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Faith-Based Initiatives

Millions of Americans call upon clergy and religious leaders for spiritual guidance, support, and information in times of personal crisis.1 One study found that people responding to the death of someone close to them were almost five times more likely to seek the aid of a clergy person than all other mental health sources combined.2

Although the faith community historically has provided prison ministry programs, few religious institutions have developed programs specifically to serve crime victims and their families, and few victim assistance programs funded under the Victims of Crime Act are operated by religious organizations. However, faith communities recently have joined with victim service programs and made substantial progress in expanding this important source of support. OVC supports several collaborative projects between the faith and victim assistance communities designed to improve the response of faith-based practitioners to victims of crime. These initiatives also help communities create services through their faith-based organizations, network with secular victim service programs, and train providers and members of the faith community to meet victims' needs.

Faith-Based or Community Organizations and Victim Services Discretionary Mini-Grant Program

OVC awarded a total of $300,000 or up to 20 awards for up to $15,000 each to various faith- or community-based organizations and victim services agencies to enhance outreach and services to underserved crime victims in communities that have received Weed and Seed funding and other communities with a high rate of violent crime. The program's purpose is to expand and enhance existing victim assistance programs and to promote coalition building between the faith and victim assistance communities. Specifically, this initiative is intended to foster and support efforts of community groups and the faith community to reach and serve victims in high-crime areas, especially urban areas.

Collaborative Response to Crime Victims in Urban Areas

Through a cooperative agreement with the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center Inc. (MCVRC), OVC is supporting the development of networks of faith-based and victim service programs in five urban communities—St. Paul, Minnesota; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; Richmond, California; and Nashville, Tennessee. MCVRC is continuing the work of the Stephanie Roper Foundation, a victim service organization created in 1982. MCVRC has shifted the focus of the organization's mission from direct services to training and technical assistance, legal advocacy, and outreach to low-income victims. Under the project, each site is strengthening partnerships between faith institutions and victim assistance programs to maximize the faith community's involvement in supporting victims. MCVRC serves as the conduit of funding and provides technical assistance for the pilot sites, which began their 3-year projects in June 2003. For more information, visit MCVRC's Web site or call 301–952–0063.

Good Samaritans

A partnership between the Mobile County (Alabama) District Attorney's Office, police, local churches, community organizations, and volunteers, the Good Samaritans program responds to victims' emergency needs, makes referrals to service agencies, and offers victims emotional and spiritual support. The project developed a training curriculum on effective volunteering that covers ethics and confidentiality and provides an overview of the impact of crime on victims, as well as guidelines for responding to crises and self-care. In addition, the project trains volunteers and professionals and reaches out to community members through public service announcements and a Web site. A pilot site in Mississippi is currently replicating the initiative. The national office of Volunteers of America and the National District Attorneys Association are partners in this effort.

Helping and Lending Outreach Support (HALOS)

Initiated in April 1997 by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), HALOS is a collaboration among the MUSC departments of pediatrics and psychiatry, the Exchange Club Center, College of Charleston Center for Learning, Lowcountry Children's Center, Charleston County Department of Social Services (DSS), and the faith, business, and civic communities. By supplementing caseworker budgets, the program provides services and support for child abuse victims above and beyond what DSS caseworkers typically can offer. In addition to partnering with HALOS by "adopting" a DSS caseworker, organizations, businesses, and community members can participate in the program by making donations, providing services or materials, helping with transportation, and recruiting teachers. Some of the regular services provided by HALOS partners include summer camp opportunities, birthday salutes, back-to-school drives, and holiday giving programs. HALOS also assists vulnerable adults served by DSS. OVC is funding the program to evaluate its existing protocols and to expand and develop protocols and information for possible replication in other communities. For more information, visit the HALOS Web site.

Community Chaplaincy Program

U.S. Community Chaplaincy (USCC) is a nonprofit nonsectarian organization whose mission is to help traumatized persons. USCC works with local law enforcement agencies to organize, train, and manage teams of civilian volunteers to provide immediate on-scene support to citizens who have been traumatized by a homicide, suicide, traffic collision, child death, or other tragedy. Through the Community Chaplaincy Program, USCC has modified and expanded an existing curriculum to include guidance on responding to incidents of mass violence. Topics covered in the training curriculum include—

  • An overview of the grief process.
  • Confidentiality.
  • Appropriate responses to victims and survivors.
  • Death notification.
  • Working with children and adolescents.
  • Working with the elderly and disabled.
  • Working with diverse cultures.
  • Responding to large-scale incidents.
  • Secondary trauma.
  • Self-care for responders.

The revised curriculum is currently being pilot tested on volunteer chaplains in other sites, and USCC is working with those sites to establish community chaplaincy programs. For more information, visit the U.S. Community Chaplaincy Web site.

Faith Community Professional Education Initiative

The Faith Community Professional Education Initiative will incorporate victimization dynamics into seminary curricula. Under a previous project, the Denver VALE Board and the Denver Seminary collaborated to develop the "Victimization: Seminary Education in Pastoral Counseling" curriculum to instruct seminary students on the issues victims face. This initiative identified schools of professional religious education representing a range of faiths for pilot testing the curriculum, after which it will be refined and broadly disseminated. To complement this project, OVC will support production of a promising practices video highlighting effective and innovative faith-based victim service programs. The video will feature both direct service and education initiatives that improve how faith communities respond to victims. For more information, contact the Denver District Attorney's Office at 720–913–9000 or e-mail Info@DenverDA.org.

Video on the Faith Community's Response to Crime Victims

OVC is developing a video on promising practices involving the faith community in assisting victims of crime. The video intends to engage and inform practitioners within the victim assistance field and among the faith community about the important role the faith community can play in crime victim assistance. It will briefly illustrate how OVC-supported initiatives involving the faith community have evolved, highlighting collaborations between victim assistance providers and the faith community. More information about the video and its release date will be announced later this year.

Communities Against Senior Exploitation (CASE) Partnership

OVC is supporting a training project to help faith-based practitioners identify and intervene in cases of elder financial fraud and exploitation. The Denver District Attorney's Office, working with Denver's faith-based institutions, has developed the Communities Against Senior Exploitation (CASE) Partnership program, which provides community-based services related to elder financial fraud prevention, intervention, reporting, and victim support. The partnership includes a train-the-trainer program and weekly financial crime prevention messages and urgent alerts. Specifically, the project trains staff and volunteers at faith institutions; these partners then educate the elderly about fraud in general and warn them about known fraudulent schemes. A grant award supports both continuation and expansion of the CASE Partnership program and its replication in other Colorado counties. The project targets many types of fraud and exploitation against elders and focuses particularly on underserved populations.

The Family Violence Project

The Family Violence Project is a collaboration of the courts, schools, faith community, and social services of Orange County, California. The project's ultimate goal is to eliminate violence in the family and community. The project actively works with the county's faith community and, with the collaboration of the Orange County Superior Court, sponsors an annual interfaith conference to educate the clergy about domestic violence and teen dating violence, appropriately counseling victims, and when and how to help victims seek secular assistance. For more information, visit the Family Violence Project Web site.

Helping Outreach Programs to Expand II (HOPE II)

Faith-based and/or community-based organizations have a long history of helping victims. More often than not, victims seek the comfort, guidance, and assistance of faith- and/or community-based organizations because these organizations are trusted members of the community. To promote greater participation of faith- and/or community-based organizations in criminal justice programs that are supported by the Department of Justice, and to increase the development and capacity of faith- and community-based organizations' response to underserved victims in high-crime urban areas, OVC has allocated $3 million to the Helping Outreach Programs to Expand II (HOPE II) Grant Program.

OVC, through a cooperative agreement with the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, Inc. (MCVRC), is currently soliciting proposals from faith-based and/or community-based organizations serving underserved crime victims to establish 48 subgrantee sites in urban, high-crime areas across the United States. MCVRC will award each of the selected sites up to $50,000. Activities that will be supported include:

  • Recruitment and use of volunteers to provide services to victims of crime (e.g., the training of victim advocates), and management of volunteers and nongovernmental support.

  • Provision of services to victims (e.g., transportation to and from criminal justice proceedings and advocacy before the criminal justice system).

  • Promotion within the community served of a coordinated public and private sector effort to aid victims (e.g., program literature, newsletters, and victim outreach efforts).

  • Assistance for victims in obtaining available victim compensation benefits through state or local government agencies.

MCVRC will help subgrantees develop a network linking faith- and community-based organizations to victim assistance communities. Critical gaps in services will be addressed and existing resources and collaborations strengthened to improve communities' response to victims. For more information, contact Julie Gilbert Rosicky at 301-952-1406 or by e-mail at julie@mdcrimevictims.org. Application kits are available at www.mdcrimevictims.org.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will conduct a 2-year evaluation of the HOPE II program to independently assess the extent to which the HOPE II program goals and objectives are being achieved. For more information, see the NIJ solicitation.

Helping Outreach Programs to Expand I (HOPE 1)

OVC directly supports grassroots victim service efforts. The HOPE grant program provides grassroots community-based victim organizations and coalitions with up to $10,000* to network, develop programs, build coalitions, and deliver services. Faith-based victim service programs are eligible to apply for these grants and may use the funds to—

  • Develop and disseminate brochures, newsletters, and other victim-related materials to the community.
  • Provide financial support for advocates and volunteers to attend victim-related training conferences.
  • Support a 24-hour crisis counseling hotline.

Examples of innovative uses of HOPE funding include offering SMILE Bags that contain personal care items, stuffed toys, and books for women and children who are victims and supporting National Crime Victims' Rights Week activities.


OVC recognizes the vital importance of enlisting the faith community to serve both the spiritual and material needs of victims of crime. Consistent with the mission of the Justice Department's Task Force for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, OVC continues to reach out to faith-based organizations and groups to encourage their participation in OVC programs. This partnership is intended to provide better, more complete services for crime victims.

1. H.P. Chalfant, P.L. Heller, A. Roberts, D. Briones, S. Aguirre-Hochbaum, and W. Farr, 1990, "The Clergy as a Resource for Those Encountering Psychological Distress," Review of Religious Research 31(3): 305–313.
2. J. Verhoff, R.A. Kulka, and E. Douvan, 1981, Mental Health in America, New York: Basic Books.

*Update 11/13/06: OVC announces the amount of funds available for the HOPE program has increased from $5,000 to $10,000.

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