Reflections on a Public Policy Internship in Philadelphia

by Max Beckwebsite logo esa

As a M.T.S. student in Christian faith and public policy one of my requirements was that I participate in an internship with an organization working on public policy. Therefore, I began my search for an organization that influenced public policy and had connections with faith. After many hours of searching, I discovered, through another Palmer student, a small unit within Philadelphia's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS). This unit was Faith and Spiritual Affairs (FSA) and was part of DBHIDS' strategic planning division. I reached out to FSA with my interest in interning with the unit and I immediately received a positive response. FSA had been looking for more interns from seminaries, and my particular concentration in Christian faith and public policy was an added bonus for them. We arranged an interview, and on the day of the interview itself I was told I had received the internship. A month later I would begin my work in a field completely new to me that involved the relationship between faith, spirituality, and public health.

After spending a week in sunny San Diego, California at the end of January, I returned to the blistering cold of Philadelphia to being my internship at FSA. My first day consisted of familiarizing myself with the mindboggling amount of DBHIDS standards and practice guidelines. DBHIDS lived up to the government stereotype of having a document concerning anything and everything. This is not to say that the information was unimportant. Indeed, everything that I read on day one about DBHIDS was important for the city of Philadelphia and its work in public health. Since there was no possible way for me to read everything to competency, I focused my attention on the work FSA.

As a brief history, DBHIDS recognized that faith and spirituality played a positive role in recovery and established the Faith-Based Initiative [i] to build partnerships with city churches, mosques, and synagogues to reach members in various faith communities. In 2005, FSA sent out a wave of letters into the faith community of Philadelphia announcing that the city intended to establish a former partnership with the faith community. As connections began to emerge within the faith community, organizational structure was established within DBHIDS. FSA would set up an advisory board that would serve to guide FSA's work. The advisory board would have no governing authority, but would serve as more of a steering committee. Due to FSA being a government entity the board needed to be religiously inclusive. Therefore, various faiths are represented on the advisory board. Having various faiths represented on the board allows FSA to have a greater reach within the community. It also assists FSA in understanding the religious and cultural sensitivity it must be aware of when it does work. With the guidance of the Advisory as well as FSA unit personnel FSA has reached over 600 faith-based and community organizations. Today, FSA is responsible for:

  • Building partnerships with faith leaders and faith-based organizations throughout Philadelphia
  • Promoting an anti-stigma message in faith communities through the use of education, community forums and other events
  • Coordination of the Faith-based Conference
  • Provide a platform for Faith-Based and Community Organizations to highlight their programs to DBHIDS staff through monthly meetings open to all staff
  • Translation of DBHIDS resources into South East Asian, Spanish, Indonesian and Haitian Creole languages
  • Coordination with the Mayor's Office of Faith-based Initiatives
  • Working together with faith-based organizations to help them understand and address the needs of people receiving services in local communities
  • Creating curriculum and training that promotes the embedding of Faith-based Programs in all services funded/managed by DBHIDS
  • Coordination of the Faith and Spiritual Affairs Advisory Board comprised of diverse faith leaders, researchers, educators and community organizers in Philadelphia
  • Partnering with Community College of Philadelphia by scholarshiping Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) to attend the Faith and Spiritual Counseling certificate workshop


[i]Behavioral Health and Mental Retardation Services became the Department of Behavioral Health/and Intellectual disAbility Services in 2011; at the same time Faith-Based Initiative became Faith and Spiritual Affairs. For the purposes of consistency, those titles will be used in this piece and the supporting materials.

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