4 December 2017 . Comment

The Long Road Home

After six months of staying at Project Home sites, Adele Carter and her three children are finally home.

By Sara Liegl, Director, Project Home

Every family’s journey through homelessness is different. Some journeys are short and others much longer, but all are agonizingly stressful. Homelessness by definition is traumatic; filled with loss, anger, regret, guilt, and a deep sense of powerlessness. Each day Project Home staff and volunteers walk with families every step of the way during their journey home. They do their utmost to reduce the stress of each family’s unique situation by providing a listening ear, a supportive shoulder, and simply being present.

Recently, I sat down with one mother, whom we’ll call “Adele Carter” for privacy, to reflect on her family’s journey. Now living in stable housing, the Carter family is busy getting settled, learning about their new community, and starting new patterns of daily life. Even though her family is moving forward now, Adele recalls it was not an easy path through shelter.

The family’s time with Project Home began in early Spring. After waiting several weeks on the Ramsey County emergency shelter wait list, shifting between family and friends’ homes, sometimes sleeping in beds and other times on the floor, Ms. Carter and her children finally got the call that Project Home had an opening for her family of four.

The family’s journey with Project Home included stays at seven different faith communities: Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, New Life Presbyterian, Mount Olivet Baptist, Mount Zion Temple, Cretin Derham Hall High School, Saint Matthew’s Episcopal, and White Bear Unitarian Universalist. Additionally, many other faith communities provided volunteer support at these seven host sites.

Ms. Carter remembers many wonderful volunteers, but a few volunteers in particular really made a difference in their stay. She remembers a volunteer who came several evenings throughout the month, baked cookies for all the guests, played games and read to the children. Ms. Carter said, “She made us feel like family.”

Throughout their stay, every Wednesday, the Carter family arrived late in the evening to the Project Home shelter site. They went to their own church for bible study. Although it was a challenge for Ms. Carter to budget the time and money to take her family to bible study, it was always a priority for her. “Raising my children to love and trust God is very important to me, no matter what situation we are in,” said Ms. Carter.

Each of the three Carter children celebrated their birthdays this year while they were at Project Home. Volunteers and staff made sure each child received a gift and shared cake with everyone in honor of their special days. Ms. Carter was especially thankful to have the support of everyone in shelter to help celebrate.

A Bump In the Road

Midway through summer, Ms. Carter got a call from a local housing program. Her family’s name had come up on the wait list for housing. A three-bedroom apartment became available. Ms. Carter was thrilled. They moved in late one Friday afternoon. Then, disaster struck on the very first night of what they thought would be their forever home. The Carter family woke from a fitful sleep covered in bites. The apartment was infested with bedbugs.

Deeply saddened, Ms. Carter asked to come back to shelter. We instructed her to leave everything and come right back, for, it being a weekend, intake had not filled the empty shelter beds yet. The Day Center staff helped her recover her things and sanitized everything. Again, Project Home staff and volunteers helped ease the pain of the dream dashed.

Ms. Carter remembers so many wonderful volunteers willing to listen and pray for her family during those dark days.

Adele Carter and her youngest daughter are overjoyed at their new apartment home.

Adele Carter and her youngest daughter are overjoyed at their new apartment home.

Home Sweet Home

A second chance came along in September. Just after school started, Ms. Carter was alerted that another apartment had become available. Volunteers at Saint Matthew’s Episcopal and several other partner faith communities stepped forward to bring her family needed household items, from kitchenware to a full bedroom set. The Carters’ new home includes a beautiful playground on the property, laundry facilities in the building, and two balconies, where Ms. Carter hopes to put a small table and chair and some plants next spring.

The family is enjoying cooking family dinners together again, and continues to spend their Wednesday nights with friends at their congregation. After a long journey, Ms. Carter is ready to look towards a bright and stable future.

To learn more about Project Home, please contact:

Sara Liegl
Director, Project Home

4 December 2017 . Comment

Growing Through Partnerships

Project Home provides 73 families facing homelessness with emergency shelter space at 24 community sites.

By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director

With your support, we have had an energizing and exciting year. Our newest program, Opportunity Saint Paul, is launched. The program’s seven nonprofit partners are deeply engaged. Our Learning Community evening meetings are rich and rewarding. The first cohort of volunteers is settling into their weekly volunteer work—tutoring, job coaching, and mentoring throughout the community. Every day we hear from volunteers about their experiences. It is exciting to be contributing to building an infrastructure of opportunity in the East Metro.

Our Project Home program continues to meet the needs of families experiencing homelessness with dignity in a supportive environment. We are heartened as our guests move from Project Home to stable housing. The volunteers make this program possible and are the heart, soul, and strength of this program.

Our Department of Indian Work programs are strong and stable. We’ve been able to expand Emergency Services due to a new grant. Yet, the needs of the community continue to increase. Your gifts go a long way toward keeping the food shelf stocked to meet the need. The diabetes education program continues to meet a very specific need in the American Indian community. The supportive environment and culturally specific approach to helping people manage their disease are effective and powerful.

Our youth enrichment programs, Project SPIRIT and American Indian Youth Enrichment, give children the fortitude and rootedness they need to do their
best in school.

We fight poverty. We activate and educate volunteers. We strengthen faith communities by providing them with well-supported pathways to engage in social justice work. As people of all faiths, we have a religious imperative to help heal the world—and Interfaith Action’s programs provide partnership through which we can do that well.

We thank you for joining us in this amazing work.

Warm Regards,

Randi Ilyse Roth
Executive Director

1 November 2017 . Comment

Thank You Donors: You Support Our Triple-Bottom-Line

Opportunity Saint Paul’s first Learning Community Event was held on September 14. Now, more than 80 individuals are settling into their volunteer roles at our partner organizations, and we look forward to learning and growing together.

By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director

We are writing this month to express gratitude to you, the donors who make Interfaith Action’s work possible. We raise money from a wide variety of sources—from private foundations, from corporations, from government contracts, and more—but donations from individuals and from faith communities are the critical piece that makes the funding puzzle fit together. Your contributions pay for the staff, facilities, and supplies that allow us to make the programming work.

Your investments here really pay off in terms of strengthening our community. Interfaith Action is deep at work in our East Metro, helping us move forward in three ways.

  1. We’re working to fight poverty—we are feeding people who are hungry, providing shelter to families who are homeless, and adding horsepower to critical work in tutoring, job coaching, and mentoring to help build an infrastructure of opportunity in Saint Paul;
  2. We’re activating and educating faith community volunteers—we are matching them with opportunities to be authentically present in the lives of others in ways that make a big difference; and,
  3. We’re strengthening faith communities—we are giving faith communities well-supported pathways—like Project Home and Opportunity Saint Paul—that their members can engage in to act on religious imperatives to heal the world outside of the walls of the house of worship.

We have a triple-bottom-line:

  • Fight Poverty
  • Activate Volunteers
  • Strengthen Faith Communities

We do this through all of our programs: Project Home, the Department of Indian Work, Project SPIRIT, Farm-Faith Project, Interfaith Youth Connection, and Opportunity Saint Paul.

Your decision to invest in our work moves us greatly. We are careful stewards of the resources you entrust to us. As we look through the list of your names, we see so many of you who have given to us faithfully for five or ten years or more. And we see many who have joined in supporting this organization recently.

Many of you have also been our valued, long-time volunteers. Thank you for giving so generously of your time to serve the families in our programs. We are ever so grateful for your support.

Warm Regards,

Randi Ilyse Roth
Executive Director

30 October 2017 . Comment

Healing Together in Community

American Indian Youth Enrichment students smudging before class.

By Rebecca Fairbanks Dickinson, American Indian Youth Enrichment Coordinator

As the coordinator for American Indian Youth Enrichment (AIYE), I have come to realize that our program offers two things. A challenge and healing. The challenge is this: we are teaching and learning indigenous traditions in the midst of assimilated communities. The healing is this: we provide a family for youth so that they may feel a sense of belonging in their cultural identity and be supported to succeed in school. We saw an example of this cultural learning this summer. A 6th grade student, who we’ll call “Jake”, made important social and cultural gains.

At the start of summer, our staff had concerns about his behavior. He was teasing other kids and he would leave the group when we gathered to smudge with sage. At the time, he was switching from foster care to living with his grandmother, which also meant switching schools. She called me one day and said that Jake was enjoying the program, but felt awkward about smudging. She said their family isn’t traditional and doesn’t want Jake to practice smudging if he’s uncomfortable. So I pulled Jake aside the next morning just to tell him that as long as he lets staff know, he always has a choice in participating. He agreed. To provide more insight for him and the group, our lead cultural teacher, Mr. D, reviewed how and why Native people smudge with sacred medicines. I suspect that he was self-conscious about being one of the older students in the group but never having been taught how to smudge and wasn’t sure if his family would want him to smudge. He didn’t want to look foolish. This is an example of daily assimilated life for an American Indian young man.

By the end of the summer, we noticed that Jake was not only joining in the circle for smudge, but was engaging in the practice alongside his new friends. Jake’s pre-survey to post-survey scores all consistently increased in each category of self-efficacy, academic engagement, and cultural connections. Staff told me he sits by the friends he made this summer at the lunch table. His teachers have noticed him keeping up academically so far this fall.

I believe that our program makes it easier for students to find acceptance in their cultural community despite the trauma, assimilation, or isolation they might have faced. We provide a safe space for indigenous youth who may come from families that don’t feel connected to their indigenous culture and teach the meanings behind our cultural practices. Even if they didn’t grow up on reservations or in tribal communities, they come join our program to learn.

Families have both strength and pain in our St. Paul American Indian community. There are some students who carry so much anger, but who consistently show up to our program because they trust us. We may ask them to sit, and they walk away. We ask them to join a circle, and they pick a spot in the corner of the room, apart from the group. These are signs of pain, signs that they are not comfortable with something. We recognize that pain, and we can also see the beauty in their hearts and spirits. Our ancestors survived so that we could live. Our families and students have much more potential than what the deficits and disparities can produce.

We bring together youth from ages 6 to 13, their families, and indigenous staff from the age of 20 to their 60s to reach our potential. We unite across geographical backgrounds. We come from over 30 different tribal nations. Though we are challenged by oppression or circumstances brought on by poverty, the loyalty we build is strong because we are there for each other. We have accepted the challenge and we show up each day to provide healing. I have heard and believe that kinship is the heart, the very center of being indigenous. It is with this belief that we teach our youth that we are all related; in Lakhota – mitakuye oyasin.

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 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