Acting on faith – Focus on teamwork

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Mike Hosick estimates he interviewed at least 20,000 people in his 25 years as an executive recruiter.

Now, he interviews homeless people in shelters and health clinics and beneath railroad bridges.

Hosick is founder and executive director of Triangle Disability Advocates in Raleigh, a faith-based group that works with other religious and county social-service agencies to identify and help homeless and poor people obtain Social Security disability benefits.

In its first year, the nonprofit has begun to try to secure benefits for 250 people among an estimated 3,000 or more in Wake County who are homeless and disabled – and otherwise unlikely to get help.

“We filled a void,” says Hosick.

Triangle Disability Advocates landed its initial funding from Faith in Action, a $100 million program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, N.J., that aims to build a national network of volunteer interfaith coalitions to serve people with chronic disease or disabilities.

Burton Reifler, a psychiatrist who directs Faith in Action, says interfaith volunteer coalitions work because they meet a critical civic need by tapping a basic religious impulse – while avoiding governmental or denominational interference.

“People trust houses of worship and the religious institutions in their communities,” says Reifler, a former chairman of the department of psychiatry at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, which administers Faith in Action.

The program is the largest ever funded by the Robert Wood Johnson, the biggest U.S. health-care philanthropy – and builds on the foundation’s belief that interfaith coalitions might be a prescription for long-term U.S. health-care needs.

After helping to create a network of more than 1,000 coalitions in the 1980s and 90s, the foundation last winter announced it would invest $100 million to create 2,000 new coalitions over seven years.

That assistance was just what Hosick needed in starting Triangle Disability Advocates.

After retiring at age 50 in 1997 from his executive-search career, Hosick began volunteering for Triad Disability Advocates in Greensboro.

Identifying a similar need in Wake County –home to Dorothea Dix Hospital, a state mental hospital whose patients often end up in the local homeless population — he moved to Raleigh to create Triangle Disability Advocates.

The group’s board consists of representatives from other faith-based charities — such as Pan-Lutheran Ministries, Raleigh Rescue Mission, Salvation Army and Urban Ministries of Raleigh — which all provide volunteers to identify homeless people and help them secure benefits.

And the group, also funded by the Relief and Development Foundation of the Episcopal Church, helps clients manage their money once they receive benefits.

“This is a very effective way to reach a niche population,” says Hosick, a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, a lay arm of the Franciscan Order. “We bring an income and hope to people who have no other resources.”

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