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center for faith based and neighborhood partnerships

Connecting Health, Faith and Agriculture: How One Community is Using Agriculture to Support Community Health

In the rural community of Conetoe, North Carolina, residents are taking aim at the lack of access to healthy and nutritious food and its youth are leading the charge. In the predominately African American town, more than 60 youth participants of Conetoe Family Life Center (CFLC) have a direct role in the health and welfare of their community.

Conetoe Family Life Center was established in 2007 by Reverend Richard Joyner, a 2010 CNN Hero, to address persistent poverty and lack of access to healthy foods for the predominantly African American rural town of Conetoe, North Carolina.  As a result of CFLC’s efforts, the community has seen a dramatic decrease in negative health determinants.

A Reflection: Celebrating Eight Years of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Looking back at USDA’s efforts to help rural America thrive, I am truly proud of the impact our diverse partners, both from faith and secular communities, have had within their communities. On behalf of the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I would like to say thank you to our partners these past eight years as well as reflect on a few notable highlights of the work we have achieved together.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans every day, whether they realize it or not. While our programs to reduce food insecurity are well known, our nation’s most vulnerable citizens can still be hard to reach. Faith-based and community partners have been especially helpful in this area, particularly when it comes to feeding children in summer months, when school is out of session. In collaboration with many partners, including Catholic Charities USA, the Church of God in Christ, Islamic Relief USA, the National Baptist Convention and the Salvation Army, USDA increased the number of summer meals served to kids by 16% between 2009 and 2015, a total of more than 1.2 billion summer meals served when school is out and food is scarce.

A Diverse Sector is a Strong Sector: My Brother's Keeper National Week at the Labs

Two years ago, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) to address persistent disadvantages and ensure boys and young men of color have opportunities to reach their full potential.  Since the initiative’s launch, the Administration has partnered with nonprofits, businesses, towns and cities to connect young people with mentors and resources, helping to build lasting bridges of opportunity for youth across the country.

Over the next five years, approximately 57,900 jobs will become available in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment annually -- with only 35,400 students graduating with the specialized expertise to fill them. A diverse sector is a strong sector, and that’s why we’re taking strides to ensure all Americans have access to the array of opportunities across the field.

Partnering with Faith-Based and Community Organizations to Better Serve People in Need

At USDA we work through partnerships to provide opportunities to people in need.  Through relationships with both faith-based and secular community organizations, we are able to achieve our shared goals representative of America’s core values of caring for each other, including making sure that every family and every child is healthy and hunger free. Our partners serve thousands of Americans each day, providing emergency food assistance to families and nutritious meals to kids in the summer when school is closed.

Partnerships with community organizations are critical; fidelity to constitutional principles is equally important.   So we have worked to develop regulations that will ensure that we can continue to partner with faith-based organizations in the delivery of USDA-supported services, while ensuring that the religious liberty of those organizations as well as families and taxpayers is respected.

Deal Gives Back

Here at USDA, we believe in the power of community to make a difference. So when Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, DC, reached out to the USDA Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to come visit for their annual day of service, we were eager to welcome over 100 seventh graders to our headquarters to talk about the importance of environmental awareness and conservation practices, their theme for this year. With seventy percent of the nation’s land under private ownership, the success of USDA’s partnership with landowners to clean the air we breathe, conserve and clean the water we drink, prevent soil erosion, and create and protect wildlife habitat will depend on developing a strong next generation of conservation leaders like the Alice Deal students. So too, will our ability to manage the public lands and waters, including our national forests and grasslands that we hold in trust for the American people.

After a day with these bright young students, we’ve learned that we’re in pretty good hands.

USDA Pilots New Strategy to Recruit Minority Serving Institution Graduates

As we’ve celebrated Public Service Recognition Week this week, Secretary Vilsack and employees all across the government have shared what an honor it is to work as a public servant. But, it’s no secret that the federal hiring process is a lengthy one, which can be especially frustrating for recent graduates eager to begin careers upon earning their degrees. To streamline this process and meet an important hiring initiative—bringing qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds and more young people into our ranks—USDA has been piloting a new on-site hiring strategy at Minority Serving Institutions.

Working directly with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), USDA has hosted five on-site events where USDA hiring managers collect applications, conduct interviews, and in some cases make job offers on the spot for internships and recent graduate positions. To date, USDA has collected 795 applications at these events, for a total of 276 available positions within 10 USDA agencies, including the Agricultural Marketing Service, Agricultural Research Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Farm Service Agency, Forest Service, Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Risk Management Agency, and Rural Development.

Calling on Communities to Help Feed Children in Need

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships blog:

With summer’s arrival, officials at the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are preparing for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This program ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. Free meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines are provided to all children 18 years old and under at approved SFSP sites in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.

Our offices recently hosted a nationwide conference call to thank faith and community leaders for their work in this area and to inform them about efforts surrounding the SFSP this summer. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the call, challenging community leaders to strive for an aggressive, but attainable goal: serving an additional 10 million meals over the course of the summer to better reach our children in need. Secretary Vilsack discussed the need for children to be well-nourished, an essential part of our commitment to helping children learn and thrive.

Let's Carry the Values of Tu B'Shevat with Us Every Day

Dignitaries from the White House and USDA held a tree planting ceremony Thursday beside the National Mall to commemorate Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year of the Tree. Thinking about the people planting that young Redbud tree to honor the conservation ethic of the Jewish community, I was reminded of just how important trees are to all of us.

In my job as the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, I’m charged with leading the agency that manages 193 million acres of forests that belong to the American people, as well as providing assistance in the management of 500 million acres of state and private forests and 100 million acres of urban forests. That’s a tremendous responsibility for the agency, one that often requires thinking in terms of the big picture, and how our decisions will impact the landscape in 30, 50, or even 100 years.

Philadelphia Fights Hunger Through Academic, Faith and Community Partnerships

The City of Brotherly Love puts its motto into practice. I saw this firsthand when I travelled to Philadelphia to meet with a network of community leaders who partner with USDA through its Summer Food Service Program. With this program, USDA subsidizes nutritious summer lunches for students who need them and works with community partners to deliver those meals.

In Philadelphia, about 22% of children live in households that have trouble putting enough food on the table for every member of the family. That means when school is out, and school meals are not available, many kids are vulnerable. The Summer Food Service Program plays a critical role in making sure kids have access to nutritious meals so that they can begin the school year well nourished and alert.  My friend and former director of the White House’s Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives during the George W. Bush Administration, Professor John DiIulio, invited me to Philadelphia where he currently works at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fox Leadership Program.

USDA's Iftar Dinner Reflects a Common Calling - Rebuilding and Strengthening Communities in Need

As Hunger Action Month comes to a close, I am reminded of an employee event we held last month in honor of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. For many followers of the Islamic faith, the month of Ramadan – known as a time of fasting and sacrifice – is also a time of reflection.  As we deal with hunger and thirst from sunrise to sunset, we are reminded of those who deal with hunger – and poverty – every day. As we reflect on our spiritual responsibilities, we must also recall our obligation to help others in times of need.  For Muslim employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), this holds especially true.

USDA touches the lives of every American.  Our nutrition and food safety programs ensure that all America’s children have access to safe, nutritious, balanced meals, while our rural development programs promote prosperous, self-sustaining communities.  Our conservation programs protect our national forests and private working lands, while our agricultural support programs promote American agriculture and biotechnology while increasing food security around the world.