU w/ David Myers

    Pratt City, AL: Rev. David L. Myers (blue jacket), director of the DHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, visits with Bridges- Ariel Ennis, executive board member; Chelsea Garbell, president; and Fatima Kutty, executive board member; at the Habitat for Humanity building site. Photo by: Tim Burkitt-FEMA March 1, 2012. (by FEMA photo-Tim Burkitt)

     The recent deadly tornadoes that went through several Midwestern states in February and March serve as a reminder of the official beginning of tornado season. 

    The recent tornadoes also are a harsh reminder of April 2011, when at least 173 tornadoes, thunderstorms, and severe winds ripped through the south, killing more than 300 and causing widespread destruction throughout several states.    

     Recently 16 students – nine Jewish and seven Muslim -- from New York University assembled in Birmingham to lend their hands to recovery efforts.

    The twisters leveled neighborhoods and left thousands homeless, with more than a million people without power. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it was the worst tornado outbreak since 1974.

     President Obama called the loss of life "heartbreaking," and promised survivors the full support of the federal government. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency provided federal disaster aid to Alabama and several other affected states.

     The students from Bridges: Muslim Jewish Interfaith Dialogue at NYU,, partnered with the New York-based Jewish Disaster Response Corps (JDRC) to participate in rebuilding efforts working with Habitat for Humanity. Accompanying the students were Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna.

     The trip to Birmingham was Bridges’ service initiative as part of President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

    Importance of Voluntary and Faith-based Organizations

     Following any disaster, survivors depend on voluntary and faith-based organizations to assist in recovery efforts. “Rebuilding becomes the responsibility of the local community, which does not always have the financial needs to address concerns,” said Elie Lowenfeld, JDRC founder and director who also accompanied the students.

     Chelsea Garbell, president of Bridges and a junior at NYU, said the main purpose of the trip was to facilitate religious dialogue. "When we engage in religious dialogue and service work, we strengthen relationships among ourselves, and through those relationships we are able to provide invaluable assistance to the communities we encounter."  She added that while in some areas there is animosity between Muslims and Jews, “if we can learn from one another, and develop an understanding of our similarities and differences, we can stand together as human beings in an effort to better the world around us.”

     Fatima Kutty, a Bridges executive board member who hopes to go to medical school after graduation, said she enjoys working in an interfaith environment, and through “amazing conversations,” she has learned a lot about the Jewish religion and its people.  She added, “Once relationships are established people are less likely to discriminate.”

     Lowenfeld said that the trip was a unique opportunity for members of NYU’s Muslim and Jewish communities to develop meaningful relationships with each other, as well as provide service and hope to disaster survivors.

     According to Rev. David L. Myers, director of the DHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the students’ work in assisting recovery efforts exemplify the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships’ goals of fostering interreligious dialogue and cooperation, while also advancing the whole community approach to emergency management.

     For additional information, go to

     Terry Monrad is Executive Officer at the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security