Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Blog

  • 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

  • Let's Move!: Faith and Community Groups Lead the Way!

    Faith and community groups are leading the way! That was the theme of First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech celebrating the second anniversary of Let’s Move! last weekend. The First Lady visited Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Florida as part of her three-day anniversary tour celebrating the nationwide initiative she launched to end childhood obesity in a generation. At the event, the First Lady spoke to over 3,000 Let’s Move Faith and Communities supporters of diverse backgrounds, including congregants, community members, and leaders from 120 congregations and organizations in the Central Florida area, representing 15 different faiths and denominations. The First Lady was graciously welcomed by Dr. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, and Mrs. Becky Hunter.

    The First Lady thanked everyone for the critical work faith-based and neighborhood organizations do to support the health of children in their communities. And to highlight the great work these groups are engaged in across the country, the First Lady announced the Communities on the Move video challenge, telling the crowd, “whatever you do, I want to know about it.” She invited national and local faith-based and community groups from all corners of the country to create inspiring videos about their efforts to reverse the trend of childhood obesity. The video challenge recognizes community efforts that promote healthy lifestyles for kids in three areas: by encouraging nutritious eating through USDA’s MyPlate icon, increasing physical activity, and ensuring access to healthy, affordable foods. Winners will be invited to Washington, D.C. for a Let’s Move! event where they will have a special opportunity to showcase their video.

    “America’s faith communities play a crucial role in guiding and strengthening not only our spiritual health, but our emotional and physical health as well,” the First Lady said. “Over the past two years, I’ve been inspired by all of the faith leaders and congregations who have taken action to get active and eat healthier, and so we’re launching our Let’s Move! video contest to highlight some of the best examples. I know there’s so much incredible work being done – and I can’t wait to hear some of these stories first-hand at the White House.”

    Be sure to check out more Let’s Move Faith and Communities success stories for additional ideas on getting active, healthy eating, and making healthy food affordable and accessible to your community. To sign up and join our network of supporters, please visit us online.

    Ari Schoenholtz is a Program Analyst at the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.



  • Join the (Job) Clubs!

    During the past month, the Partnerships Center at the Department of Labor has taken their Job Clubs Initiative on the road, hosting regional events in Kansas City, Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Grand Rapids. The events promote the efforts of local faith and community-based employment support groups in getting Americans back to work. They also facilitate partnerships between these job clubs and public and private partners, such as the workforce investment system, community foundations, and employers.

    In Kansas City, MO the DOL Center held the event at St. James United Methodist Church, the congregation of Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, where his son, Emanuel Cleaver III serves as senior pastor. The event brought together job club coordinators, faith leaders, nonprofits, government agencies, and employers from across the Kansas City, KC and MO metro region. The local Fox news station covered the event, which you can view here.

    In Minneapolis, MN Deputy Secretary of Labor, Seth D. Harris, joined the DOL Partnerships Center at Temple Israel synagogue for an event that featured the work of seven congregation and nonprofit based job clubs in the Twin Cities metro area. Rev. Rodney Anderson, Senior Chaplain at Gustavus Adolphus College and long-time job club leader shared a tip that one of his job clubs has used: a “Book of Jobs” that catalogs all the employers and open job positions associated with members of the congregation. Deputy Secretary Harris, who was introduced by Representative Keith Ellison, delivered remarks to the assembled audience of more than 150 people about President Obama's new proposals for job training. You can view a slideshow of photos from the event visit here.

  • Honoring Unsung Heroes During Black History Month

    During Black History Month, we pause to salute and reflect on the contributions African Americans have made to the rich fabric that makes up the United States. There are many untold stories that reveal the best of Americans who stepped up when duty called, broke color barriers, or quietly made their communities better one person at a time.

    In tribute, President Obama recently invited six special senior citizens to visit the White House to honor as unsung heroes. These unsung heroes are individuals who strengthen their communities through extraordinary everyday acts of service done with reliability and commitment, but who seldom receive recognition. 

    Among those who visited with President Obama were pioneers in the struggle for racial equality, educators who changed their communities through the classroom, and people who believe that a lifetime serving others is a life well spent.

  • USDA Sponsors Conference Call with Faith-based Community on Summer Food Service Program

    Help Us Feed Kids During the Summer  


    Help us feed the kids during the summer-emblem

    Join the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to learn more about how you can help feed children next summer and hear the benefits to being a part of the Summer Food Service Program!

    USDA FNS 2012 Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) Introductory Webinar

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program can help to fill the summer meal gap for low-income children.  Faith-based, community and private non-profit organizations can make a difference in the lives of hungry children by serving meals with SFSP, a federally funded program administered by states that reimburses organizations for meals served to children during the summer. USDA FNS will be providing webinar sessions, including an overview of the SFSP, resources and tools available to help get started with the SFSP, successful outreach practices and tips, and how to get involved.

    Session Description: This webinar session is designed to provide a high level overview of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Following the overview of the SFSP, the session will cover resources and tools available to help get started with the SFSP, successful outreach practices and tips, next steps and how to get involved, and then the session will open for questions and answers with USDA FNS staff.

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012: 2:00pm – 3:00pm Eastern Time

    Especially for: Faith-Based Organizations


    Registration Link:


    Additional sessions:

    Thursday, 2/23/12, 3:00pm – 4:00pm EST - Public Session

    Thursday, 3/8/12, 3:00pm – 4:00pm EST - Public Session

    Tuesday, 3/13/12, 11:00am - 12:00pm EST - Public Session

    Wednesday, 3/21/12, 1:00pm – 2:00pm EST - Public Session

    Tuesday, 3/27/12, 4:00pm – 5:00pm EST - Public Session


    Help us feed Kids this summer-Food Fun and Sun winner

    The Boys and Girls Clubs of Ada County in Boise, ID was a SFSP Story & Photo Contest Winner: "Food, Fun and Sun!" Clubs served lunch and snack daily to over 45 teens age 12-18 at two different sites.

  • USDA Commemorates the “New Year of the Trees”

    USDA Commemorates the “New Year of the Trees”

    United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman (left), next to the freshly planted Dawn Redwood for the Celebration of Tu B’Shevat “The New Year of the Trees” event. February 8, 2012. (by Lance Cheung)

    It is written in the Talmud – a central text of Judaism – that ‘just as my parents planted for me, so I will plant for my children.’ Here at USDA, we’re planting trees across the country and in Israel to bring the wide-ranging benefits of trees, both ecological and spiritual, to future generations.

    Today, USDA Natural Resources and Environment Under Secretary Harris Sherman planted a tree next to the USDA’s Washington DC headquarters in commemoration of Tu B’Shevat, “The New Year of the Trees.” This event brought together the local Jewish community and government leaders alike to share their common bond of conserving our natural resources and leaving a healthier world for the next generation.

    Also in attendance were Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Terry Bellamy, Director of the District of Columbia Department of Transportation.  Rabbi Levi Shemtov offered remarks, and students from Washington DC’s Jewish Primary Day School. The local school children were able to partake in the holiday and learn about the importance of urban trees

    students join USDA Commemorating the “New Year of the Trees”

    3rd Grade Class of the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capitol sing “the Almond Tree is Blossoming” to the attendees, during the Celebration of Tu B’Shevat “The New Year of the Trees” event February 8, 2012. (by Lance Cheung)

    After planting the dawn redwood, Sherman took the opportunity to highlight the importance of urban trees in both Israel and the United States. Sherman oversees the U.S. Forest Service, an agency that has more than a century of experience in managing America’s national forests and helping to sustain the nation’s forests for the benefit of generations to come. This week, other Obama Administration officials planted trees in Arizona , Colorado, and Israel as part of this commemoration.

    USDA has been working with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) on many forest-related issues—for Israel and other parts of the Middle East face many similar challenges in that arena.

    Ultimately, we must continue to work together to protect our urban green spaces for future generations.  Our partnership with JNF has produced great results, and we look forward to working with them for many years to come.

    Tree planting USDA Commemorates the “New Year of the Trees”

    United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman (left), District Department of Transportation Director Terry Bellamy (2nd from right), White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley (right) begin to apply a layer of mulch to the freshly planted Dawn Redwood for the Celebration of Tu B’Shevat “The New Year of the Trees” event on the District of Columbia western lawn next to the USDA Headquarters, Whitten Building at 14th Street and Independence Ave SW, Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, February 8, 2012. February 8, 2012. (by Lance Cheung)

    Max Finberg serves as Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.