Faith in Action: Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers of Solano County provides non-acute, non-medical support services to our enrolled care receivers by matching them with trained volunteers. The program was formed in 1997 by a collaboration comprised of clergy, volunteer lay chaplains, service providers, and parish nurses. This collaboration met under the auspices of the Chaplaincy and Family Services Programs of NorthBay Healthcare. The collaboration was concerned about the number of frail seniors and persons with chronic illnesses who lived alone and who were being discharged to their homes without any caregiver support. Many of these persons could no longer drive due to their age or illnesses, making it very difficult to get to follow-up appointments and necessary treatment. The lack of transportation also proved to be a barrier in buying groceries or getting to the pharmacy for needed medication. For adult children who were caregivers, assisting their aging parents added to the stress of balancing work responsibilities while caring for their own children. Placing them in skilled nursing facilities might not be an option for many of these families — the cost was prohibitive for many and the number of nursing beds in Solano County was scarce. Hiring and paying for persons to come into the home could also be expensive; for some, bringing in an unknown person raised questions around safety for their loved one. While discussing possible solutions, the collaboration learned of a grant initiative from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Foundation had been awarding start-up grants since 1983 to communities that demonstrated promise in providing unique solutions to the problems associated with caregiving, and the growing isolation of persons with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Known as the Faith in Action Initiative, the focus of the initiative was the partnering of health service providers with faith communities, with the intent of recruiting and training volunteers who would be matched with homebound persons. Volunteers could transport care receivers to medical appointments, help them with grocery shopping, make home visits, and initiate reassuring phone calls. Although the focus was on easing the stress of caregiving to both individuals and families, the result of volunteer caregiving was the establishment of relationships between the volunteer and the matched care recipient, thus ending the isolation of homebound persons and linking the care recipient to the community. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded the start-up grant to the collaboration in November 1997, with NorthBay Healthcare providing fiscal oversight.
Other initial funders included NorthBay Healthcare, Kaiser Permanente, Partnership Healthplan of California, the Solano Coalition for Better Health, and the National Federation of Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers. Seven faith communities also provide financial support: in Fairfield — Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, Fairfield Presbyterian Church, and St. Stephen’s Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; in Vacaville — Christian Church of Vacaville, Unity Church of the Valley, and First Baptist Church. County Health and Social Services, Independent Living Resources, and Redwood Caregivers provided staff support for the project. After hiring its first director to implement the project — the Rev. Robert T. Fuentes — Faith in Action began to offer services in early 1998.
At first, Faith in Action provided services only in the tri-city area of Fairfield, Suisun, and Vacaville; however, the request for services in Vallejo, Benicia, Rio Vista, and Dixon moved the agency to seek additional funding in order to expand its service area. The agency was able to respond to requests in Rio Vista and Dixon as a result of a grant from the Sierra Health Foundation in 1999. Solano County Health and Social Services contracted with Faith in Action in May 2000, allowing the agency to strengthen services to Vallejo and Benicia.
In 2000, the agency incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. That year, the agency also opened its second office, which is located in the City of Vacaville’s McBride Center; the city provides office space at no charge to the agency. Since Faith in Action was now an agency instead of a program, the original services provided by Faith in Action were reorganized as the Caregiver Respite Program, adding staff and strengthening the infrastructure of the agency. This reorganization allowed for Faith in Action to add programs as needs within the senior community became more apparent.
In 2003, Faith in Action assumed oversight of Vacaville Ride with Pride, Inc, a nonprofit that provided alternative transportation to Vacaville seniors. Faith in Action renamed it the Ride with Pride Program and expanded its service to include residents of Dixon, Suisun, and Fairfield. Presently, the agency is working toward strengthening this program in south County.
In 2004, at the request of the Solano Cancer Network, the agency agreed to absorb the Cancer Patient Navigator Program, which provided support to newly diagnosed cancer patients. The cancer program’s primary funder was the Marti Nelson Cancer Foundation. The agency renamed the program in 2006; it was known as Cancer Support Services. The agency merged this program with Caregiver Respite Program in April 2011.
Mindful of the various needs of the medically vulnerable, in 2005 Faith in Action began to provide fiscal oversight to the Children’s Health Access Program, a collaboration of various school nurses, children’s service providers, and insurance enrollment programs within Solano County. The program provided for urgent medical and dental care for uninsured children, and linked their families to low-cost insurance programs. Though not a caregiving program, in August 2007, the CHAP Advisory Board voted to become a program of Faith in Action. This program was discontinued due to lack of funding in June 2011.
Presently, the agency is fully implementing a project to meet the needs of seniors with mental health illness or who are in mental health distress. This project, the Senior Peer Counseling Program, began fully providing individual and group counseling in June 2008, although funding was scarce. Since implementation of this new program, funding has been secured by County Mental Health Services Act, utilizing Mental Health Services Acts funds to not only subsidize in-home counseling and in-person group counseling (at select sites), but also to implement a new pilot project known as Senior Voices. Senior Voices allows for homebound seniors to participate in group counseling via a conference call format. Funded in 2014, Senior Voices continues to be offered as a peer counseling service.
Each of Faith in Action’s caregiving programs relies on volunteers, many of whom still come from our original faith community partners, as well as from the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Baha’i and Buddhists communities (no one needs to come from a faith tradition in order to volunteer; at least 50% of our volunteers are not connected to a faith community. Volunteers are not permitted to proselytize). Volunteers are matched with care recipients in 1:1 relationships, providing connection to the community. This “service provision through relationship” model looks not only to assisting care recipients in the maintaining of their independence, while helping them to age in place, but also to the building up of sense of self and an increased quality of life because care recipients no longer feel alone — which is key to ensuring optimal health.