2 October 2017 . Comment

Invest in Our Community

Project Home engages area faith communities to provide emergency shelter space and volunteer support for Ramsey County families facing homelessness.

By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director

Our vision is: People of faith working together to relieve the effects of poverty and to address its root causes. Our board and our staff are deeply serious about making this vision a reality. All of our programs work towards that end.

Our Department of Indian Work food shelf is there to help families who cannot put food on the table. Our Project Home shelter is there for families with children who do not have housing. These direct service programs meet immediate, essential needs of families in poverty. And they work in upstream ways too, providing connections to education and other resources that will help families do better in the long run.

Our after-school programs work to ensure that African American and American Indian children have culturally specific, enriching educational experiences beyond those that the public school day can give them. The children in our program are making literacy gains and are finding a warm and nurturing school-home in these programs. But the funding for these programs has been significantly cut in the past year as the Greater Twin Cities United Way, the foundation community, and state government sources have cut back on funding for work with children in grades K – 5.

In general, all of these programs are funded in part by government contracts and foundation grants. But those sources provide only part of the funding. The key to these programs’ survival is funding from individuals and from faith communities.

Our newest program, Opportunity Saint Paul, seeks to deliver more than 5,000 hours of highly effective tutoring and job coaching through our excellent non-profit partners, right where it’s needed most in our East Metro. This program also seeks to raise awareness of poverty in Saint Paul, and to inspire more people in the faith community to volunteer in efforts that will make the difference to raise people out of poverty.

This is long-term work. All of it. And we need your support.

On October 26, 250 people will gather at Mount Zion Temple to hear more about this work and to have the immediate opportunity to respond by making a financial investment in Interfaith Action. It is the opportunity to invest in the future of Saint Paul and all of the members of our community. Whether you are invited to the breakfast by a member of your faith community or you sign up online, we look forward to welcoming you to our Bringing Faith to Life Breakfast.

Advance registration is required. Call Kristi Anderson at 651-789-3843 if you have questions or would like to attend.

Warm Regards,

Randi Ilyse Roth
Executive Director

18 August 2017 . Comment

What Do The Youth Think?

Youth conversing with each other at the Interfaith Youth Day of Service event.

By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director

A few weeks ago a diverse group of clergy and religious leaders met at our office as part of their effort to forge an interfaith response to hate activity. They worked to help formulate a faith community response to the August 5 bombing of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. They also discussed the recent vandalism at the Al Maghfirah cemetery in rural Dakota county, which included spray-painted profanities and swastikas, and damaged walls, furniture and other property. One spray-painted message apparently says: “Leave, you R dead.”

Then came the hate speech, violence, and death in Charlottesville.

How can we understand what is happening in America now? What should we do?

We asked Fardosa Hassan, the director of Interfaith Action’s Interfaith Youth Connection (IYC) program to ask recent IYC graduates how they understand these events. The graduates are young people who spent their high school years in a leadership group with youth of different faiths. They studied together. They got to know each other. They grew to care about each other. And they worked side-by-side to plan and implement an Interfaith Youth Day of Service, attended by nearly 200 youth each President’s Day.

We have much to learn from the IYC graduates’ answer:

Each person is born unique and innocent. Hate has to be taught and learned, ultimately hate is a choice and people should understand that they have another choice. You can also choose to love people, to be curious and open to people who look and think in ways that are different from you. This is how you learn to love, and to become your best self. This too can be your life if you choose it. Whom do you choose to be in this world?

How do we, as adults, learn what the youth know?

One way is to replicate the youths’ experience. We need to put ourselves in situations in which we get to know people from backgrounds and faiths and races different from our own. As the youth tell us, we need to be curious and open, and learn to love and become our best selves.

Several Interfaith Action programs give our community the chance to build broad, diverse community with each other. Give us a call at 651-646-8805 or visit our website at interfaithaction.org if you’d like to learn more.

Warm Regards,

Randi Ilyse Roth
Executive Director

18 August 2017 . Comment

Strength in Numbers

Phenhli Thao explaining issues around renting land and how CSA programs give farmers added support.

By Sarah Goodall, Program Coordinator, Farm-Faith Project

Phenhli Thao is a first-generation American. His parents came to the United States as Hmong Refugees in the 1980s and started farming first in Wisconsin, then Minnesota. Although he grew up with farming in his blood, it wasn’t always his chosen career path. “I worked inside for years, and I could never wait to take my break. I needed to get my hands in the dirt. I like being able to work outside every day.”

Phenhli has been farming alongside his parents for four years. In 2013, he started the Minnesota Hmong Agriculture Co-op, a cooperative of eight Hmong farmers who grow fresh produce for local schools as well as form a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program through its partnership with Interfaith Action. Pooling their resources, the farmers gain more financial security than they would have had farming on their own.

All eight of the cooperative members farm on rented land. Although this affords the opportunity to grow sellable produce, it is not a sustainable option in growing a farm business. Many rural areas are being overtaken with new development, and as the price of land rises, the option to sell becomes increasingly enticing to land owners. Pointing to a small subdivision at the south end of his fields, Phenhli’s face turns somber, “Last year, none of those houses were there. Not knowing when they’re going to turn [the land] into housing makes it hard to invest in anything like irrigation. The produce would grow better, but I don’t want to spend money on something then lose it when we have to move again.”

CSA members pay an upfront fee in exchange for weekly boxes of produce. Having financial backing in the beginning of the season helps offset the costs of planting and helps farmers like Phenhli save for beneficial irrigation systems, pest control solutions, or the purchase of their own land. Becoming a CSA member means you invest in local agriculture through the good and bad. Sometimes, a single storm can wipe out an entire field. The loss is disappointing, but the CSA provides a cushion. And when the weather cooperates, both CSA members and farmers are rewarded with bountiful, fresh produce.

To learn more about the Farm-Faith Project, please contact:

Sarah Goodall
Program Coordinator, Farm-Faith Project

18 August 2017 . Comment

Hearing Others With an Open Heart

Holly Brod Farber with family members and youth leaders at last year’s Interfaith Youth Day of Service.
(left to right) back row: Stephanie Levine, Sheila Harrow Brod, Holly Brod Farber, Fardosa Hassan, front row: Maya Levine, Rachel Brod Farber

By Holly Brod Farber, Interfaith Youth Connection Parent

Saint Paul is known as a great place to raise a family. And many families have lived here for generations. The Brod Farber family is one of them. Holly and Jon raised their three children, Noah and Sam (21) and Rachel (18) amongst grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The family is very rooted in their Jewish faith. They contribute to the community in many ways by volunteering at their school, and supporting their Synagogue, Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights.

It was this involvement in the community that led them to join, and eventually become leaders in, Interfaith Youth Connection (IYC). “Our kids are exposed to peers of all different faiths—but truthfully, they didn’t talk much about faith or tradition. We were looking for a place where they could learn from and teach their peers. We found that in the Interfaith Youth Connection,” said Holly Brod Farber.

Members of Interfaith Youth Connection, (left to right) back row: Sam Farber, Noah Farber, Alex Hymanson, front row: Amal Muse, Rachel Farber, Lujain Al-Khawi

Members of Interfaith Youth Connection, (left to right) back row: Sam Farber, Noah Farber, Alex Hymanson, front row: Amal Muse, Rachel Farber, Lujain Al-Khawi

Twins Noah and Sam started getting involved in 9th grade. They attended regular IYC leadership meetings and a retreat at Bay Lake Camp. There they met staff who invited them to apply to work at Bay Lake, which is a Christian camp. They were the first Jewish staff to work at the camp. “We had only ever been to Jewish camp” said Sam, “so honestly we were nervous at first, but we grew to love Bay Lake. The people were amazing; we did important work; and had great conversations!”

Part of IYC consists of planning and running the annual Interfaith Youth Day of Service, a highlight of the year. The planning process gives each youth leader an opportunity to contribute. Most of the youth leaders offer to lead a workshop about their faith, give a personal reflection or prayer, lead a group to a service site, or act as an emcee. Gathering with nearly 200 peers to learn and serve the community, be inspired by speakers, and lead part of the program, deepens their commitment to the mission and helps them understand their own ability to make a difference.

Experiencing IYC enabled Noah and Sam to enter the next phase of their lives comfortable with their own faith, and knowledgeable and curious about the faiths of others. Sam added, “getting involved with Interfaith Youth Connection taught me the importance of learning from a diverse group of people and appreciating our differences, while cultivating friendships.” When Noah began his freshman year at the University of Minnesota he and his Muslim roommate told the rest of the people on their floor that they were cousins—when people questioned that, they laughed and told them to look it up in scripture!

As soon as she was old enough, their sister Rachel joined IYC, bringing along her friends. “I wanted to be a leader who had real impact, I wanted to be able to turn ideas into reality, and maybe make a few mistakes along the way,” said Rachel. High school is a time to explore the world, to begin the process of becoming oneself and getting to know others in a deep and meaningful way. It is a time to find one’s voice and place in our big world.

“When I met Fardosa Hassan, I knew she was just the leader to help me find my voice” said Rachel. “Fardosa always has a smile, a belief that we can do it, and a great talent for asking the right questions. She gives us the space to lead, helps when we need it, and facilitates our connection which each other. I’m not sure how to describe it, but Interfaith Youth Connection has helped me find my voice as a Jew, and helped me hear others with an open heart.”

To learn more about Interfaith Youth Connection, please contact:

Fardosa Hassan
Program Coordinator

2 August 2017 . Comment

Walking in Two Worlds

Victoria (center) poses with students in the American Indian Youth Enrichment program.

By Thekla Rura-Polley, Associate Director of Development

When Victoria was an elementary student, she was glad to attend American Indian Youth Enrichment (AIYE). She says, “It’s hard to walk in two worlds. American Indian Youth Enrichment helped me navigate the two worlds.” She has many fond memories of her time in the program, from being accepted as an American Indian and affirmed in her culture to learning to take pride in herself. Unfortunately, the program is offered only in elementary school. Without the program’s support in middle and high school, she fell on hard times. She tried alcohol and drugs and was not sure where her life was going. Through a fortunate event, she reconnected with AIYE and turned her life around. In fact, she credits AIYE with saving her life and giving it new meaning and purpose.

AIYE had organized a field trip and Victoria volunteered to join the trip to accompany her nephew. She was at the lowest point in her life. Yet, all around her laughing, smiling children were excited to be on this field trip, excited to experience something different and excited to learn something new. Her nephew was so happy. Seeing this happiness sparked Victoria to remember how happy she had been in AIYE. She remembered the affirmation and pride she felt in the program. She remembered the cultural rootedness. She remembered learning that “nothing is impossible; you can achieve anything that you put your mind to.” She decided to change. She got sober. She graduated from high school and went on to college. For the last 12 years, she has been a volunteer and classroom teacher in AIYE. This year, her daughter is graduating from AIYE. Soon her son will enroll in the program.

Victoria (left) assists students during the Native Foods and Cooking class.

Victoria sees the challenges faced by the American Indian community. She says that the program works because “it is the community, it is how we all come together for the kids. It’s really awesome how we are now in the second generation of the program. We were together in the program and became friends; and now we are sending our children to AIYE.”

As a classroom teacher and parent, she loves giving children access to a wider variety of experiences such as museums, historic sites, and nature. She knows that many AIYE families face transportation and other barriers and are not able to participate in opportunities that some other children have. Providing field trips and cultural experiences is an integral part of the program. Victoria adds, “They are only kids once; why not enjoy it while they can.”

Other families also find AIYE to be a positive experience for their kids. One mother mentioned that her kids attend Dayton’s Bluff Elementary School because it is in walking distance from her house, thereby eliminating transportation challenges. She is glad that AIYE offers a summer program and enrolls her kids every year. She loves the tight community and the positive impact on the families. It is very important to her that the program is culturally based, and that the kids experience and learn their culture, language, and history.

New this year is a leadership program for 6th graders. They form their own group and receive special attention during their transition to middle school. They lead the smudging ritual, act as role models for the younger participants, and help plan special events. Leading parts of the program and guiding the younger students reinforces the cultural learning, strengthens their pride in themselves, and builds their confidence.

Victoria sees AIYE as part of the solution to the problems faced by the American Indian community. AIYE allows the students, teachers, volunteers, and families to be who they are. With its culturally based teachings, it fills the spiritual hole that many who live in urban areas experience. By building friendships from generation to generation, it strengthens the ties in the community. “Some families move and then I miss the kids. But I still see them at Powwows and other events and the connection is still there.” She knows that AIYE teaches the kids to make smart choices, take pride in who they are, and be confident that they can achieve anything they set their mind to. It worked for her.

To learn more about the American Indian Youth Enrichment program, please contact:

Rebecca Fairbanks Dickinson
American Indian Youth Enrichment Coordinator, Department of Indian Work

2 August 2017 . Comment

Summer Highlights at Interfaith Action

American Indian Youth Enrichment student enjoys some outdoor action during Lacrosse class. Lacrosse was developed by indigenous people and the sport has deep roots in their cultural tradition.

By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director

Everything feels different in the summer. It’s great to just step outside. Everyone wants to take a few hours of personal time to ride a bike or swim or have lunch on a patio. Even though we’re all taking turns at squeezing in a bit of vacation, it is buzzing here at Interfaith Action. Here are seven highlights of our summer:

1. Summer Session at American Indian Youth Enrichment. Our summer session of American Indian Youth Enrichment is going beautifully. We have an average of 45 youth attending each day, and they are learning in 5 classes: American Indian Culture, Reading Warriors, Native Foods and Cooking, Lacrosse, and the 6th grade Leadership Class.

2. CSA Farm Working Well. The Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm that is part of our Farm-Faith Project had 27 subscribers for this first summer (16 of the subscribers are churches). A cooperative of eight farmers work together to provide the produce. Many of the Hmong cooperative members farmed most of their lives in Laos before coming to the United States and are excited to put their skills to use here. Our office foyer is a drop site for 11 boxes each week.

3. Opportunity Saint Paul Launch. Our newest program, Opportunity Saint Paul (OSP), is about to launch. Our seven non-profit partners are selected. We’ve been holding lunches and breakfasts with community leaders from many walks of life to ask their advice about how to make the Learning Community evenings as rich and rewarding as possible. We’re recruiting volunteers and getting ready for our August 17 orientation session. If you’d like to explore becoming a volunteer, it’s not too late: just fill out this form.

4. Fundraising. We’re working hard to recover from United Way’s decision to eliminate its “Reading by Third Grade” portfolio. We relied on that funding for both Project SPIRIT and American Indian Youth Enrichment. We worked very hard to try to find replacement funding. Of course we are also working hard to secure resources for all of our organization’s great work. We are delighted when gift envelopes come in the mail each day. Your gifts provide us with needed financial resources and your belief in us and your acts of investing here strengthen our drive to be so engaged in this work.

5. Food Shelf Gets Fresh Produce. In the summer we do particularly well with donations of fresh produce for our Department of Indian Work Emergency Services food shelf. Every Monday, we get a donation from Macalester Plymouth United Church of fresh produce weighing about 130 lbs. Many other churches and individual donors bring in produce from their gardens as well. We are extremely grateful for all your donations of produce. It goes fast! We are on track to give away 80,000 pounds of food this year (up from 65,000 pounds last year).

6. Bringing Faith to Life Breakfast. This year our Bringing Faith to Life breakfast will be on Thursday morning, October 26. I am thinking hard about what we as a community need to talk about at the breakfast. I’m starting to read and make notes and outlines to prepare. We’re looking at materials from the Pew Foundation to try to get “on the balcony” to get a birds’ eye view of what is going on in religious life in America. And we’re sifting through our “lessons learned” in our work on the ground in community this year.

7. Filled with Thanks. We just closed out fiscal year 2017. Making ends meet is tough in this work. We are filled with thanks for our board of directors, who really mean it when they say they are compelled by a religiously rooted drive to keep faith with those who experience poverty, and to build pathways to economic well-being. As we encounter inevitable setbacks, they always shine the light to find the way forward. And, of course, we are filled with thanks for our donors, who make all of this work possible.

On a Personal Note. My favorite book so far this summer was Moonglow by Michael Chabon. I could barely put it down. As the grandfather character tells his grandson his stories from World War II, I wondered about all of the stories I never got to hear from my grandparents. I’m enjoying biking and swimming and time with my kids who are in and out of town as their summer work allows. Later this summer I’ll drive them back to the east coast for school—I can’t wait to have long, rambling conversations with them and listen to their conversations with each other. I love these long days when I can cut flowers in my yard in the morning and pick cherry tomatoes that are hot from the sun when I get home. I am grateful for the privilege of working in community with you to help build out this work that is so important.

Warm Regards,

Randi Ilyse Roth
Executive Director

26 June 2017 . Comment

Building up Saint Paul’s Infrastructure of Opportunity

Rebecka Green is the program intern for Opportunity Saint Paul this summer.

By Rebecka Green, Program Intern, Opportunity Saint Paul

As a religion major, I spend a lot of time learning about faith. I learn about how faith and religion have affected history, politics, and cross-cultural relationships in significant ways. But once I started interning at Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul, I realized that I have forgotten how to slow down and appreciate the strong presence of a multitude of faith traditions in my own backyard, and the people who belong to them.

As the Program Intern for Opportunity Saint Paul, I keep in contact with potential volunteers. I have learned how important religious communities are, not only in volunteers’ day-to-day lives, but also to their desire to create real change in Saint Paul. This desire to help one’s neighbor is a consistent theme throughout the world’s major faith traditions, and is something we recognize and wish to celebrate in our new program.

Opportunity Saint Paul is seeking to improve the economic mobility in the metro area by engaging with dedicated people of faith and with effective, established nonprofits in the Saint Paul area: The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, CommonBond Communities, Daily Work, East Side Learning Center, Neighborhood House, Reading Partners, and the Saint Paul Public Library.

We are excited to form our inaugural cohort of volunteers as we near our official launch date. Our orientation, on August 17, will kick-off the program, introduce our partner organizations and volunteer positions, and provide the chance to begin forming lasting, meaningful relationships among the volunteers.

We will continue to build these relationships throughout the program with bi-monthly learning community events where our cohort will gather to discuss their experiences and observations, engage in interfaith dialogue, and be inspired by expert speakers. Learning together will increase the capacity for meaningful change and economic opportunity throughout Saint Paul.

It has been an honor to watch this program grow in the short time that I have been with Interfaith Action. Opportunity Saint Paul is ready to build up our community, and begin to make a difference in changing Saint Paul’s infrastructure of opportunity.

To learn more about Opportunity Saint Paul, please contact:

Zac Poxleitner
Director, Opportunity Saint Paul