Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Blog

  • 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.

  • White House, Department of Education, Corporation for National and Community Service Continue the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge

    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!).

  • Formerly Incarcerated Individuals Transition Back to Life in Harlem

    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.

  • Confronting High Blood Pressure Through Public-Private Partnerships

    Acacia Bamberg Salatti at AMEC Health Commission Launch

    Acacia Bamberg Salatti addresses a group of faith, community, health, and business leaders at AMEC Manage BP launch.

    Heart disease and stroke are the first and fourth leading causes of death in the United States, respecitvely. Responsible for 1 of every 3 deaths in the country, heart disease is an even greater risk in the African American community. Although African American adults are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure, they are 10% less likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to have their blood pressure under control.

    To help reduce this health disparity, Manage BP with is the African American Episcopal Church (AMEC) Health Commission’s groundbreaking hypertension prevention initiative. Designed to leverage technology to reduce hypertension rates and to improve health outcomes, the program utilizes the church’s web-based platform——to deliver health education messages, disseminate health information, collect patient-generated data, and provide peer support.

    The Manage BP with campaign will initially involve 10 AME churches in the New York City metropolitan area and will reach more than 20,000 congregants. The launch is just the beginning of a larger program, which will expand to include 4,000 AME churches across the nation.

  • Together for Tomorrow

    We've been overwhelmed with the positive response to our Together for Tomorrow (TFT) initiative, which is advancing community partnerships to propel school improvement. TFT is being led by the U.S. Department of Education, working with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

    Since we launched TFT at the end of February, we've had hundreds of people join us for local TFT Town Halls, where we spotlight examples of effective school-community partnerships and help catalyze new efforts. Community and faith organizations, schools, and others are embracing the vision of TFT: to celebrate and inspire community and family engagement in education; strengthen the capacity of low-performing schools to manage partnerships; and focus partnerships on the ABCs - Attendance, Behavior, Course performance, and College access.