Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University Receives $3.5 Million Contract from Texas Health and Human Services Commission
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Contract will allow THI to build an innovative public-private partnership that will play vital role in the state's human needs infrastructure
WACO, Texas (March 18, 2013) - The Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) at Baylor University has received a $3.5 million Community Partnership Program (CPP) contract from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) that will allow THI to develop an innovative statewide public-private partnership to expand access to food and health care for low-income Texas families through community-based research and programmatic activities. The contract is renewable for up to five years.
The HHSC contract will provide resources for the Texas Hunger Initiative to open 12 regional offices in Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, Lubbock, McAllen, San Angelo, San Antonio, Tyler and Waco. As part of HHSC's Community Partnership Recruitment Initiative (CPRI), the Texas Hunger Initiative will recruit and train more than 1,100 community-based organizations on YourTexasBenefits.com, a new online tool created by HHSC to help Texans apply for and manage their state benefits.
The Texas Hunger Initiative - based in the Baylor University School of Social Work - also will lead a coalition of community partners that includes the Texas Association of Community Health Centers (TACHC) - which will provide outreach work with the health community in Texas, particularly Federally Qualified Health Centers that meet the health care needs of the uninsured and underserved - and Texas Impact, the state's oldest and largest interfaith social justice network, which will conduct congregational outreach.
The partnership model is intended to be replicable for any other poverty-related issue and to work in any other state in the country.
"We're excited to work with the Texas Hunger Initiative to build a network of community partners to help low-income families apply for services," said Stephanie Muth, deputy executive commissioner at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. "This is a very cost effective way to reach deeper into the community by using established organizations that people know and trust."
"As Texans, we really pride ourselves on developing efficient models for public and private service," said Texas Hunger Initiative director Jeremy Everett. "The Texas Hunger Initiative is a collaborative model, and we believe that every organization - whether it's the corporate sector, the faith sector, the nonprofit sector or the government sector - has an equal seat at the table. We also believe that the best solutions to local problems come from the local community, so it is important for us to put the decision-making process for how to address hunger in the hands of the local community.
"It was this collaborative model that attracted HHSC to contract with us because we've demonstrated that by bringing these organizations together and developing a public-private partnership, we can make government leaner and more efficient while significantly reducing hunger and poverty in our communities."
Rigorous research key to program
In addition to the statewide community partnerships, Baylor University faculty from multiple disciplines ranging from business to social work also will be involved in the THI project, conducting research on the barriers that community-based organizations and clients might face participating in the CPRI, the cost effectiveness and impact of the program.
"This funding gives us a unique opportunity to conduct rigorous research on how best to create systemic changes resulting in greater food security for those most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition," said Diana R. Garland, Ph.D., dean of the Baylor School of Social Work. "Research enables us not just to feed the hungry in our state, but to disseminate best practices to address hunger across the nation. The wedding of both service and research dissemination is an exciting and deeply gratifying role for our University to be granted."
"The Texas Hunger Initiative is committed to pursuing research that addresses the widespread problem of food insecurity in our state," said Kathy J. Krey, Ph.D., director of research for the Texas Hunger Initiative. "With this contract, we are systematically collecting information about our activities and programs to build a rich data repository that helps us answer compelling research questions about what works and why."
The Texas Hunger Initiative began in 2009 as a capacity-building and collaborative project within the Baylor University School of Social Work in partnership with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a model to significantly reduce - if not eliminate - hunger by building a public-private infrastructure. The THI structure convenes federal, state and local government stakeholders with non-profits, faith communities and business leaders to create an efficient system of accountability that increases food security in Texas.
Building partnerships, helping communities
During its four-year existence, the Texas Hunger Initiative has worked closely with local communities throughout the state to build Food Planning Associations and Food Policy Councils to assess local food systems, identify resources and gaps and address those gaps using existing resources. THI has worked with state government and numerous community organizations to increase summer meals participation by a million meals per summer. Through a partnership with Dairy MAX, USDA and participating school districts, THI and its partners increased Breakfast participation for children by 15 million meals served during 2011-2012 academic year. THI also has worked closely with state officials to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) accessibility at farmer's markets around the state so Texans who are eligible for that program can purchase healthy food directly from local farmers.
When the Texas Hunger Initiative started its work, Texas was second in the country in childhood hunger. In the years following the implementation of THI's organized public-private infrastructure, Texas has seen improvement in its childhood hunger rates, dropping to 11th in the country.
Baylor recently adopted a new strategic vision, Pro Futuris, that will guide the university's progress over the next decade. One of the vision's five aspirational statements is "informed engagement," where Baylor's Christian faith, in conjunction with the university's expertise and resources, inspires a desire to address systemic problems facing the community, both local and global, and renews the University's dedication to improvement of self and service to others.
Everett said historically, as community organizations and universities try to address hunger and poverty and other social issues, their engagement activities and social service involvement are not informed by research.
"A lot of the times you have research on one side of the campus and service work on the other side of the campus," Everett said. "We believe if we're really serious about significantly reducing hunger and poverty domestically, we have to tie research into all outreach endeavors that we're undertaking. It's important to evaluate everything we're doing, it's important to identify what real poverty might look like, what real hunger looks like, and what kind of resources we have - by county for example - to address each one of the problems.
"Through this contract, we are developing not only an external model but an internal model for how we are going to be doing informed engagement, so everything from how we do short-term service-related opportunities to long-term sustained engagement international, domestic or local, we're going to be using the THI format for how we engage communities for the foreseeable future," Everett said.
Joining a "statewide footprint"
The Texas Hunger Initiative's university setting makes it unique among the "grand company of hundreds of great organizations" - many with a statewide footprint - that address hunger and poverty in the state of Texas, said Doug McDurham, director of programs for the Texas Hunger Initiative.
"Being part of a major research university allows us to broker the remarkable knowledge and research resources of Baylor University to do much more than provide services or address symptoms of poverty. We are excited to partner with a top-notch team of experienced service providers and community organizers to do the work on the ground. But with the addition of an amazing research team of professionals, faculty and graduate assistants, we are positioned to play the significant and important role of knowledge creation and dissemination," McDurham said. "The recent grants and expansions provide the opportunity for Baylor to be a national player in conducting research, establishing best practices and creating effective business models for eradicating hunger and poverty. Baylor will be informing the national dialogue about what works. It is particularly exciting that this is being done in a faith-based setting."
Everett said the public-private partnership, along with the valuable research and evaluation conducted at Baylor, will build up the collective capacity of the state to sustain their ability to address the need, while increasing the capacity of nonprofits, corporate partners and faith communities to contribute as well, so one particular sector is not overburdened with the responsibility.
"So at that point, we're not needed anymore," Everett said. "We can research it along the way, we can evaluate it, then we'll know how to do more targeted outreach, what types of community organizations are doing the best type of outreach or completing the best applications or the best entry points for low-income Texans and then we can provide that data and methodology to other states who are wanting to do the same."
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.
ABOUT THE BAYLOR SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK
The Baylor University School of Social Work is home to one of the leading graduate social work programs in the nation with a research agenda focused on the integration of faith and practice. Upholding its mission of preparing social workers in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership, the School offers a baccalaureate degree (BSW), a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, a PhD degree, and three joint-degree options (MSW/Master of Business Administration, MSW/Master of Divinity and MSW/Master of Theological Studies) through a partnership with Baylor's Hankamer School of Business and George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Visit www.baylor.edu/social_work to learn more.
ABOUT THE TEXAS HUNGER INITIATIVE
The Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) is a capacity-building and collaborative project that seeks to develop and implement strategies to end hunger through policy, education, community organizing and community development. THI seeks to make the state food secure by ensuring that every individual has access to three healthy meals a day, seven days a week. THI convenes federal, state and local government stakeholders with non-profits, faith communities and business leaders to create an efficient system of accountability that increases food security in Texas.
The mission of HHSC is to maintain and improve the health and human services system in Texas and to administer its programs in accordance with the highest standards of customer service and accountability for the effective use of funds. HHSC oversees the operations of the health and human services system, provides administrative oversight of Texas health and human services programs, and provides direct administration of some programs. HHSC operates with an annual budget of $16 billion and 9,300 employees.