Faith in Action

Faith in Action is a program that encourages voluntarism as a strategy for meeting the needs of chronically ill people. The Foundation sees voluntarism as one leg of the three-legged stool needed to build an effective system of chronic care. The first leg is public programs that provide home care and other supportive services, because many people with chronic conditions lack the resources to pay for services themselves. The second leg is private financing tools that let people plan for the services they will need if and when they become frail. Perhaps the most important leg is volunteers. Informal mechanisms—particularly families and friends—have been the main source of care for the chronically ill. The number of people engaged in this kind of work needs to be expanded as the aging of the population increases the number of people with chronic illness.

Over the past few years, the Faith in Action initiative has attempted to build a large service program—not just a demonstration—quickly. It has now given grants to more than 1,100 religious coalitions around the country. In this chapter, Paul Jellinek, a former Foundation vice president; Terri Gibbs Appel, a former Foundation program officer; and Terrance Keenan, a senior consultant to the Foundation, discuss the logic of this approach and the issues that arose in implementing it.

Faith in Action is the Foundation's largest initiative encouraging voluntarism, but it is not the only one. For many years, the Foundation supported a concept called Service Credit Banking, in which healthy elders would volunteer to provide services to frail elders and receive "service credits," which the caregivers could cash in later in life when they themselves might need volunteer services. Another major initiative—the Reach Out Program —supports volunteer efforts by physicians to care for uninsured and indigent patients. More recently, the Foundation has begun to explore how volunteers might help improve the after-school lives of young people. The importance of mentors is becoming clear from recent research, and voluntarism—especially in urban areas—is often seen as one way of increasing contact between young people and caring adults.

Certainly, voluntarism has received national attention through the efforts of General Colin Powell and others to promote community volunteering. Nationwide, his America's Promise campaign has received widespread publicity and praise. The groundswell movement may gather even more momentum over time.

In the same way, the Faith in Action program may be entering a new phase of development. Even as this book was being published, the Foundation was considering the next steps in its support of this initiative, and of voluntarism in general.