December 2006

Grant Results

National Program

Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers Program, Faith in Action(R), Generation 2 and Generation 3


The Washington Regional Medical Foundation and local congregations and community groups in Fayetteville, Ark., established an interfaith Volunteer Caregivers Project to organize and train volunteers to provide services for people with a wide variety of chronic conditions in a four-county area in northwest Arkansas.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) national program Faith in Action, Replication of the Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers Program.

Key Results

  • The project trained 111 volunteers and provided assistance to 172 people. Each volunteer committed to spending at least two hours each week with someone in need.
  • The project established a coalition of nurses, social workers, counselors, religious leaders and lay people, hospice volunteer coordinators and area gerontological professionals. The coalition worked together to lessen duplication of services and make better use of the financial and labor resources in the area.
  • The project increased its presence in Benton County, Ark. Benton County residents comprised an increasing proportion of the project's caseload, from 6 percent of all clients served in 2003 to 17 percent of all clients being served in 2005.

RWJF provided support totaling $58,587 from March 1996 through February 2006.

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Northwest Arkansas is one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. Several major corporations have their headquarters there, including Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods. There is also a large elderly and retiree population and an increasing level of racial and cultural diversity.

Although some people who move into the area do eventually establish spiritual or other support systems, many do not. When disabling or terminal illness comes to these families, they often have little spiritual or other support. Some do not have extended family in the area, and many are not in established religious faith groups.

The basic notion of helping a neighbor in need is deeply rooted in the world's major faiths. Most religious congregations in America today offer some opportunities for members to volunteer their time in the service of others.

Given that some two-thirds of all adult Americans belong to a religious congregation, this represents a vast potential resource to support and supplement the caregiving that families and friends provide to people who need chronic care.

Although some level of caregiving goes on in many congregations, it is often on a small scale, poorly organized and not well promoted.

Interfaith volunteer caregiving, the concept behind RWJF's Faith in Action® program allows a group of congregations to come together, hire a paid director and establish a single caregiving program that draws its volunteers largely from participating congregations to serve the entire community.

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The First Grant (ID# 028968)

During this grant, the Washington Regional Medical Foundation and local congregations and community groups established an Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers Project to organize and train volunteers to provide services for people with a wide variety of chronic conditions in a four-county area in northwest Arkansas.

Project leaders included home health care workers, home health care administrators and hospital chaplains and other clergy with an interest in providing health care and related services to people with a wide variety of chronic conditions. They established the Faith in Action project and applied for the RWJF grant under the umbrella of the Washington Regional Medical Center's charitable foundation, the Washington Regional Medical Foundation.

Project leaders recruited a coalition of area churches to facilitate the project and invited health care workers and clergy involved in the project's genesis, as well as other area clergy, to serve on the project's board. Project leaders recruited and trained volunteers through area churches.

During this phase of the project, staff and board members experienced several challenges:

  • The project initially failed to implement a comprehensive fund-raising plan. The first part-time coordinator was not successful in fund-raising activities. In only a few months the resources for her salary were exhausted. Services and volunteer management continued through the founding board members until further funding could again provide a project director.
  • The project faced heavy competition for volunteers. Northwest Arkansas is a rapidly growing area and during the grant period, Habitat for Humanity, a Regional AIDS Interfaith Network and a Cooperative Emergency Outreach organization all became established, which made it difficult to recruit volunteers.

Addressing these Challenges
According to a report to RWJF, in 1997, the coalition board hired a new part-time coordinator, Lynn Meade, to address the key problems:

  • An exhausted board.
  • A burned out and shrinking volunteer base.
  • Questionable long-term financing.

Meade was experienced in communication and brought a sense of professionalism to the position. Her commitment to the mission of Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers revitalized the board, according to the project director who was interviewed for this report.

Meade's ability to reach out to the community expanded the volunteer base and began a strong program of fund-raising. A fund-raising committee was formed with a three-year funding plan implemented in 1997.

New board members joined the team, which energized the board. A new fund-raiser was held, which brought media attention along with many new participants in the program.

In 1999, the Washington Regional Medical Foundation received $10,000 directly from Kingston Hospital, the national program office for Faith in Action. The grant supported continued operation of its Faith in Action project. It was one of 388 Faith in Action sites eligible for the supplemental grants, which were administered through a $443,235 technical assistance and direction grant from RWJF to Kingston Hospital (ID# 036537). When that funding ended, the project decreased its service area from four counties to two (Washington and Benton counties).

Also in 1999, Washington Regional Medical Foundation hired a full-time project manager, Healey Tonsing (who was interviewed for this report but was no longer with the foundation as of December 2006).

The Second Grant (ID# 049355)

In September 2003, the Washington Regional Medical Foundation was one of several existing Faith in Action projects to receive a $35,000 grant directly from RWJF (ID# 049355) to expand its services to a neighboring area.

Although the project already served some people in Benton County, the project manager used the grant funds to establish an office in Benton County in order to increase recruitment of volunteers and the number of elders who could be served there.

Tonsing also established an advisory committee of members from Benton County who reported to the original Faith in Action board of directors. She found offices at a retirement village that serves a large elder population and hired a new Benton County project coordinator. Tonsing also recruited eight coalition members from churches, nonprofit organizations and businesses.

New Challenges
This project confronted a few challenges as well:

  • The newly formed Benton County advisory committee never became active and contributed little in terms of ideas, volunteering and finances. Toward the end of the grant, Tonsing dissolved the advisory committee and recruited new members from Benton County to serve on the board of directors. The board decided that half of its members should come from Benton County and half from Washington County.
  • Team building while expanding presents a challenge. Recruiting volunteers in another county and expanding services required close networking with local health care agencies and providers. It took time to find staff who fit the agency and community.

    In November of 2005, Tonsing reconfigured the volunteer coordinator's position in the second county and hired a new assistant to help with the growth of community services. The growth and strength of services now in Benton County, Ark., became strong.

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According to the final report to RWJF, during both grants the project accomplished the following:

  • Staff established a group of trainers who trained 111 volunteers. The project director invited specialists to talk about nutrition, physical care giving, understanding social isolation, spirituality and other topics.
  • Volunteers provided assistance to 172 people. Volunteers committed to spending at least two hours a week with someone in need. Sometimes the volunteers simply spent time with a client to relieve their isolation, while other times they helped with grocery shopping or provided a ride to a doctor's appointment. Many of these people would otherwise receive no other care or help. An article in the Northwest Arkansas Times described the relationship between one volunteer and a client:

Gina Jeremiah and Ione Johnson are an example of a good match. Jeremiah is a busy woman. The mother of three children, ages 12, 6 and 5, she is also a student in the University of Arkansas nursing program. But in spite of her other obligations, Jeremiah finds time to help two clients. [One] — Ione Johnson — is an 80-year-old resident of Hillcrest Towers. Johnson said that having someone like Jeremiah to help has completely changed her life.

"If people could only know what she's meant to me," Johnson said, sitting next to Jeremiah on the couch. "I'd have been lost if it hadn't been for Gina."

The living room of Johnson's one-bedroom apartment is filled with her collection of dolls and clowns. As she speaks, it is clear that for Johnson, who is nearly blind and hard of hearing, Jeremiah has been more than a helper. She has lifted the blanket of loneliness that once covered the older woman's days.

One of Johnson's greatest needs was someone to help her get to the doctor. While taxis could get her to an address, once she was inside the building Johnson was unable to find her way to the right office or even to manage the elevators.

But Jeremiah changed all that. She and her 5-year-old son Chris, whom she calls her 'shadow,' pick Johnson up at Hillcrest and take her not just to the medical buildings, but right into the doctors' waiting rooms. On the way home, Jeremiah may stop by the store and get groceries, pick up medicines or run an errand that is simple for her but impossible for Johnson.

"There are so many people out there who need help. All it takes is a little time," Jeremiah said. "Ione was really depressed when I met her. Since then she's gotten on medication and she's much, much better."

  • The project established a coalition of nurses, social workers, counselors, religious leaders and lay people, hospice volunteer coordinators and area gerontological professionals that worked to lessen duplication of services and make better use of the financial and labor resources in the area. The coalition members had ties to organizations that could provide services outside of the Faith in Action project such as personal care and meal preparation. They also knew about existing programs so that the coalition did not duplicate existing efforts (e.g., provide transportation to a care receiver when another program already offered that service.)
  • The Faith in Action project increased its presence in Benton County. Benton County residents comprised an increasing proportion of the project's caseload, from 6 percent of all clients served in 2003 to 17 percent of all clients being served in 2005.

    An article in the project newsletter described how volunteers found ways to meet the sometimes unexpected needs of homebound elders in Benton County:

Mildred, age 80, and her husband moved to the Bella Vista Retirement village in 2000. Mildred had lost her retirement savings from her former employer — Enron. Not long after moving to the area, her husband died and she had to sell her home and move into a small place in the city of Rogers.

She then lost her ability to drive after several strokes paralyzed her right side. With no immediate family, no retirement fund and few nearby friends, Mildred found herself not only lonely, but also with no way of getting to needed doctor's appointments, the grocery store or to her beloved beauty shop appointments.

She received a referral to Faith in Action and was matched with a volunteer. Her volunteer helped with transportation and grocery shopping, but also in a variety of other ways.

For example, in the past, residents of Rogers, including elders, brought their trash to the curb on certain days in whatever size bag they wished. Many elders used small bags because they were easier to handle. But the city instituted new rules requiring residents to use large, cumbersome containers.

For a homebound elder with a walker or cane, it was impossible to move the large containers. Mildred's volunteer began coming over once a week to bring the trash to the curb. He also began working with the city to try and secure an exemption for people who are elderly from being required to use the large containers.

"I don't know where I would be without Faith in Action," Mildred says. "They have enabled me to get to the beauty shop and to get groceries. My volunteer is just wonderful."

Mildred, now 86, is able to keep food in her home and to get to needed medical appointments. She also receives spiritual support, companionship and chore assistance. Most important, she has someone to confide in about tough times in her life, and she knows that she has a true friend who really cares.

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  1. Diversify your board of directors. Pastors do not have the time to commit to being a member of the board or help in recruiting volunteers, the current project director learned quickly. Whether it is a big church or a small church, they are normally overworked with responsibilities within their congregation. Community leaders (professionals, homemakers, etc.) and those with a passion to work for your cause are the best board members. When forming your board, don't limit yourself to coalition members. (Project Manager/Tonsing)
  2. Diversify your volunteer recruitment efforts. Don't rely completely on churches to do your recruiting. Recruiting in the community is important, as many volunteers will come through that avenue (even though they are members of a church). (Project Manager/Tonsing)
  3. Diversify your funding. This is ancient wisdom, but very true. This is the only way the project survived after 9/11. (Project Manager/Tonsing)
  4. Hire staff members who have the skills to manage and grow a nonprofit organization. It is important to have staff who are not only willing to serve, i.e., have a heart for this work, but also those who have good ethics, good organizational skills, are creative thinkers, have the ability to raise money, and have the ability to formulate a plan and carry it through (or motivate others to do so). It is also important that staff members be team players who can work well with others. (Project Manager/Tonsing)
  5. Recruit board members who will work hard and contribute specific skills to a nonprofit organization. It is equally important to have a good working board. This means board members that not only attend the meetings, but people who are willing to go out and implement their ideas (rather than leaving it up to the staff). Boards should consist of people from a variety of backgrounds, including financial specialists, attorneys, public relations specialists, fund-raisers, social workers, business specialists and others who may have contacts in other areas. (Project Manager/Tonsing)
  6. When expanding to a new area, bring people from that area onto the board of directors rather than creating a smaller advisory group. The advisory committee in Benton County never got off the ground and was disconnected from the work of the board of directors of the original Washington County Faith in Action project. Bringing new members onto an existing board can help them tap into the enthusiasm of veteran members and make them feel like they are a key part of the organization, rather than part of a spin-off. (Project Manager/Tonsing)

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As of August 2006, both Faith in Action projects were continuing through support of local foundations, donors, United Way grants and fund-raisers.

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Faith in Action in Fayetteville, Ark.


Washington Regional Medical Foundation (Fayetteville,  AR)

  • Faith in Action®: Replication of the Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers Program
    Amount: $ 23,587
    Dates: March 1996 to February 1998
    ID#:  028968

  • Faith in Action
    Amount: $ 35,000
    Dates: September 2003 to February 2006
    ID#:  049355


Program Manager: Sara Bartlett, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.
(479) 713-1725

Web Site

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(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

World Wide Web Sites The Web site describes the Faith in Action program, provides information on how to volunteer and how to donate, and gives statistics on services provided. Fayetteville, AR: Washington Regional Medical Foundation.

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Report prepared by: Susan G. Parker
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Elize M. Brown (ID# 028968)
Program Officer: Judith S. Stavisky (ID# 049355)

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