Other : Faith Connections
Program/Practice Name: Faith Connections
Agency Name: Wilson County (North Carolina) Department of Social Services
Faith Connections Program Coordinator
Crisis Intervention Team
Wilson County Department of Social Services
PO Box 459
100 Gold Street
Wilson, NC 27894-0459
Type of Program/Practice: Faith Connections is Wilson County's first collaborative program linking churches and pastors, as well as local social service agencies, to assist families and individuals with needs unmet through public assistance.
Program/Practice Description: An interdenominational, faith–based initiative that is housed at Career Plus, a Work First Self–Sufficiency Center, Faith Connections was designed and staffed by the Wilson County Department of Social Services and provides assistance and support to social workers working directly with clients. The Faith Connections goal is to assist social workers by providing the additional resources (monetary and nonmonetary assistance) needed to help families and individuals maintain employment, alleviate crisis, and achieve stability. Faith Connections follows a holistic approach that allows many needs to be met that otherwise might go unmet by adhering to an eligibility approach.
The program has provided families and individuals with financial assistance as well as recycled computers (donated by local organizations), furniture, clothing, cars, car repairs, and pro bono counseling. The program is designed to link financial assistance provided by local churches directly to recipients through a streamlined process while strengthening faith–based community partnerships in the Wilson area.
Background/Program History: Prior to Faith Connections, families or individuals seeking aid and assistance from social service agencies were required to solicit resources from their family, community, and individual churches. Churches would hand out resources without any follow up or accountability.
In 1997, a local church donated a downtown building (which would become home to the Faith Connections program) to a nonprofit partner of Wilson County Department of Social Services. Partnering with other community resources, the Wilson County Department of Social Services applied for a Community Development Block Grant to refurbish the space and implement a Work First Self–Sufficiency Center that would house a multitude of services and resources to help former Work First families remain employed and achieve economic stability. First to be housed in the newly renovated building was the department's faith and business community coordinator. The original coordinator was an ordained minister and provided invaluable assistance in training, mobilizing, and organizing congregations and church leaders by partnering with employers, the Chamber of Commerce, JobLink partners, Work First/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families agencies, and nonprofit organizations to develop a Pathways to Success model.
As the program evolved and through lessons learned, the faith and business community coordinator became the Faith Connections program coordinator. The current Faith Connections program coordinator is not affiliated with any particular denomination, is not an ordained minister, and has gained the trust and respect of leaders in the faith community. The Department of Social Services is the fiscal agent responsible for monitoring all finances including donations and expenditures for clients who need financial assistance.
Innovations and Results: Faith Connections is Partnership in Action for Wilson County. The program has improved productivity by supplementing and leveraging federal, State, and local government monies to provide families and individuals with comprehensive services and resources to alleviate crises that if left unresolved, could turn into a downward spiral of hopelessness. It allows social workers the flexibility and leverage to offer more comprehensive solutions for families and individuals so anyone in crisis can truly overcome obstacles and not simply gain a temporary fix for complex issues.
Faith Connections has improved the quality of services offered by pooling community resources to offer a more comprehensive support system for clients. Churches are now reducing their intake and financial assistance processes and instead refer families and individuals to the Department of Social Services for screening and assessment of eligibility for federal or State program aid, as well as assistance through Faith Connections. In addition, the program minimizes duplication of services and reduces fraud.
Since 1996, Wilson County welfare rolls have been reduced by 85 percent. During that time, 70 faith partners have become part of Faith Connections. The program has received national recognition and is part of a research project by the Charitable Choice Institute at the State University of New York.
The following results have been achieved by Faith Connections:
- Total amount received from Faith Community partnerships since July 2002 – $180,940
- Total referrals to Faith Connections since July 2002 – 5,221
- Total cars donated to assist working families since 2000 – 27
Results for Fiscal Year 2009-2010:
- 1,807 families/individuals were served;
- $37,405 in financial assistance was provided to families/individuals by partner churches;
- $31,464 in additional assistance was provided to families/individuals to leverage federal, State, and county assistance programs from community agencies, including Wilson County Department of Social Services, Salvation Army, Hope Station, Operation Care, Love in Action, and individuals; and
- $187,178 in in-kind donations were provided to families/individuals by Wilson County non-profits, churches, and community individuals.
Operations: Connections between faith–based organizations and local service agencies and participants are made through one or more of the following:
- The crisis assistance intake process at the Department of Social Services Alternative Services or Adult Services.
- Referral from a social worker who has an ongoing relationship with a family or individual and a specific goal or need for that participant. This includes social work staff from Work First, Child Protective Services Intervention/Prevention Services, Foster Care and Adoptions, Child Care Subsidy, Food and Nutrition Services, Family and Children's Medicaid Assistance, or Adult Services.
- Referral from a local church or agency that has an ongoing relationship with a participant and a specific goal for that participant.
Faith Connections does not work directly with families or individuals; participants are the referring agencies or social workers. Faith Connections is the liaison between the workers requesting assistance for families or individuals and the churches who have agreed to assist financially. All the work is done through a process designed to facilitate efficiently and effectively reaching the goal of responding to unmet needs. Faith Connections emphasizes a 24–hour turnaround on requests for assistance. Referrals to Faith Connections are not limited to requests for financial assistance; support also can be for spiritual/emotional counseling, auto repair, furniture, pro bono dental work, housing resources, holiday items, food, and other needs identified through the referring agent. Faith Connections helps participants maintain their dignity by not having them go place to place in the community to accumulate resources. Faith Connections allows participant needs to be met in a timely manner. Screening and intake through the Department of Social Services ensures a review of need and a determination that the need is valid. Department of Social Services social workers are responsible for intake and follow up. Aid is provided quickly and efficiently, minimizing additional burdens on participants.
Funding: Faith Connections is funded through faith–based communities and local service agencies. All funding is provided specifically for direct assistance to families or individuals. Churches, local businesses, and other agencies either provide funds monthly through their benevolence funds or provide services in response to individual referrals. These services are as diverse as the needs and have included pro bono dental care, legal assistance, and mental health services. All administrative costs for this program, including salaries for the Faith Connections program coordinator and Department of Social Services social workers, are provided solely by the Department of Social Services.
Tips to Implementation: By supplementing and leveraging federal, State, and local government resources with faith community resources, families and individuals are able to receive services and comprehensive resources through a streamlined process. The Department of Social Services recognizes the need to allow churches and faith–based partners to maintain autonomy in determining what services to offer. In other words, churches are asked "What do you do best?" and "How can Faith Connections partner with what you do best to meet the needs of our community?"
Keys to Success:
- Fiscal activities that are separate from program services. By having Department of Social Services staff maintain fiscal responsibilities, the Faith Connections program coordinator can focus on collaborations with the faith–based community.
- An efficient referral system that allows for maximum accountability. Faith Connections tracks each client's intake form to show what services, resources, and programs the client has received. Faith Connections submits a monthly report to the faith partners summarizing the services, resources, and programs provided.
- Knowledgeable staff. The Faith Connections program coordinator has been critical to the success of the program.
- Physical location of the program. By locating Faith Connections at an off–site building (Career Plus Self-Sufficiency Center) and not at the Department of Social Services, the program has become more accessible to clients, services, and faith partners. The center emphasizes self–sufficiency, providing services on public housing, career advancement, job retention, child abuse/prevention, day care, financial literacy, office mentoring, and asset building programs/services, including a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program that prepares taxes at no cost to families based on family’s income.
- Emphasis on helping one individual at a time. Faith Connections does not believe in handouts but in teaching families and individuals responsibility while helping them through crisis.
The following tools are associated with Faith Connections. Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about these tools.
Provides a summary of the program, including an outline of partner commitments
Faith Connections Flyer
Highlights program vision and how to partner
Faith Connections Eligibility Screening and Referral Documents
Flow chart to determine client eligibility for services, and referral forms.
Faith Assistance Contract and Release of Information
Forms for client engagement and transparency
Faith Connections Donor and Partner Agreements
Contracts for use with individual and agency partners.
Faith Connections Referral Tracking and Financial Reports
Reports on client referrals and financial assistance provided by partner agency.