In the fall of 1994 the Bishops of the Lutheran, United Methodist, Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches of West Virginia issued a Pastoral Letter to their congregations. The Gospel Imperative: Health and Wellness in Our Time challenged congregations to explore the teachings of healing and wellness as individuals, communities of faith and health professionals and to begin ministries of spiritual formation, lay service and social reform. A steering committee was established in several communities throughout the state "to explore alliances with each other and with other denominations . . . to develop volunteer caregiver programs to the frail, elderly and disabled."
The Steering Committee appointed for Ohio and Marshall Counties quickly grasped the concept of interfaith volunteer caregiving and under the leadership of The Rev. John R. Schafer, began inviting other denominations to share in the process of organizing a program to meet the needs of those falling through the cracks in the social service and health care systems. This Steering Committee enlisted the help of Elizabeth Liska, a regional facilitator for The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Faith in Action program, to help with the necessary start-up tasks. By November, 1994 the Steering Committee formed into a Board of Directors, incorporated in the State of West Virginia and received a Letter of Determination from the Internal Revenue Service as approval of its 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status. The new organization was named Ohio Valley Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers. During that time a funding proposal was submitted to The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for a start-up Faith in Action grant of $25,000. This grant matched the funds set aside by the Bishops of West Virginia.
Faith in Action is a program established by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a private philanthropy, to encourage congregations to work together to reach out to those who are in need of assistance to remain independent. The Foundation initially funded 25 programs in the mid-1980's before beginning a widespread replication of the model in the 1990's. Today there are approximately 650 Faith in Action programs throughout the country and are linked together by the National Volunteer Caregiving Network.
Faith in Action programs are autonomous and responsible to their individual communities but share five common principles:
- Interfaith -- They involve faith traditions that represent the diversity of the community and build partnerships with congregations, social service programs, health care providers, businesses and civic organizations.
- Volunteer -- The local programs use volunteers from the community and from congregations. Volunteers do not receive a stipend but may be reimbursed for expenses.
- Caregiving -- The programs focus on a variety of informal caregiving tasks such as transportation, shopping and errands, friendly visiting, respite for caregivers, light housework and more. Programs build ongoing relationships between volunteers and those in need of assistance but do not provide prevention and educational activities, research or professional health care.
- Chronic Illness and Disability -- Services are provided to those who are frail, elderly or disabled. Local programs can identify the target population to be served.
- Home Based -- Faith in Action programs care for people where they reside -- in private homes or apartments, assisted living facilities, hospice homes or group homes. Faith in Action programs do not provide adult day care services, operate senior centers or clinics.
In January, 1995, the Board of Directors received word that the Faith in Action funding from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation had been approved for Ohio Valley Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers. A search for an Executive Director began immediately and resulted in the hiring of Jeanette L. Wojcik. The first 9 months of 1995 were spent building the organization's infrastructure. The first training session for volunteer caregivers was held in September, 1995 and services were provided to two care receivers that month. Throughout the years the organization has grown to serve more than 2,900 individuals.
The organization's newsletter, The Unbroken Circle, was first published in June, 1995. The quarterly publication reports on the activities and projects of Faith in Action Caregivers and currently has a distribution of 4,700 individuals. St. Matthew's Episcopal Church designated funds from their annual July Fourth Extravaganza to benefit Ohio Valley Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers on July 4, 1995 and kicked off the organization's fund raising special events.
By early 1996 the organization realized a continuous source of funding was needed and the sale of grocery gift cards was started. Initially gift cards were sold for Riesbeck Food Markets and Kroger. Today, this sale has expanded with gift cards from hundreds of stores available.
In 1997 a grant was received to being a Faith Community Nursing Program. This project promoted a shared ministry concept to the traditional Parish Nursing movement. Registered nurses were recruited and trained as parish nurses and would be assigned to teams of three to five nurses to work in shared ministry to congregations who could not afford to support a parish nurse of their own. The project brought the first Parish Nurse Training Program to the state of West Virginia. While the program did not succeed, the seeds were planted for many congregations to begin a parish nurse program.
Also in 1997 the organization reached across the Ohio River and began to serve residents of Belmont County. The number of requests from Belmont County had increased significantly. It was a natural response to begin to offer services to these residents.
The Caregivers Endowment Fund was established in 1999 to ensure the long-term survival of the organization. The Board of Directors designated funds from a successful special event be set aside for the start-up funds. Throughout the years the fund has grown due to memorial and honorarium contributions and contributions from generous friends in the community.
Starting in 2001 the Faith in Action National Program Office in Winston-Salem, NC began a movement to unite all of the Faith in Action programs under one common name. By 2002 Ohio Valley Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers was prepared for the change. The organization's new name would be Faith in Action Caregivers. The new name brought more acceptance and prominence to the program, enhance the involvement and support of congregations and helped to increase not only the number of people served but the number of volunteer caregivers.
Faith in Action Caregivers became a pilot site for Strong for Life, a home-based exercise program, in 2002. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation selected ten Faith in Action programs across the country to incorporate this exercise program which was developed by Boston University Roybal Center into their regular services. Strong for Life trains volunteers to conduct a series of exercises with those who are home bound to improve strength, mobility and endurance. Initially designed for one-on-one sessions, the program is now offered in group settings in congregations and apartment buildings.
A signature fund raising project, the annual triathlon, was started in 2002 and has become the most important special event for the organization. In 2007 a duathlon was added to this race to increase participation. Over the years this project has raised more than $122,000 to support the independent living of older adults and people with disabilities.
Faith in Action Caregivers has grown to be a vital service for older adult and disabled neighbors in Ohio, Marshall and Belmont Counties. The organization has built a reputation of compassionate care for those in need of assistance to remain independent and provides a meaningful outlet for those who what to make a difference in the quality of life of their elderly and disabled neighbors.