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The Faith-Based Community Action Model - The FBCA Model Torna agli editoriali

Terry Tirrito

College of Social Work, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, United States

The basic philosophy of this article is that faith-based organizations should be and can be involved in community action programs. From the literature, practice wisdom, and current political trends, it is clear that faith-based organizations can fill an essential role in providing programs and services to local communities.

The Faith-Based Community Action Model is a method that faith-based organizations can use to develop community action programs. Adapted from community organization principles, this twelve-step model provides faith-based organizations with a step-by-step plan for community action programs. In an effort to identify the variations in perceptions of different position-holders regarding the need for faith-based programs, the author met with church leaders, congregation members and agency leaders. During discussions with these various groups, the conversation often moved to: How does a church implement community action programs? Community planning models in the social work literature present several approaches for assessment and identification of community needs and for empowering community groups into social action. (Rothman, 1979, Weil and Gamble, 1995). Some scholars believe that church members, church leaders, social activists or academics should take responsibility for developing and initiating community action programs in faith-based organizations( Wineburg, 2001). Church leaders, academics and social activists are important in the process, but a significant barrier for these community activists has been the absence of a method to develop community action programs. The Faith-Based Community Action model (FBCA) was developed for this purpose. Although the FBCA model illustrates the development of community action programs for older adults, it is a model that can be used to develop faith-based community action programs for any constituency.

Religion and Community Action Programs
The social importance of religion has been debated for centuries. Philosopher Emile Durkheim describes religion as "something eminently social" (Durkheim, 1915, p.22). Durkheim believed that religious organizations have a function "to help us live" and that "nearly all the great social institutions have been born in religion" (p.466). Historically, religion has been intertwined with social institutions and the church was a provider of services for the poor, the elderly, the orphaned, and the needy. Simmons (1991) states that it would be immoral not to help those in need. Moberg (1962) describes the function of the church as a social institution that supports and reinforces the functions of other basic institutions in society. If local citizens, clergy, agency planners, or scholars choose to look closely at the evolution of human services in communities across the United States, they would find that the path has been laid for bringing religious, government, and private non-profit agencies to the planning table (Wineburg, P.32).

The devolution revolution indicates a trend in governments, both national and state, to move the provision of social services to the local level but local communities can not afford to provide services (Sherman & Viggiani, 1996), Religious organizations can provide these services.

Faith-Based Organizations, Social Services and Older Adults
In the United States there are 34,933,000 persons over 65 years of age and 4,368,000 over 85 years of age, with 68,000 persons over 100 years of age (U.S.Census, 2000). Eighty percent of persons 65 and older are members of a church or synagogue, and 52 percent attend church at least once a week (Koenig and Weaver, 1998). Some studies report a strong link between religiosity and life satisfaction (Koenig, Smiley and Gonzales, 1988). Religious older persons are happier, have better coping mechanisms and better physical and mental health (Johnson, 1995). Koenig and colleagues documented the positive association between religion and health, particularly mental health, in studies from Duke University (Koenig, 1995). The literature is clear that clergy are very often the first persons contacted when families are in crisis (Gulledge, 1992).
A review of the literature clearly documents the importance of the church in the lives of older adults and the reluctance of older adults to use current community social services (especially community mental health services) (Koenig and Weaver 1998) and their willingness to use social services in their religious organizations. In one study over 70 percent of the older adult respondents reported a willingness to attend programs at their places of worship (Tirrito and Amado, 2000).

Koenig, George & Schneider (1994) found that older adults infrequently use community mental health services and consequently, older adults are more likely to go untreated for depression, dementia, and alcohol and drug abuse. While 10 percent to 30 percent of older adults have emotional problems that are reversible when treated, less than 20 percent of older adults with a mental health diagnosis receive treatment. This treatment can be provided by mental health clinics in places where older adults are comfortable. In 1957 and 1976 seminal studies reported that high church attendees were more open to the use of professional help for psychological problems. Older persons (aged 55 and over) who attended church regularly were more likely to accept formal help for problems. The researchers reasoned that devout elderly persons may have a trusting relationship with members of the clergy (Veroff, Kulka, & Douvan, 1981).The church has a long history of support and aid to social problems (Taylor, 1993; Tobin, Ellor and Anderson-Ray, 1986).

It seems logical that since religious institutions serve an important role in the lives of older persons, the church is the ideal place to provide these social services. The programs traditionally provided by community social agencies such as family counseling, mental health counseling, crisis counseling, support groups, respite services, educational programs, caregiver training, and a variety of health and nutritional programs can be made available by faith-based organizations. With an increase in the aging population and the gap created by cuts in public funding, the religious organization can play a critical role in filling this gap as a service provider for older adults. As stated by Simmons (1991), "If we don't, who will? The church has a moral responsibility to provide for its community."

Faith -Based Human Services and Programs
Religious organizations are sometimes defined as ontological communities that symbolize communities of meaning. Ontological communities often become the heart of a community (Bruggemann, 2002). Ontological religious communities are cultural, social, and ethnic centers for members of particular groups such as Muslims, Jews, Asians, or African Americans. Ontological communities can supplement missing components of modern life. When primary social systems fail, ontological communities fill the gap. In some cities of the Northeast, the bulk of social services are provided by religious organizations (Bruggemann, 2000).

Billingsley (1999) surveyed nearly a thousand black churches across the country to examine social service activities provided by African-American churches. He found a variety of programs including family support, parenting, substance abuse, youth-at-risk, role-modeling, job training, and financial assistance. The Brookland Baptist Church of South Carolina developed a credit union to provide funds for its members to start small minority businesses (personal communication, 2001). In the black community religion is a major social, political, and economic force.

In ethnic neighborhoods the religious organization actively helps immigrants from various ethnic groups to adapt to a new culture (Choi,.& Tirrito,. 1999). The religious organization serves as a community center providing social services for new families and a place where friendships and links are formed to ease adjustment into the new culture. Immigrants prefer help from religious organizations rather than government agencies (Choi,.& Tirrito, 1999). Religious organizations support and build housing for the elderly, the handicapped, and the poor. In cities and in rural areas religious organizations provide new homes, housing loans, and refurbished housing. Faith-based organizations support and staff day care programs, respite care programs and shelters.
Several examples of faith-based social services in the literature include New York City's Partnership for the Homeless, started in 1982, by a handful of religious leaders. It addresses the needs of the overwhelming number of homeless persons in the city. The Oakhurst Baptist Church in Atlanta inspired over seventy other congregations to provide services for the homeless in Atlanta. Catholic orders of nuns and brothers provide church-based services for people with mental health problems including Alzheimer's disease, child welfare programs and health services. The First Baptist Church in Philadelphia provides Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs for an average of five hundred persons a day (Cnaan, 1999). An innovative program is the Willow Creek program which offers an active car-repair service. Weekend repairmen repair the cars of fellow parishioners who cannot afford professional services. In 1993 this congregation gave away eighty-five automobiles to poor single mothers (Cnaan, 1999). A county program in Tampa provides grants to local service agencies and churches, such as St. Joseph's Episcopal Church and the AME church, from funds that are confiscated in drug arrests. The funds are given to the churches for special equipment such as computers or playground equipment. As of May 2001, $28,000 had been given to schools (personal communication, 2001).

Resources of Religious Organizations
In the United States, religious communities are involved in social service programs "to a degree unimagined and unacknowledged" (Cnaan, 1999 p. 157).

The Protestant church, the Catholic church, Buddhist temples and Muslim mosques can play vital roles in providing social services to congregations and communities. Rozen developed a typology of churches and describes some congregations as Civic-Oriented (Wineburg, 2001).The FBCA model helps civic-oriented churches and community leaders to develop collaborative partnerships in their communities. Seven assets that a faith community can offer to its community partners are:

1. Mission to Serve - Faith communities bring a mission to help those in need.
2. Pool of Volunteers - Communication through sermons and newsletters and committee structure with missions to help those in need.
3. Sacred Space - Usable space for community meetings and community activities.
4. Funding Potential - Raising funds for designated causes.
5. Political Strength - Large numbers of people.
6. Moral Authority - Moral influence and a value system.
7. Creativity and Experimentation - Partnerships can encourage experimentation and creative programs.
Wineburg, 2001 p. 3

Faith-based organizations can develop programs that prevent, intervene and ameliorate social problems, for example, bereavement groups, divorce, care giving, drug and alcohol abuse support groups. Some religious places provide space for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (Cnaan, 1999). Religious places can be used as counseling centers, respite programs, support groups and or referral centers. They can offer educational programs for health promotion and nutritional or exercise programs.

Most religious congregations include professionals from various disciplines such as medicine, nursing, law, business, pharmacy, social work and allied health disciplines. These people can be invaluable to a community action program based in a religious organization. In the United States, religious communities are involved in social service programs "to a degree unimagined and unacknowledged" (Cnaan, 1999 p. 157) but many more can become involved. The question is: How do we begin?

Community Planning
Comprehensive local planning is essential in building partnerships with religious organizations. Wineburg (2001) urges the academic community to participate in faith-based community programs and recommends areas of research to develop partnerships. He suggests studies to provide information on:

1. Understanding emerging and historical partnerships at the local level between the religious community and social service providers.
2. Learning more about the capacity of congregations and faith-based charities to handle more service responsibilities and building those capacities.
3. Deciphering the process by which faith-based organizations choose to become involved in volunteering and providing other resources for community projects.
4. Evaluating the effectiveness of involvement in community projects for the client, faith-based organizations, other members of the partnership, and the local community.
5. Determining outcomes -- whether the effort solved, managed, or prevented the problems it was designed to tackle.
6. Understanding and delineating the roles and functions of faith-based organizations.
7. Determining training requirements.
8. Measuring costs of service and contributions of volunteers and other in-kind resources.
9. Understanding how the interaction of the efforts noted above contribute to local policy development.
10. Comparing different communities in order to develop new and testable policy theory.
Source: Wineburg,2001 p.48-49

Community action planning models vary and include the social planning models, the community liaison models, and the community development models. Congregational decisions in community social issues are not random ones and "a social ministry requires a need to be identified and that someone, usually a leader in the congregation advocates for a service to be delivered and developed" (Cnaan, 1999 p. 239). Random selection of programs is haphazard. Planning is essential for community action programs.
In a Philadelphia study researchers found that those persons who were most influential in initiating social service programs were the clergy (49.44%), followed by individual members (33.71%), congregational committees (16.85%), and staff members (14.61%) (Cnaan, 1999).

The Faith Based Community Action model includes:
" concepts from the above planning models;
" methods that are useful in faith-based organizations involved in community action planning;
" concepts relating specifically to the implementation of community action plans for faith-based organizations; and
" approaches to determining community views.

Determining Community Views
Determining community views is critical to community action planning for faith-based organizations. A planning model cannot be successful without input from community members and an assessment of the community's needs. Three community group approaches are commonly referred to in the literature to determine community views. One of these approaches can be used to achieve consensus regarding community needs.

1. Community Forum. This approach consists of an open meeting to which all members of the community are invited and at which all participants are urged to present their views regarding the human service needs in a particular social service area.

2. Nominal Group Approach. The nominal group approach is principally a non-interactive workshop designed to maximize creativity and productivity and to minimize the argumentative style of problem-solving and competitive discussion.

In this format a select group of community residents is invited to share group subject views regarding community needs or to identify barriers to relevant, effective human service delivery in a social service area. The nominal group approach is most appropriate to obtain citizen and consumer input into the need assessment and program planning process.

3. Delphi Approach. This approach to need identification includes the development of a questionnaire, which is distributed to a panel of resource persons and/or a select group of community residents whose opinions on a particular issue or issues are highly valued. From their responses, a perspective can be derived regarding the human service needs of the community. This technique is quite useful and most appropriate when respondents have a minimal amount of time available for an identification effort.

Another popular method for determining community ideas is the Community Impressions Method. Three steps to this assessment procedure are: (1) a small but representative group of individuals is interviewed regarding their views of human service needs; (2) this information is then integrated with existing data taken from public records and other assessment efforts to yield a richer understanding of the community needs; and (3) the resulting community portrait is then validated and/or revised according to information gained from various groups in the community through the community forum process (Tropman, Erlich, & Rothman, 1995). Any of these approaches can determine the views of community residents.
The FBCA model adapted material from Cohn's Community Impressions Approach (Tropman, Erlich, & Rothman, 1995). This approach gathers data on the group in a community with the greatest human service needs and the community's impressions about those needs.

First, key informants offer impressions of those persons living and working in the community. Next, the information is integrated into existing data from a variety of sources. Last, the group, identified as having the greatest human service needs, verifies the findings in a community forum.

The Community Impressions Approach is particularly useful with religious organizations because it includes key players in the congregation and the community. The planning group can move ahead with the confidence that needs are correctly identified, meet the expectations of community members, and have the support of local community agencies.

Crucial to success of all programs is the leadership role of the church leader, pastor, minister, and rabbi, or members of the congregation. The members of the advisory board are leaders from social agencies and other interfaith programs.

FBCA - The Faith-Based Community Action Model
The Faith-Based Community Action Model (FBCA) includes concepts from several community planning models that are applicable to faith-based organizations planning community action programs.
In Step One, the forming of a planning group is based on the models that intend to develop the capacity of members to organize for change.

In Step Two the faith-based organization must determine its priorities and capabilities to undertake community action programs. The commitment of church leaders and parishioners is essential for success. Developing a network of relationships is based on coalition-building principles for community action programs. Building a multi-organizational power base to influence program direction or draw on resources is essential in community planning.
Planning a flexible agenda allows for community and congregational input, permits ownership of the project, allows for critical evaluation of the planning process and incorporates diversity in the planning process. Taking steps in defining the community problem to be addressed is basic community planning practice. Deciding on a community action program with consensus and recognition of the limitations of resources is realistic and incremental social planning. Asking for commitment and support from key persons in the community and congregation ensures a collaborative effort to support the project and ensures resources will be available for the project.

Involving community agencies develops additional resources from local government and state officials as well as community policy makers. Investigating other programs and involving other churches in the project ensures political support from key community members rather than competition and conflict. Evaluation is a key component of accountability and promotes support for continuing action-based programs.

Figure 11.1
Step One Form a planning group.
Step Two Define the church's mission in meeting community needs.
Step Three Develop a network of relationships.
Step Four Plan a flexible agenda.
Step Five Define the community problem.
Step Six Decide on a community action program.
Step Seven Ask for commitments and support from key persons.
Step Eight Involve community agencies.
Step Nine Investigate other churches with similar programs.
Step Ten Involve as many church members as possible.
Step Eleven Prepare alternative solutions.
Step Twelve Monitor, evaluate and provide feedback.

Step One: Form a planning group
Determine the needs of the community and interest in community action programs.
1. Invite community leaders, church leaders, members of the congregation.
2. Use the Community Impressions Model and invite key informants to discuss their views of community needs.

Step Two: Define the church's mission in meeting the community's needs.
Essential questions for congregations to ask themselves and their church leaders determine the church leaders' and members' willingness to become involved in community action programs.
1. Determine if the church's mission is a social mission or a spiritual mission.
2. Is this a civic oriented church?
3. Is this a church whose mission is evangelical and proselytizing?

Step Three: Develop a network of relationships.
A network of relationships is essential for successful community action programs.
1. Develop an advisory board of members.
2. Ten to fifteen members are recommended for a cohesive group.
3. Select members from the congregation, from other churches, from community agencies, and from business and political arenas.
4. Select those who are interested in community action and who are willing to commit time and resources to the project.

Step Four: Plan a flexible agenda.
Being prepared with an agenda that includes examples from other community action programs is efficient and convincing that faith-based community action programs can be successful.
1. Develop an agenda of service needs for persons in the community but be prepared to change some of the program planning.
2. Be flexible and listen to community members.

Step Five: Define the community problems but select one problem for action.
After a comprehensive assessment of the community's needs, select one group and one problem for action. A lack of focus and resources that are not used wisely will contribute to failure.
1. Define the community's needs but agree on one problem.
2. Do not try to solve all of the community's problems.
3. Select one problem to be addressed and gather information from experts about causes and solutions.

Step Six: Decide on a community action program.
The experts in the community can provide information on successful and unsuccessful programs. Decide on a program that is feasible at the present time.
1. Select professional volunteers in the community to take active roles in the implementation of the solution. For example, nurses, doctors, lawyers, social workers, business leaders in the congregation.
2. Choose a community action program to implement with agreement and commitment from the members.

Step Seven: Ask for commitments and support from key persons.
When the program is selected, include as many members of the community as possible for supportive roles.
1. Seek support from church administration for space, advertising, outreach efforts, volunteers, etc.
2. Use designated church space for meetings, etc.
3. Use newsletters to reach congregation for donations and volunteers and to provide on-going information about the program.
4. Use volunteers to help with securing community support.

Step Eight: Involve community agencies in the planning process.
Community agencies are essential to provide additional services beyond the scope of faith-based organizations. Their collaboration is essential for success.
1. Involve a community agency and arrange for consultations by professionals for follow-up for referrals or treatment interventions.
2. Some examples are health screenings, medication checks, a mental health clinic, Alzheimer's referral center, or a geriatric assessment clinic.

Step Nine: Investigate other churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, etc. with similar programs.
Learning from other programs avoids costly mistakes. Duplication of services is not cost effective.
1. Assess the possibility for collaboration and interfaith coalitions. Investigate if there are similar programs in other neighborhoods or nearby cities.
2. Consider collaboration with other groups.
3. Collect materials from other programs.
4. Visit other programs if possible.

Step Ten: Involve as many church members as possible in a collaborative coalition.
Collaboration is key in community action programs. Involvement of members and community leaders is an essential ingredient to success.

1. Present the plan to the community, to church members, and to decision-makers, i.e. local business leaders, local politicians.
2. Gather support from as many as possible.

Step Eleven: Prepare alternative solutions for reaching the goal.
Alternative solutions may be necessary.

1. Have other options prepared and commitments from community providers for alternative solutions.

Step Twelve: Monitor, evaluate, and provide feedback.
Monitoring is necessary to evaluate results of the program. Positive and negative results must be provided to key players to determine if goals were met.
1. Provide feedback to the church leaders, community planners and community agencies.
2. Questions to ask are: How is the program working? What are the positives and negatives? How can services be improved?
These twelve steps offer a method for faith-based organizations to implement community action programs. This model incorporates basic principles of community planning and adapts these principles for faith-based organizations.

How a religious organization implements community action programs is the basis for the development of The Faith-Based Community Action Model. In examining the rationale for the religious organization as a service provider for older persons, the literature points to the failure of community agencies and the inability of government programs to provide needed social services. There is evidence that older persons appear to be receptive to programs and services based in religious organizations.
The FBCA model is a twelve-step method that religious organizations can use to develop community action programs. The religious community has the potential to develop partnerships with the neighborhood community but social planning is essential for effective partnering. While good intentions are critical, knowledge is essential.

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