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October 9, 2002


Emory University Receives $1.5 Million to Support Faith-Based Community Health Programs Across Country

ATLANTA - An Emory University program that represents a unique combination of public health and religion has received a $1.5 million grant designed to promote community health in seven states from Georgia to California.

The Interfaith Health Program (IHP) of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory is one of 21 "intermediary" groups chose by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to disperse $24.8 million worth of funds and technical assistance to faith-based organizations.

"Faith- and community-based organizations are often the most effective groups in carrying out the purposes of HHS programs, yet many do not have the staff or expertise to successfully apply for our funding," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "Emory University will help us begin a new effort to help faith- and community-based organizations get a fair and equal opportunity to compete for HHS funds."

"Strong Partners," the name of Emory's interfaith health initiative, is a partnership with nine foundations in seven states. Together, these foundations have directly allocated $1,460,000 of their funds to local faith-based organizations. HHS is appropriating $1.5 million to the Emory program, which in turn will disburse $900,000 to the foundations. IHP will also amplify the impact of the funds by providing technical assistance and serving as a clearinghouse of national expertise in promoting public health through faith-based communities. The technical assistance includes helping local groups effectively access funding sources, operate and manage their programs, develop and train staff, expand the reach of programs into the into the community, and replicate promising programs.

"Where others see failure, we see people and communities of promise," says Gary Gunderson, MDiv, DMin, director of the Interfaith Health Program at Emory. "The commitment from the "Strong Partners" is a small fraction of the funds that flow from these foundations into the communities they serve every year. The federal funds will amplify this flow and build the capacity of faith-based organizations to work collaboratively for community change."

James W. Curran, MD, MPH, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health, says the HHS appropriation is welcome recognition. "Many of the most pressing public health problems of our time are rooted in behavioral and social conditions as much as they are in microorganisms or environmental toxins," says Dr. Curran. "Therefore, it is important to recognize that solutions to these problems must have many dimensions beyond the medical, and that communities of faith make vital contributions to the health of the public in many ways."

Following are examples of the programs that will be supported by these grants from the Federal Government and participating Strong Partners foundations:

Atlanta, GA: Saint Joseph's Mercy Foundation is a private, not-for-profit fund-raising entity, whose sole purpose is to support the work of the Sisters of Mercy and others who strive to "heal as Jesus did." Saint Joseph's Mercy Foundation is dedicated to the Sisters of Mercy philosophy: compassionate care of the total person and their families.

The Center for Health Ministries of St. Joseph's Mercy Care collaborates with local churches, synagogues and other faith centers within metro Atlanta to provide wholistic, preventive health-care services for congregations and surrounding communities. "Saint JosephÕs actively participates in the healing ministry of the faith community through its mission to serve the whole person and achieve community wellness by promoting a concept of health inclusive of all element of life," said Philip Mazzara, President of St. JosephÕs Mercy Foundation. By offering the services of licensed professional nurses, the program develops a relationship between the two centers of healing, while providing a ministry to communities through education, counseling and caring.

Alexandria, LA: The Rapides Foundation is working to improve community health in Central Louisiana. It is a job that takes the dedication and teamwork of many people and organizations in the communities. The Rapides Foundation is a philanthropic organization that provides grants to organizations throughout an 11-parish service area that share the foundation's mission to improve the health and well-being of Central Louisiana. Established in 1994 as the result of a joint venture between Rapides Regional Medical Center and Columbia/HCA, the Rapides Foundation became the largest endowed charitable foundation in Louisiana with initial assets of almost $150 million. Current assets are over $190 million. (

The Rapides Foundation is working with local faith-based organizations and the healthcare community to encourage partnerships between the two. Linking faith and health is actually not a new idea. After all, faith groups here and abroad started many hospitals. "Melding health and faith is a way of focusing on the wholeness of people, attending to one's body, mind and spirit," said Joe Rosier, President and CEO.

The Foundation looks for partners that have the commitment, leadership, and capacity to build and improve their communities. However, too few faith-based organizations currently exist in our region to take advantage of this funding. The Foundation has taken the first step in changing the landscape of our region through our priority Initiatives and community development Initiatives that will be the springboard for many faith-based organizations to engage in improving the health and development of their communities.

Chicago, IL: Wheat Ridge Ministries is a Lutheran affiliated not-for-profit agency that seeds new ministries of health and hope, in the name of the healing Christ. Wheat Ridge provides grants, connects people with common ministry interests, and helps equip people for a wide variety of health and healing ministries.

"Wheat Ridge Ministries is looking forward to partnering with the IHP and fellow funding agencies to help provide additional resources for the many worthy health-related programs sponsored by congregations and agencies of the church. It is encouraging that the federal government is recognizing through this faith-based initiative effort the critically important role faith based organizations play in addressing the needs of the underserved people in our society." (

Hayward, CA: Vesper Society is a faith-based, nonprofit organization that has provided tools, resources, and expertise to meet the social, health, educational, and spiritual needs of people around the world for over 30 years (

"Vesper Society's vision is of a compassionate world which protects human dignity and enhances human potential. We are very pleased to partner with our local community to build capacity and supplement resources that our youth might develop strong, healthy lives," said Mary Baich, president. "Many of our youth have no health care home, no adult role models, and limited personal capacity to meet the demands of growing up in a poor, inner city neighborhood. We are so thankful to be able to help."

Houston, Texas: Created in 1997 as a separate component of St. LukeÕs Episcopal Health System (SLEHS) in Houston, Texas, St. LukeÕs Episcopal Health Charities (SLEHC) is a grant-making (non-operating) public charity with 501©3 status. SLEHC is the areaÕs largest faith-based charity providing the Houston community and communities within the 57-county Episcopal Diocese of Texas with a much-needed resource: a charity devoted exclusively to assessing and enhancing community health. To date, SLEHC has awarded over $45 million to select, non-profit service programs throughout the Diocese, with 70 percent going to the greater Houston area. SLEHC has also developed an innovative interactive website located at that provides demographic, economic, health and social data at the census-track level for all 57 counties of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

"We feel that working together with faith-based partners across the country will allow us to participate in a learning network that will bear fruits for years to come," said Carla Cooper, Ph.D, executive director of St. LukeÕs Episcopal Health Charities and senior vice president of St LukeÕs Episcopal Health System.

Kansas: The United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, an IHP "Strong Partner," is dedicated to improving health, healing, and wholeness in Kansas. The fund was one of two foundations formed from the sale of the Wesley Medical Center in 1986.

"The needs of our society continue to grow beyond the resources of any one sector to address, especially in ways that assist people in moving beyond their present circumstances," says Kim Moore, president of the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund. "This project gives us an opportunity to learn how government can be a partner with faith-based organizations to enhance programs transforming people and their circumstances."

St. Louis: The Deaconess Foundation is a faith-based health foundation dedicated to the improved health of metropolitan St. Louis. A catalyst and advocate for community-based initiatives, the priority of the Deaconess Foundation is to increase the well-being of vulnerable children in the urban core areas of the region. (

St. Louis: The Incarnate Word Foundation, sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word-San Antonio, is a Christian ministry that partners with religious groups, agencies, community groups, faith-based organizations, and other philanthropic organizations to improve the health and quality of life of the community, with a particular emphasis on the economically poor.

"The current economic climate is a challenging one, and by partnering with others, we are able to support the efforts of effective faith-based organizations to assist even more people in need," said Bridget Flood, Executive Director of Incarnate Word Foundation.

El Puente in Jefferson City, MO is an effort on the part of Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word to meet the needs of Hispanic families who are emigrating to the state capitol in search of work to support their families. The agency's services include programs that meet basic needs, as well as English as a Second Language classes and life skills assistance. Whole Kid's Outreach is a faith-based effort in Ellington, MO to address the widespread poverty in this rural community through maternal child healthcare, job training and programs for area children and youth. The Partnership for the Poor is a faith-based effort of churches and social service agencies in inner-city St. Louis to foster community change in a low income neighborhood by providing social services and alleviating basic human needs in the tradition of St. Vincent de Paul.

St. Louis: The Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis is a $72 million philanthropic trust of the Church, seeking the improved care of people in the St. Louis area. Said Fred A. Bleeke, President/CEO, "It's about time that new funds flow where results are achieved. People whose lives are impacted are looking for programs that work, not some neutered organization who have learned to say the right things to get the funds." ( "The new monies match funds that Lutheran Foundation will award to three to five organizations whose programs are specifically designed to reduce infant mortality in the St. Louis region."

The "Strong Partners" foundations supported by the Interfaith Health Program, and their respective contributions to community health that will match the Compassion Capital Fund grants in the areas they serve, include:

Deaconess Foundation    $150,000    St. Louis
Incarnate Word Foundation    $200,000    St. Louis
Lutheran Foundation    $100,000    St. Louis
Rapides Foundation    $300,000    Central Louisiana
St. JosephÕs Mercy Care Foundation    $200,000    Atlanta
St. LukeÕs Episcopal Health    $200,000    Houston
United Methodist Health Ministry    $100,000    Kansas
Vesper Society    $150,000    Haywood, CA

Wheat Ridge Ministries    $60,000    Chicago

The Interfaith Health Program, based in Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, began as a program of The Carter Center in 1992. It has worked to advance the health of communities by building collaboration between faith groups and key partners, especially in public health. The IHP is also working under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create the Institute for Public Health and Faith Collaborations, which trains teams of leaders in both faith and health to develop projects attacking racial, ethnic, social, economic, and geographic disparities in health.

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