Faith in Action

Dates of Program: 1983 to 2008

Field of Work: Providing volunteer services for elderly and disabled people through interfaith programs

Problem Synopsis: In 1983, more than 10 million Americans had chronic disabilities limiting their ability to carry on such essential activities of daily living as feeding, dressing, and bathing. Approximately 5 million of these persons were elderly, and the remainder were severely disabled working-age adults or children. Persons with disabling chronic illness usually require a mix of medical and supportive services to help with ordinary activities of daily living such as feeding, bathing, dressing, housekeeping, transportation and, for those who live alone, companionship, in order to live outside of institutions. Medicare and other government programs were able to provide only a small fraction of the personal care and other supportive services that health-impaired persons needed to remain in their own homes.

Synopsis of the Work: From 1983 to 2008, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funded more than 1,700 projects across the country to support interfaith volunteer caregiving through three national programs. The projects brought together coalitions of congregations, social service organizations and other organizations to engage and organize volunteers to provide services to people in need, especially those who were frail, elderly and homebound.

Key Results

  • Over the course of the initiative, beginning with the pilot sites funded in the demonstration phase starting in 1983, RWJF made 1,715 grants to establish new projects (plus the 15 collaboration grants). Faith in Action projects were established in every state, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    As of June 2008, 667 of those projects were active, representing a sustainability rate of 38.9 percent.

    In addition, of the projects established under the program's third phase (1999–2008), 359 or 60 percent were still active as of June 2008.


Assessment Findings

  • A 2007–2008 telephone survey of 661 projects from all program phases conducted by the University of South Carolina's Institute for Public Service and Policy Research, Columbia, S.C., yielded the following findings:

    • The 579 projects that submitted complete information served 75,262 people in 2007 with an average of 130 people per project. Extrapolating those numbers over the 25 year history of the program, the national program office surmised that Faith in Action served hundreds of thousands of people.
    • Some 84,740 volunteers served in these 579 projects in 2007 with an average of 146 volunteers per project.
    • The most frequently provided services, in descending order were: friendly visitor/telephone reassurance (keeping in touch with someone by visiting or by phone); shopping; transportation; household repair; respite for caregivers; and light housekeeping.
    • The most typical people assisted by volunteers in descending order were frail elders; people who were physically disabled; people who had Alzheimer's or dementia; people who were terminally ill; and people who had developmental disabilities or mental illness.