29 January 2018 . Comment

Potential Government Restriction on Daytime Shelter In A Church

First Lutheran Church hosts Listening House in their church’s lower level.

By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director

Interfaith Action’s work is organized around this vision: People of faith working together to relieve the effects of poverty and address its root causes. We are following with great interest what is happening to a faith community in the East Metro recently threatened with governmental restrictions on its anti-poverty work.

Listening House is a non-profit that moved from its downtown location to First Lutheran Church in June 2017. It is a daytime shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Listening House’s web site explains that it is a place where:

[P]ractical assistance, counsel, and a friendly ear are offered to people who are homeless, disadvantaged, or lonely. Staff and volunteers aspire to create a sense of community and connection by promoting respect for all. Respect nurtures hope, which in turn strengthens personal resolve toward positive change. . . .Our doors open to up to 120 adults each day. Though our space is humble, friendships are rich and we actively engage with surrounding businesses to be a good neighbor.

Now Listening House finds itself at the center of a conflict. The Saint Paul zoning administrator determined that Listening House is “similar to” a church, and based on that, Listening House was permitted to locate in First Lutheran. Some of Listening House’s new neighbors, though, were unhappy about it being located in their residential neighborhood, and they appealed the administrator’s determination to the City Council. On December 13, the City Council adopted a resolution that it has not yet presented to the Mayor for signature. If the Mayor signs the resolution, then, among other restrictions, beginning on April 2, 2018, Listening House will be limited to serving 20 people per day. Listening House says they serve on average 65 people per day, with up to 125 people per day when it is bitterly cold outside.

Interfaith Action’s Project Home serves guests experiencing homelessness in 24 churches and synagogues. Many are in residential neighborhoods. Our Department of Indian Work food shelf is operated out of our Summit Avenue location. We are a former Council of Churches that is now an interfaith organization of houses of worship dedicated to economic mobility and to keeping faith with those experiencing economic hardship. We will watch as this case and related cases venture into defining the parameters within which government can restrict decisions made by churches and other houses of worship that choose to be present in the lives of those in need.

Warm Regards,

Randi Ilyse Roth
Executive Director

8 January 2018 . Comment

Spreading Opportunity: Desperately Seeking Homework Helpers

Fourth grade students working on homework at Highwood Hills Elementary School.

By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director

Background about OSP

Opportunity Saint Paul (OSP) is now in full swing. At its core, it involves a cohort of nearly 100 people, largely from diverse faith communities. Everyone in the cohort has committed to do two things for a year:

  • Volunteer at least one hour per week with one of our highly effective non-profit partners; and,
  • Attend bi-monthly Learning Community events to build understanding, community, and intellectual context for their work.

We can all be part of the solution by working to build opportunity – and through OSP, we are supporting the faith community’s ability to make that happen.

Most of the OSP volunteers devote their hour of service each week to tutoring. When we help children advance their reading and/or math levels, we make an important contribution to those children’s future economic opportunities.

We are learning through OSP and we are gaining inspiration through OSP. How can we take both that learning and that inspiration and spread them beyond the “walls” of our program and beyond our nearly 100 volunteers and their individual tutoring assignments?

Homework Helpers Needed at Highwood Hills

Through OSP, we came to know Mr. Abdisalam Adam, who is the Administrative Intern at the Highwood Hills Elementary School on Londin Lane in Saint Paul. Highwood Hills is located in the area known as Lower Afton/Battle Creek, in the part of Saint Paul that is near Woodbury and Maplewood. Here are the demographics of this school:

  • Total number of students: about 310 students
    • 65% Black/African American (mostly Somali)
    • 23% Asian/Pacific Islander (mostly Karen)
    • 11% Hispanic/Latino
    • 3% White
  • English Language Learners: About 72%
  • Eligible for Free and Reduced-Price Lunch: About 95%

The students in this school are interested in having homework help in the after-school time slot. Mr. Abdisalam Adam has asked if we can help. Can we as a community make this happen? Can our community find five people who are willing to commit to homework help at this school on Tuesdays and Fridays from 3-4 p.m.? It would mean so much to these students.

If you are willing to commit to one or both slots each week during the school year, please sign up online at interfaithaction.org/volunteer and designate “Homework Helpers” in the comments field.

Warm Regards,

Randi Ilyse Roth
Executive Director

3 January 2018 . Comment

Encouraging an Active Approach to Health Care

Juanita Espinosa (second from right) with fellow participants at the Family Education Diabetes Series (FEDS).

By Kristin Vanevenhoven, Communications Specialist

A year ago, Juanita Espinosa and her daughter started attending the Family Education Diabetes Series (FEDS) program. About half way through the program, Juanita received some distressing news from her doctor; she would be forced to start taking medication for her diabetes. When Juanita heard the news, she was not willing to sit passively and wait for the doctor to tell her which medications she needed to be taking.

Juanita Espinosa (right) and her daughter attending a recent FEDS session.

Juanita Espinosa (right) and her daughter attending a recent FEDS session.

Instead, FEDS helped her learn how to take an active role in her health care. “I can walk, I can exercise, I can change my diet, and I can take an active role in making sure that I am here for a long time,” Juanita said proudly. Thankfully, she never had to take that medication her doctor originally prescribed.

Every aspect of FEDS is important. When participants arrive, they are greeted, they sign in, and they receive their health-check folders. They get their blood pressure and glucose levels taken, and have their feet and weight checked. “It is fun for myself and my daughter to watch how our numbers change,” said Juanita. “It also makes me think about what I have eaten that day. I used to always eat a piece of chocolate between work and coming to FEDS, but I realized how that was messing with my numbers. So, I changed my behavior around that, and just come here, and I am okay.”

Following the health checks, everyone gathers together for a healthy meal of chef-prepared indigenous foods. There are usually a number of educational topics woven into each session. During the meal, there might be a short discussion on staying energized without caffeine. Afterwards, there is usually a speaker with a larger, related topic. One talk was focused on historical trauma, which was a heavy topic. “But everyone there felt safe. FEDS is a safe place to feel connected, supported, and have these conversations,” Juanita said reassuringly. “One time a doctor came, and we had a very good discussion. Everyone felt comfortable, talked openly about the medications they were taking, and asked questions.”

Exercise is another important piece of health education. Some participants might not have full range of motion anymore, but FEDS encourages all kinds of movement and stretches. “Dancing has been the most fun for me. I think for most people, dancing is an easier way to think about exercising, it comes more naturally, so it makes it more of an embracing exercise,” Juanita added with a smile.

Last year, FEDS served nearly 50 individuals. Although Juanita feels it serves many more who don’t come. “I know this information does not just come to me and sit there, in my world it is getting shared.”

Juanita shared that now, at most of their family gatherings, they do not offer pop or juice. They have water, flavored water, or tea. “It seems to be acceptable, and no one is complaining,” said Juanita.

“FEDS really reinforces the cultural perspective on family, the cultural perspective on sharing, and the cultural perspective on adapting our diets. And really, it is about going back to our original diet,” said Juanita, “It has been very encouraging to have a place like this that allows and encourages that.”

To learn more about the Family Education Diabetes Series (FEDS), please contact:

Sarah Goodall
Diabetes Education Coordinator

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. 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